On a rainy Saturday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, in the summer of 1975, after a few hours of searching for a used car that I was determined to buy that day, I purchased an AMC Hornet in a bit of a rush to conclude the search in late afternoon. Because objects often look better in the rain—for one thing they shine more than they do when dry—this car had excellent curb appeal. The engine sounded good, the windshield wipers and lights worked well in heavy rain, and the abbreviated test drive through the downpour seemed just fine. Finally, doing the required look under the hood and in the trunk—but in ten seconds or less with rain still coming down—I happily bought it.
The next day was perfectly clear and sunny. The dry car didn’t look nearly as good as it had the day before. Inside and out I noticed several flaws that had not been apparent during a heavy rain. But the car was a cash purchase and it was all mine.
Three or four days later I parked this car at the Columbus airport for a flight to Columbia, Missouri. I had been invited to critique research papers that would be presented at the annual central region research conference in agricultural education, to be held that year at the University of Missouri.
As the conference wrapped up, I headed to the small Columbia airport for my short hop to St. Louis for my return flight to Columbus that evening. The trip was flawless until we landed in Columbus.
There was nothing particularly unusual about the steady rain that pelted the windows on the plane as we taxied up to the gate. Rain was soothing to me because I associated it with days I didn’t have to work in the fields on our farm as a boy. Seated near the back of the plane, I relaxed as others gathered their things and began to exit.
As the plane cleared out, I unbuckled my seat belt. Then I discovered that a previous passenger’s chewing gum had been stuck on the seat belt on a spot that was directly over the left front pocket of the pants of my nicest suit. As I lifted the seat belt, a string of chewing gum about a foot long stretched from my pocket. A closer inspection showed that the gum had worked its way deep into the fabric, resistant to my efforts to peel it away with my fingernail. Oh well, worse things could happen, and they soon did.
The airport shuttle dropped me off in a continuing downpour where my wet and shiny AMC Hornet waited for me in the remote, well-lighted parking lot. There, under a bright light, was a flat left rear tire. The tail lights of the shuttle bus disappeared into the wet night.
A little aggravated, I threw my luggage and suit jacket in the back seat. I opened the trunk and removed the jack, lug wrench, and spare tire as my clothes got soaked. It seemed to take a long time to figure out how to use the jack, but I got the car jacked up.
The lug wrench was about two feet long, with a bend about six inches from the socket that allowed good leverage to be applied to the lug nuts on the wheel. As I reached for the first lug nut, I discovered that the wrench was too small for the lug nuts. This car was equipped with a lug wrench from someone else’s car. I was a little more aggravated now.
The driver of the next parking shuttle radioed for the airport’s emergency assistance service. In a few minutes a vehicle arrived and the driver quickly grabbed a crossbar lug wrench that had four different sizes of lug sockets. The driver was wearing a hooded bright yellow slicker that kept him fairly dry, while I had water dripping off my eyebrows, nose, chin, ears, and fingers. We got the tire changed and I thought I was home free.
By this time it was getting late. My wife and kids would be sound asleep when I got home.
I pulled in our driveway about 11:00 p.m. and pressed the button on the remote to raise the garage door. As the door went up, I noticed two adolescent black cats run across the front of the garage. As I got out of the car in my soaked clothes, I noticed a litter box near the door that went into the house. We had never owned cats before, so what was up? Apparently we were the owners of two black cats.
This image is close to the feeling I got. (Photo credit)
What a perfect welcome home, the final touch to what seemed at the time like the trip from hell. For some background to help put this conclusion in context, if anyone wants it, see my earlier post, “Cats and Dogs.” Finding two black cats in our garage at the end of a dismal, frustrating travel day was the lowest point of the day.
Before falling asleep that night, I remembered the old superstition about black cats and bad luck. Could it work in reverse? I wondered if an unanticipated but imminent event involving two black cats could work retroactively in creating a string of bad luck.
No, I reminded myself, I’m not superstitious. Exhaustion faded to sleep.