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It was a dark and stormy night.

No, really, it was.

It had been raining all day; the streets were wet and the storm sewers were having a tough time keeping up with the runoff.

I decided to amble over to my girlfriend's apartment to hang out for the evening, so I got into my old Ford Custom and started out. I shot down Lindell, passing the History Museum (1) on the left, a residual light rain hitting the windshield as I drove. As it turns out, around that intersection Lindell hits a bit of a crest and then levels out. Normally this would be of passing interest, at best. But ...

Right after I roared over the crest (2), the feeble headlights of my Ford unveiled a surreal scene: a veritable lake of rainwater, the entire width of the street, and as deep as the curbs were high. I briefly thought about hitting the brakes, but worried about losing control, and it would have been too little too late, anyway.

As the car plowed into the 'lake', the water sprayed out beautifully - at first as high as the headlights, and moments later arcing up to cover the windshield, side windows, and rear window, a liquid curtain draped over the car.

And then it happened. Plowing into the water caused the motor to short out, killing the engine, and in turn snuffed out the headlights and dash lights. I found myself in abject darkness, without music or engine noise, with only the sound of tires and water as momentum carried the vehicle forward.

(I had dealt with this car in the rain before, and knew the routine: with age, the insulation on the spark plug wires had shrunk, leaving bare metal exposed at both ends. When they got wet, the spark from the distributor would no longer go to the spark plug. The car would likely be inoperable until it had dried out. I needed to keep rolling to get out of the water, and to somewhere safe.)

I jabbed the clutch pedal to the floor and held on for dear life, hoping to make it to the other side of this now-unfathomable lake beneath me. And, amazingly, I successfully rolled on through and back onto a wet but manageable road.

The world around me (3) was surreal: a beautiful foggy night scene, bordered with parallel rows of mature trees, the moisture in the air muting the colors to where it almost looked like a slightly out-of-focus black-and-white photograph.
But as beautiful as it was, I was nowhere near my girlfriend's apartment, and I didn't relish the prospect of having to stop the car in the dark and walk in the rain for 20 minutes to get there.

(Having dealt with this car in the rain before, I knew that sometimes I could pop the clutch with the car still moving and it might just restart the car. This was preferable to the other option, which was to stop, wait for the engine to dry out a bit, and then repeatedly crank the starter until it worked or I gave up.)

Since the car was still moving, I decided to try a rolling start - at a minimum to get me to the next streetlight, or with a little luck, perhaps even to continue my original journey.

(Note that, rather than an electric fuel pump like modern cars, this old Ford had a mechanical pump that was connected to the engine. As long as the engine was turning, it continued to pump fuel into the cylinders - whether or not it was getting ignited by a spark plug.)

So when I let out the clutch, miracle of miracles, a spark found its way through one of those decrepit spark plug wires and ignited the fuel in one of those eight cylinders. But thanks to the age of the engine, that flame didn't just stay in the cylinder. Rather, it snuck past the rings, through the exhaust, and into the muffler ... where it encountered all that accumulated unburned gas.

And then my dreamy roll through the grayscale fog was suddenly interrupted with a massive KA-BOOM!!, as all of that gas caught fire at once. A great orange and yellow glow surrounded the car, briefly illuminating the interior as if it were daylight. As quickly as it came, the fireball disappeared, leaving behind only the sound of the baffles from my muffler scattering across the driveway of one of the nearby mansions.

But the rolling start had worked, and I was back in business. Minus one muffler.


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