Car Batteries & Epiphanies

An essay by James A Graves, Jr.


I needed to look for something in the attic of my shop.  However, my 1964 Fairlane was stored in the shop, and the drop-down attic ladder was directly above it, so I had to move it.  I hadn’t cranked the Wagon in a while.  Being high-performance, and old, it had to be gently coaxed it into starting, just in case it was in a bad mood.  After all, I’m low-performance, and old, and I have similar requirements.


I used an Optima Red-Top battery in the Wagon.  The over-priced POS battery periodically leaks sulfuric acid for some, unknown, completely aggravating reason (it’s the second one that I’ve had that leaks – but don’t get me started on over-priced, leaking, Optima batteries that I will never, ever, ever buy again).  Anyway, this particular Optima battery continued to hold a good charge, so I kept it sitting on a Pig Mat pad to absorb the acid when it bubbles out of the vent like a regurgitating snail.


In order to get the Wagon in a mood to crank, I had to pour some high octane fuel down its throat.  And by a strange coincidence, that works for me, too.  It cranked on the first try and rumbled contentedly.


I needed to back the Wagon out of the shop, but my Expedition was in the way, parked in front of the double doors.  So, I jumped in and hit the key.  Click.  Click.  Dead battery.  Lovely.  However, I wasn’t entirely surprised.  The battery is seven years old and I’d been keeping it alive by using a battery tender, or trickle charger.  It helps in the winter when batteries tend to get a bit sluggish. 


However, since the weather warmed up I’d gotten a bit slack about hooking up the battery tender.  Honestly, it was mostly because I forgot that it was attached to the battrey at one point, started backing the Expedition toward the back gate and then noticed that I was dragging the battery tender’s extension cord, which I had just ripped out of the outlet located near the shop door.


That graceful act was nothing new – just a day in the life of me, the absent minded idiot.  But my logic tends to lean toward the practical; if the battery tender isn’t hooked up, then it’s much less likely that I’ll repeat the absent minded idiocy. 


So, since the battery had not been properly “tended” and the Expedition hadn’t been driven in a week or more, the result… dead battery.


I wasn’t energetic enough to get the Avalanche, which was in the garage, drive it around to the back gate, open the gate, pull it up to the front of the Expedition (which was actually pointed in the right direction toward the back gate), dig out my jumper cables, etc. 

So, I found a thick, folded cardboard box, leaned it against the Expedition’s rear bumper, carefully backed the Wagon up until the rear bumper also contacted the box and pushed the Expedition forward as I backed the Wagon out of the shop. 


You could call this effort laziness.  I prefer to call it Southern Ingenuity.


Then I retrieved the item from the attic, parked the Wagon back in the shop, and charged the Expedition’s battery.  Adventure concluded…  Well, not quite.


Go forward three days.  My wife needed to go to the store.  She gathered up our grandson that we were babysitting, opened the garage door and the front gate, and then tried to start the Avalanche.  Nothing.  No clicks, no buzzes.  Nothing.  Very dead battery.


My first thought – what are the odds?  Seriously?!  Dead batteries in our two primary vehicles, both in the same week?  Within four days?!  What the…#$%@?!


The Avalanche battery was just over a year old.  There have been no electrical or cranking problems since I replaced it.  And I’m almost anal about keeping battery terminals clean and coated with that red spray stuff.  I cannot tolerate signs of corrosion on battery terminals – unless they’re very large lead calcium batteries, decades old, have warped plates and could explode at any moment (but that’s another, entirely different, FAA technician story).


I checked the voltage: 7.0 volts. Seriously dead battery. But why? Literally everything in an Avalanche is controlled by several electronic brains. One even controls lights, the radio and other accessories.  In this case it’s called the Body Control Module (BCM) which, among other things, has a Battery Rundown Protection circuit.  The BCM shunts control of interior lighting to a timer which counts down and turns the lights and other things off after the ignition key has been turned to “lock”.   So, there should never be a situation that would cause the battery to rundown.

However, I think there may be some insanity in the GM vehicle electronic brain family, which I suspect my Avalanche inherited. But, I digress…


I have an Optima battery charger, an over-priced battery charger that I bought to keep the over-priced Optima batteries at peak performance – at least it hasn‘t leaked anything… yet.

It runs a diagnostic on every battery before it begins charging.  It was apparently okay with the condition of the Avalanche battery since it ran the diagnostic and began happily charging the dead battery.


So I continued contemplating the odds of my strange, dead battery situation, and asked myself again; what are the odds of having dead batteries in both vehicles, which are relatively well maintained, within the span of four days? 


And as I contemplated, I had an epiphany.  I’m very cautious when I have these – I’ve apparently had them for years but just didn’t know it.  After all, what kind of strange word is “epiphany” anyway, and how would one ever dream up such a word or think that they were actually having one?


My revelation was; I have finally discovered why I hate to gamble, why I rarely ever gamble, and why I lose every time I gamble - I’m a very unlucky gambler.


I compare my discovery to the term “The luck of the Irish”, which, by the way, has nothing to do with Ireland.  According to Edward T. O’Donnell, an Associate Professor of History at Holy Cross College and author of "1001 Things Everyone Should Know About Irish American History," the term “luck of the Irish”, is not Irish in origin… 

"During the gold and silver rush years in the second half of the 19th century, a number of the most famous and successful miners were of Irish and Irish American birth....Over time this association of the Irish with mining fortunes led to the expression 'luck of the Irish.' Of course, it carried with it a certain tone of derision, as if to say, only by sheer luck, as opposed to brains, could these fools succeed."


Well, I’m Irish, and if I were blessed with the luck of those Irish miners, it would no doubt be the result of this fool’s sheer luck.  In fact, since I lose every time I gamble, I think I might have the opposite of the luck of the Irish.  An inverse blessing as it were, which could possibly be considered a bad luck curse. 


But I can’t find a suitable term for a bad luck curse.  There’s “devil’s own luck”, which is a bit ambiguous.  After all, Satan worked pretty hard to piss off God - the one being in the entire universe that you never, ever want to piss off.  And the “I’d rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven” comment suggests that he prefers Hell anyway.  So much for Satan’s bad luck.


I also considered “hard cheese”, which is a British saying for bad luck, and something that I enjoy saying; i.e., (attempting a British accent) “Hard cheese old man.”  However, “the hard cheese curse” sounds more like something chefs might dread, but doesn’t work as a term for a bad luck curse.


Then it occurred to me; “The luck of the Jewish”.  And that seems to fit.  No matter what the Jews do, they always seem to come out on the short end of the stick.  So, while it goes without saying that you don’t want God as an enemy, being one of God’s “chosen people” is apparently no picnic either.


©2016 James A Graves, Jr.

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