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Huffman column: Capping a radiator’s problem

Thirty years ago, while barreling up Interstate 85 one evening, the heat gauge on my beloved Fairlane flew to hot and steam rolled from the car’s hood.
I was fortunate to be at an exit, so I switched off the ignition and coasted into an Exxon station there at the end of the ramp.
(The service station’s location so close to my point of trouble gives credence to the “The Lord looks out for fools and small children” statement.)
It was 10 p.m. or so, and the Exxon station was well-lit. It was a fairly rural location, with no other businesses in sight.
With steam hissing from the Fairlane, it wasn’t hard for the mechanic to see the reason I’d come calling. He opened the hood, studied the situation for a moment, then grabbed a rag and removed the radiator cap.
The Fairlane sizzled and fumed like a creature possessed.
A moment later, the mechanic announced, “Your radiator cap is shot.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “Are you sure?”
He was. The mechanic showed me that the cap’s rubber gasket had deteriorated.
It was past closing time for any parts store, I knew, and I was 50 miles or more from home. So I tentatively ventured, “You wouldn’t happen to have one in stock, would you?”
“Let me check,” the mechanic replied, disappearing into the back of the station.
Moments later, he returned with ó voila! ó a new radiator cap. The mechanic filled the radiator with water, tightened the new cap and pronounced me and the Fairlane ready to return to our travels.
“What do I owe you?”
“Eight bucks.”
(I was fairly relieved to hear this bit of information, this being an age before I carried credit cards or even a checkbook. I had about $20 on me.)
I gave the guy his money and off the Fairlane and I went. The potentially major delay took but about 15 minutes to rectify.
The next day, I told my father the story of my previous evening’s adventure.
“How much they charge you for the radiator cap?” he demanded.
“Eight dollars.”
“Eight dollars?!” Daddy fumed. “You could have gotten one at Advance Auto for five.”
I reminded my father there probably wasn’t an Advance Auto within the same zip code of where my previous evening’s escapades unfolded, and, besides, I thought $8 was a pretty fair price to have paid, all things considered.
Young and hard-headed, I ended the conversation by telling my father, “I’d have given the guy 80 bucks if he’d asked.”
More than once I’ve been accused of being a tad chintzy when it comes to parting with a dollar. To those who level the accusations, I reply that it’s a trait I come by honestly, and tell the accuser the story of my father and the radiator cap if they want further evidence.
The sixth anniversary of my father’s death just passed. I miss him, even those occasions when he and I disagreed about how much to pay for a radiator cap.

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