When I was a freshman in college, my first car was a 1973 Dodge Swinger. Stop laughing! When I first bought the car it was quite sad looking. But hey, it was all I could afford for $700. I decided to save up enough money from my summer job and give my ‘swinger’ a swinging look. So I saved, and saved every nickel and dime for months.
When I had enough money I first had the body of the car stripped, putty applied to fill in the rust holes and then finally sanded down before it would get a new paint job.
I didn’t have enough money for the paint job so I saved for another 3 months. I remember the day I took my car to Earl Scheib. If you’re from Chicago you’ve seen Earl on TV telling you how, “I can paint any car, any car, for $99.95*. " (spoken with a southern accent) When I took my car in to paint, it turned out to be quite a bit more than Earl and stated in his commercial; but that’s a whole other story.
(Note to reader: The most dangerous symbol when buying is the dreaded “*". Read the fine print. The Devil is always in the details. )
Anyhow, the fateful day arrived when I went to pick up my car. Man, I was one happy guy. When I saw the guy pull up with my car, I couldn’t believe how good it looked. For the first time I actually wanted people to see me driving it. I chose a gold, metallic paint that made the car sparkle when the sun hit it. What made this moment even more exciting was the fact that my girlfriend was arriving from New York the next day. I couldn’t wait to pick her up in my brand, new ride.
That following day I picked her up from the airport and she was, from what I could tell, mildly impressed, “Nice paint job. Looks nice. " she commented. We got in and started driving back to Chicago…so I thought. I was so caught up in our conversation that instead of driving towards Chicago I was actually going the other way, away from the city. I wouldn’t find this out til later.
As we were driving and talking, I began to hear a slight sound that resembled a light knock. I thought for sure it was probably highway road noise. So, I ignored it and we kept talking.
About 15 to 20 minutes later the knocking seemed to pick up a little speed and became a little louder. Nonetheless, I ignored it and we kept talking.
Another 10 or so minutes past and the sound began to crescendo into a jack-hammering noise that could no longer be ignored. It grew louder, louder, louder with every second until suddenly a thunderous ‘BOOM!’ came from the engine. The sound was by followed by thick, black smoke billowing (think oil well burning to get a visual) from the under the hood which began to obscure my vision. I quickly pulled over, got out and popped the hood. As I raised the hood, a blast of black smoke smacked me in the face (I think we would all agree that black smoke is not a good sign in any situation).
I could tell I was in deep doo-doo. But for some reason I was so angry that the gravity of my situation still didn’t sink in. I remember climbing half way up the highway hill, sitting down and staring down at my car as it poured smoke into the air. My girlfriend tried to comfort me, but you know how we men are, it’s moments like these that “It’ll be OK" statements just fuel a man’s anger. I wanted to run down, open the car trunk, take out the crowbar and finish off my own car; a mercy killing if you will. My girlfriend quickly talked me out of that notion.
We walked to the nearest gas station where I was able to call my friend Juan to come pick us up. Juan was a pal who lived upstairs from me. Even though he had an exam the next day (we went to the same college), he agreed to come get us right away. I told him we were somewhere between the airport and the city.
More than two hours past before Juan showed up. As he got out of the car, somewhat annoyed, he asked, “Do you know where you’re at?" I replied by telling him that we were probably halfway to Chicago. He said, “No, you’re halfway to Wisconsin. You’re no where near Chicago. " At that moment I realized I had been driving the wrong way. But wait, it gets better…I mean worse.
We had the gas station attendant tow the car to station and hold it for me to pick up the next day. I agreed to drive the car so Juan could study in the back seat. We dropped off my girlfriend and began the drive to my house. As I was driving, after 15 minutes or so, the car wouldn’t accelerate. It was slowing down. I kept pressing the gas pedal with no luck. I looked at the gas gauge and it was registering almost a quarter of a tank. I again pulled over to the side of the highway. This time it was Juan and I staring at the car trying to figure out what was going on.
We made our way to the nearest gas station, and with no one to call, we decided to have it towed home. The tow truck arrived and hoisted the car up and we jumped in. After several minutes on the highway, I heard an abrupt letting of air, “Pfisssssss". It sounded like the air-break noise trucks often make when stopping. I assumed it was one of the other trucks on the road so I ignored it. Juan dismissed it also and returned to his studying.
As we got off the highway ramp near home, I again heard a loud “Pfisssss", but this time there were no trucks nearby. After turning onto our street, the tow truck driver maneuvered Juan’s car into a safe parking spot and then began to lower the front end of the car. As he was doing this, I noticed that, not one, but both of his right-rear tires were completely flat. This explains the sound I heard, twice!
I couldn’t believe my run of bad luck this day. First my car dies a roadside death. Next, Juan’s car dies on the side of the road. And now, the tow driver has two flats on one side. And to make things worse for the tow-truck driver was the fact that he didn’t have a spare. Now he had to call in “his friend" to come bail him friend. I was ready to crawl into bed and end this day.
The next day my brother drove out to pick up the Swinger. After all the money I invested, I wanted nothing to do with the car. When my brother returned he told me what the problem was and what happened.
I had forgotten to put oil in the car. Yes, oil! The liquid equivalent of human blood for a car. With no oil, the car blew a rod and completely damaged the engine. My Swinger was dead.
My brother stared at me and kept asking this question, “How could you forget to put oil in the car?"
“I don’t know!" I replied over and over again.
(Mental Intermission: At this point you must be thinking, “Wow, that was dumb. " Now you know that you’re not alone when it comes to making ‘dumb’ mistake. So stop beating yourself up for past mistakes…stuff happens!)
But deep down inside I knew why I forgot. I was so caught up in trying to make my car look good, that over the months I had completely ignored taking care of the engine. I was so focused on making it look good that I didn’t give thought to how it was ‘running’. My vanity killed my car.
In life I wonder if we don’t do the same the same thing. We try so hard to impress others that we forget to take care of the basics. Too often we work the body but ignore the internal engine we have, our brain.
I spent hundreds of dollars on getting my car painted, but I didn’t take the time to spend $2 on a quart of oil that would’ve kept my car running.
We spend thousands of dollars on cars, clothes and other material objects, but we won’t spend $15 to buy a book on how to improve our life.
We’ll spend countless hours at the gym trying to achieve the ideal weight or shape, but won’t take 20 minutes a day, or even a month to learn something new.
When I think back and visualize my beautiful gold, metallic Dodge Swinger stranded with black smoke pouring out of the engine block, I’m reminded that with cars and life, “All that glitters is not gold".
Remember, work the body, but most importantly, work the mind, your internal engine of success and prosperity. Don’t let vanity kill your dream.
Please forward this article; share it with a friend who may need a word of inspiration.
Victor Gonzalez, top Hispanic motivational speaker and author of “The LOGIC of Success". For more info go to: www.thelogicofsuccess.com or by email firstname.lastname@example.org