Weather Forecast


What would Uncle Al do? Fix it up and write a great column

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
wave Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
What would Uncle Al do? Fix it up and write a great column
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Besides the one I share this page with, my favorite columnist is "Uncle" Al Sicherman, who spent many years writing humorous commentaries on daily life for the Star Tribune.


One in every three of Al's columns chronicle the epically endless struggle to keep his truck in working condition, usually through five-a-day trips to the hardware store, but sometimes involving amusingly exasperating attempts to drive two separate vehicles from Point A to Point B at the same time (seriously, you need to read it).

This week, a good one for auto mechanics and a difficult one for any licensed driver to enter the Johnson residence, I'm channeling Uncle Al (and giving a quick plug for his collected columns -- used copies available on from $1.99!).

It began two Saturdays ago when my parents drove their big beefy 4-Runner to St. Paul to help me transport the semester's worth of stuff that had accumulated in my dorm. After four shockingly smooth trips to and from my third floor abode, a breezy checkout with my RA, and lunch at your friendly neighborhood Turkish restaurant, we set sail for home, Mom and Dad in the 4-Runner and me in my cherry cobbler car.

Ten blocks later, Mom and I were pushing the transmission-challenged 4-Runner onto a side street so unsympathetic traffic could better view us as they snickered while speeding by.

After several calls to our mechanic and AAA (and a few silent prayers to Uncle Al), we reshuffled half my worldly belongings into my tiny trunk, left the rest in the 4-Runner to await towed transportation and were once again on our way.

A fine story, but Uncle Al could outdo it with a monkey wrench and a tricycle.

For whatever reason, my car's usual harmless rattling, after a semester of treks to and from the Cities, found a harmonizing partner in a disconcerting groan brought on by a mere three-minute road trip to the high school.

We got the whole gang together -- Mom, Dad, boyfriend Jake, best buddy Tré and I -- and rooted around for a problem/solution combo.

Now, my car and I are close, but we have our secrets, and we like it that way. Last week's dilemma-spawned digging, however, taught me things about her that I never would've suspected (So that's where she keeps her jack! Did you know there was a spare tire hidden down there? I didn't know those things came off!).

It turned out to be overworked brake pads, which meant a trip to the dealership, which meant a reminder that she needs an oil change and new something-or-others, a progression resembling Uncle Al's if-you-give-a-car-a-lug-nut style, but not quite up to par.

And then Tré pulled his car up to my house a few days ago and informed Jake and I that the driver side door wasn't closing.

This was our chance. No other car trauma had yet been Uncle Al worthy, but here was one more shot at mechanically bumbling glory.

I asked myself, What would Uncle Al do? Why, he'd make a laugh-inducing but well-intentioned attempt to fix it, all the while taking notes for his next column!

After digging out a toolbox, I watched the boys' efforts to convince the door to latch by making those particular clanking sounds solely created by tools on car parts.

Crouched nearby, eating cherries I found in the kitchen while looking for a needlenose pliers to hang out with the less interesting pair they were using, I earned myself an honorable mention for above-angled flashlight-holding as they made progress and subsequently slid farther from it and closer to mumbling car-aimed curses.

After finding success by inadvertently working in the opposite direction we (and I use the term "we" loosely) had been trying to work in, the door was successfully latched, leaving us to triumphant hugs and back pats.

Still, the story wasn't up to Uncle Al's standards.

That is, until we, still high on our vehicular victory, spent the next five minutes trying to maneuver my flashlight back into its previous position in my glove box.

Thressa Johnson graduated from Detroit Lakes High School and attends Hamline University in St. Paul.