The person on the other end of the phone was in Key West.  I knew it was a matter of time before he asked, and he did not let me down.  “What is the temperature in Massachusetts today?” 

This was not a nice question.  The person already knew that the answer was 3 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 with wind chill), so he was blatantly creating an opportunity to deliver the news that it was “only” 75 degrees in Key West.  After a slight pause, he twisted the knife, “I’m thinking of putting on a sweater.”

I hung up on him.  While he was pondering which blue and orange sweater vest would match his green plaid golf pants, I was stuck facing the horrific realities of January weather in New England. 

As a veteran of many New England Januaries, I can handle the frozen boogies, chapped lips, and cold steering wheels.  What makes January difficult is that moment every morning when I wonder if today is the day that my car battery will die.  Every turn of the key in January is a spin on the battery slot machine.

This is an annual windfall for the Battery Cartel.  It is the worst kept secret in town that the Cartel gives Mother Nature a little something extra in her Christmas stocking every year.  In return, she keeps their business booming with frigid temperatures.

A few years ago, I was the unwitting victim of the conspiracy.

It was the coldest day of January 2000.  I was working in downtown Boston at the time, and had parked my Jeep overnight in an outside lot.  At some point during the night, some Cartel hooligan must have broken into my Jeep and turned on the dome light.  My wife has some silly theory that I forgot and left the light on because nothing in the Jeep was broken or stolen, but that is obviously ridiculous.

Whatever the reason, when my wife and I showed up the next morning to claim my car, it absolutely refused to start.  We called the towing service for a jump-start, but they weren’t going to show up for about 4 days.  The temperature outside was approximately 17 below, and things were looking bleak.

It was at that moment that one of those large vacuum trucks pulled into the lot.  The driver recognized my plight and kindly offered to pull the Jeep with his truck while I popped the clutch in an attempt to get the engine to start.

We hooked a rope to the back of his truck and to the front of the Jeep, and he dragged me all over that icy parking lot.  I repeatedly popped the clutch, but the engine stubbornly refused to start.  After about 10 minutes of this, I looked down and saw that my parking brake had been set the entire time.  The Cartel hooligan had struck again!  It became clear that I was dealing with a superior criminal intellect. 

I was in the process of dusting the Jeep for fingerprints when the vacuum truck driver knocked on my window.

“Dragging you around doesn’t seem to be working very well, and I have to get to work.  Maybe we should try to jump-start your Jeep with the gigantic battery I have on my truck.”

We hooked up the jumper cables, and the Jeep’s engine roared to life.  I thanked the driver and drove off to waste a frigid January day shopping for a new battery.  Battery Cartel 1, McCaffrey 0.