It’s 1999. I’m in Houston, approximately 120 miles from home in my surprisingly unreliable 1989 Honda Accord. It is August. In Texas. The radiator springs a leak. It is approximately 6:30pm. On a Friday. At this point in my life, I routinely do not have enough money to even pull the minimum amount out of the ATM. I have to be back home by tomorrow morning to work my depressingly low paying job or I’ll be fired.

It’s after hours on a Friday, not a single shop is open. Even if I could find one in this age before ubiquitous cell phones and internet access, they wouldn’t fix it until Monday. I can replace a radiator no problem, but where to find one on a Friday evening in a town I barely know? The radiator is leaking faster than I can realistically fill it.

Somewhere in the deep in the recesses of my mind I recall — or think I recall — a Popular Mechanics article I read that said you could fix a radiator leak in a pinch with pepper. Figuring I have nothing to lose, I pull into a Starbucks on Westheimer, pay for several glasses of water and grab a handful of pepper packets on my way out the door. I pour all of it into the radiator in the parking lot.

I hope for the best and drive off. Everything seems fine. Ten miles in, I’m thinking I might be in luck. Fifty miles in, I’m starting to believe. 100 miles in and I’m amazed that I’m going to make it home ok. In fact, the fix held all the way until Monday morning, when I had plenty of time to go the junkyard, source a radiator, and fix the problem.

It took a lot of flushes to clean all the pepper out of the rest of the cooling system, but it was well worth it, and as a bonus my friends called me MacGyver for years.