I set out for Cape Cod one blistering Saturday last August for a long-awaited three-week vacation in my old reliable 1965 Plymouth Valiant.

My car was bulging--beach chairs, TV set, cases of beer, suitcases and a special $100 three-foot Lithuanian tree cake that was to be the centerpiece of my parents' 30th anniversary celebration at the Cape.

The Lithuanian Sportscar--or The Blue Bullet, as my friends have christened my antique mobile--and I were zipping through the Bronx when disaster struck. The car began losing speed and making funny noises. My heart sank as I steered to a nearby gas station.

The mechanic looked me straight in the eye and said the fateful words that every car owner dreads. "Lady, it's your transmission."

The next thing I remember is sitting in the front seat of a tow truck, my car dangling behind. The truck was driven by a John Travolta look-alike and I was separated from him by my three-foot confection. "I never towed a cake before," he chortled as we bumped along. "See those buildings over there, that's where they filmed the movie 'Fort Apache, The Bronx.' "

By the time we arrived at the quaint transmission shop in a picturesque South Bronx warehouse, it was closing for the weekend. "I can't do this work until Monday," said the owner.

Where to stay on a summer weekend in Manhattan when all the natives had fled to Fire Island or the Hamptons? I called everyone I had ever met in New York. "Hey," I'd say into their answering machines, "I decided to spend the first few days of my vacation with you, and you're not even home." Finally, I found a librarian friend who had an un-air-conditioned apartment in Chelsea. But it was better than a $150-a-night hotel room. "I'll be right over," I said, throwing my toothbrush in my purse.

The next problem was . . . the cake. They wouldn't let me leave it in the repair-shop office over the weekend since, they said, the rats would nibble on it. So they raised the car on their hydraulic lift to keep the cake out of harm's way.

Here I was supposed to be romping through the waves. Instead, I was trudging through Central Park and Macy's and worrying about everything I had left in my trunk in the South Bronx and how I was going to pay for a new transmission.

I spent Monday afternoon sitting at the repair shop waiting for them to finish the work, praying my cake had survived and hoping my credit card limit would cover the $641.92 bill.

At 6 p.m., I waved goodbye to all the mechanics whom I had come to know and love and took off.

I pulled into South Dennis at midnight and triumphantly pulled out the cake for my parents to see. It was in mint condition--we all marveled at its tough-as-nails constitution.

Mission accomplished.