Monday, August 6, 2012

ROW 80 DAY 27 - FAMOUS RIDES I HAVE KNOWN


I am so glad that I can no longer drive. This saves me the shame of admitting that I no longer have the courage to get out there with the insane people. Wait. Let me amend that. This saves me the shame of admitting that I no longer have the courage to get out there with the really shitty drivers. There. I like the sound of that. Because when I drove, I was awesome. Seriously. Awesome.

A brief history leading up to my awesome driving career. Before I drove, we had a fine selection of one-of-a-kind automobiles. The 1960 cherry-red Karmann Ghia, which my father bought for my mother. Over the years, it morphed into a combination bondo-red-spray painted lime-green, complete-with-wooden-bumpers car. It had wooden bumpers because that’s how my mother stopped automobiles; she didn’t believe in brakes. There were a lot of things regarding driving my mom was iffy about. She wasn’t too clear on the concept of shifting gears. We never had an automatic vehicle. I’ve never driven one and never owned one. More about that later.

Ma used to wind out that poor little Ghia to about 50000k in 1st gear and then shift to 4th gear inabigfathurry, so we’d go chug… chug… chug… and gradually build up speed. If she couldn’t find a handy object to run into, she’d stomp on the brake and clutch at the same time, about 5 feet from where she wanted or needed to stop. She was only 5’ 2”, so it was like watching some kind of mad ballet, where she would stand on her toes as she approached a stop sign. Poor Ghia.

Someone left the windows open and it rained in the car. The windows rusted open or something, so the floors rotted out, so now we have the Flintstones car, too. The heater box froze open and it burned your feet to a crisp in the summer time. Thank God I didn’t take this damned car to Michigan with me. No, the Ghia had passed on by the time I went to Ann Arbor.

By the time I did go to Ann Arbor, we had survived a few more cars. One of the more memorable ones was one my father unearthed from some landfill somewhere. It was an electric-blue 1956 Chevrolet Coupe 2-door, with giant, humpy fenders. It weighed at least 700 tons and had bumpers that could have knocked down Fort Knox.

I remember two remarkable things about this car. One, it had a push button starter. Once, my father was under the hood, pretending to work on the motor. I say “pretend” because he didn’t know a goddamned thing about cars, although I didn’t find this out until the time my VW nearly shook itself to death being as how Mr. Fix-It fastened the engine to the chassis with wood screws. The fact I am here to tell you that shit don’t work is a testament to my nine-lives-ishness. Of course, he may have been just getting me back for pushing the automatic starter when he had his head stuck in the radiator belt. I bet that shit hurt. I didn’t figure it would matter, because you needed a key to start the car, but there’s this little thing called electricity that will spark. Oops. He reared up out of there hollering “I’m only 35, I’m too young to die!” I looked at him, thinking. “Gee, that’s ancient.” I was 7 at the time. The other thing? The gear shift broke off at the base; Mr Fix-It jammed a huge pair of vice grips down in the hole left by missing shift stick, where they resided and shifted for the next eon.

When I first started playing professionally, I was the perfect stereotype of starving musician. Crappy car and all. All of my friends had crappy cars. Really crappy cars. We had thousands upon thousands of dollars invested in our instruments and were puttering around in 150.00 junkers in Michigan, in January. Imagine the fun. I had this horrible old Escort that had been Burgundy at one time and my Bassoon playing friend Jon had an ancient Mustang and not one of the good ones. His car wasn’t even a color anymore, it was just a smear. All the cars had car cancer and they were all terminal. Occasionally, some would go on life support, and one of us would have to pick up the slack. As the season went along, the survivor cars would get more and more passengers. Sometimes, we’d place bets as to which car would croak next.

Anyway, Jon’s Mustang was still running and my Escort was still going, but my brakes were iffy. I couldn’t even get in the driver’s side anymore. That had rusted shut, so I had to put Wolf in the back seat, then crawl over the console. The “E” had fallen off the little name plate so I was driving a “SCORT” Jon just thought this was hilarious. He kept laughing about it. He pulls up one afternoon for rehearsal and he’s watching me fight my way over the console to get out of the goddamned car. He’s all amused, standing there in the gritty snow and crud. I look at the back of his car. “What are you laughing at, asshole? How long have you been driving a TANG?” The MUS had fallen off. He said, “Since this morning. You want to go out for Scotch and Burritos tonight?” I'll tell the awesome part tomorrow. And it is. Awesome, I mean.


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