It was a crisp fall evening; I was at the wheel of my 82 Chevy shortbox headed home on I-29 toward Omaha. I was recently graduated, freshly employed and deeply in love.
Slightly older, hard-working and smart, we met 14 months prior, just before my senior year of college when I was 28. That night ended innocently, but went until 6 AM. Cash-strapped, I paid for our next date with my electric bill (worth it). On our third date, Train’s “Meet Virginia” played on the car radio. Her oldest sister’s name.
“Why doesn’t someone write a song called Vicky?” She cheerfully asked.
This memory struck me now as I was returning from an official trip to Alabama. After a month being re-exposed to my roots and at the wheel on my steed, I was struck by divine country inspiration. Across the bench, I reached into the glovebox and found a pen. Alas I had no paper; so instead, I poured my heart onto the title envelope like a hapless teenager and wrote a song called “Vicky.”
As it often is with the vehicles that punctuate our existence, the truck was supposed to be temporary. My Samurai suddenly accelerated its oil evacuation to a quart a day. The heater fan had stopped, and road debris constantly struck me in the back of the head via rusted out wheel wells. The pickup was charity from a classmate.
The Chevy was a redneck’s dream; a Scottsdale with crank windows , no AC, Dana axles, and a three speed stick with granny gear. Under the hood rested a glorious 350 topped with a Carter 4 barrel feeding boom juice through a set of Dart heads. A huge cam provided a glorious song at 5,000 RPM through a set of cherry bombs and 2 ½ inch duals. It had powered a modified dirt track racer, but the chassis was sold to fund college. Despite the 330 horses, no one wanted the V8, so it ended up in this truck. That truck ended up in front of my tiny college house.
She crushed Mustang GTs with a SBC howl, then gave ‘em taillights. She could pass anything but a gas station.
Which brings us to the future Ms. Mental; the Scottsdale was equipped with minimum instrumentation, and the famous wheel gas gauge had a broken pointer. A “guess” gauge with 8 MPG in rural Nebraska resulted in quite a few times by the side of the road until my devoted gal arrived with a gas can. She started carrying one after I got the truck. On dates she was perfectly content to forgo the comfort of her AC and shoulder-belt equipped Saturn, slide to the middle and buckle in there.
Now on a deserted stretch of Iowa blacktop, I scribed the lyrics to “Vicky.” A talented friend wrote the music and recorded an instrumental version so I could practice during my commute. All I needed was the perfect opportunity.
The trucks gods smiled, few months later the same musician friend was tasked as the MC for my surprise birthday roast. After a night of brutal mockery that can only come from true friends, it was my turn.
For my rebuttal; I stood, pointed at the MC and he produced his guitar. During my performance, I took her by the hand, led her to the front of the room and produced flowers. The picture tells the story; the guys laughed, the girls cried. For the final verse of the only public performance of “Vicky,” I dropped to my knee and produced the ring.
The truck passed quietly that summer, the SBC fell victim to Midwestern low-octane ethanol and the body was rotting from road salt.
Peter Egan once wrote that couples who date with bad cars last longer than ones who court in comfortable and reliable ones. I knew if she was willing to come rescue me on some farm road, she could probably handle other challenges; like me being gone for half our marriage, dumb car decisions and a permanent carpet stain near the garage.
And she has. October is our 12 year anniversary.
(If you live in the midwest and enjoy John Denver, catch my talented friend Chris Harman, his wife Dorothy and Dustin West with An Evening)
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, a Philosophy degree and a gift for making Derek and Jack wonder if English is actually his first language.