From our very own “Crabspirits” comes this mid-week breaking of the fiction rules. As Anita Baker once sang, “Rules were made to be broken,” but I think of Crabspirits’ work as something beyond fiction. Myth, perhaps — JB
Marty’s world was in the process of deflagration.
The bowsprit of the ’41 Plymouth knifed through the hot summer air as it cruised down Highway 275. “It’s a real scorcher today, huh?”, asked Marty nervously as he popped open the cowl vent. The gals in the back seat remained silent, knowing they were to blame. The little scoop in front of the windshield provided little ventilation of the cabin in the face of such oppressive solar radiation. A woman’s hairstyle must be preserved at all costs. The cabin portholes shall be configured in such a manner as to not direct airflow upon the hair. Gus slyly slouched in the front seat, and contorted his body so he could deftly reach for the window crank. Marty saw it out of the corner of his eye and cracked a wry smile. Gus had his window ever so slowly rolled down to the mostly open mark when his action was noticed. “Stoppppp!”, yelled Beth, hitting him from behind with her purse.
“You got too greedy.”, Marty told him. Marty glanced at his mirror to see if there were any signs Jennifer enjoyed this humor. She only sat there, checking her hair with her compact.
“What a dish.”, he dreamed. Her hair really was beautiful, almost worth stewing in your own juices to protect. It was a meticulously-crafted sculpture of flowing blonde waterfalls and bangs, cemented in place by hairspraying into a gelatinous crisp. All she needed was the Mattel sticker. As he worked his mirror to catch a better glimpse, he noticed the beehive-encrusted Beth staring right into his eyes. It made him quickly focus his attention back to the road. Up ahead was a silver coach bus, belching diesel smoke. The noise was deafening as they passed the lumbering machine. Seated inside were men of fighting age, none of which looked to be too happy. Marty thought of how closely it resembled another vehicle they had just passed, a cattle truck. “Straight to the slaughterhouse.”, he thought. He began to dwell on the letter still sitting on the kitchen table at home. The vent window was manipulated to direct a little more air to himself. Marty relaxed with a sigh, and placed his hand at the twelve’o’clock position above the Plymouth badge. “[email protected] ’em. (The establishment)”
Gus clicked on the radio, and began to pound on the chrome facade. “No.”, said Marty. “Like this.” He gave the lower portion of the dashboard an open-palmed slap. The vibrator inside the power supply activated, releasing The Beatles trapped within. A quarter mile behind the Super Deluxe convection oven was another car full of youngsters.
“Is that Marty up ahead?” asked William from behind the wheel of the Mercury. Fred took a pause from heavy petting with his girl in the back seat to observe.
“Yes, I believe it is.”, he replied with a devilish grin, knowing full well that the situation would develop into some sort of prank. The Monterey lingered out of visual range behind the Plymouth.
“I have asked General Westmoreland, what more he needs…”, said William in his best LBJ impersonation “…and we will meet those needs.” The other occupants in the car were puzzled until Will reached under his seat. He produced a brown paper bag, and said, “This calls for Operation Rolling Thunder!” He handed the sack back to Fred to inspect. “Gee-miny crickets! That’s a lot of firepower!”
As soon as the nervous words: “What are you guys gonna do?” had left the girls’ lips, the throttles were pinned on the 427. The big boat forced an oncoming Rambler to grab some shoulder during the ill-advised overtake of the ’41 Plymouth. It blared it’s impressive horn, and spit up dust and gravel as it succeeded in a last ditch effort to avoid what would have been a horrendous 3-way crash.
“Motorhead!!”, yelled Gus, laughing. The eight unbelted youths were rather casual about the whole incident. They would have all perished for sure at that speed in a bloody heap of wreckage. They left the Rambler driver, pulled off to the side and needing a new pair of briefs, in their wake. Marty thought briefly about William’s cavalier road manners. It’s the invincibility of youth that makes the young run through flames without care. It takes something more to charge into a building in flames. William did that. He was a firefighter. Was he really courageous, or maybe a thrill seeker? Perhaps he was just an idiot. He was also signing up for ‘Nam. Marty became puzzled at how a lifesaving firefighter could drive like a total ass like that.
William proclaimed that he was “Opening bomb bay doors”, and powered down the Breezeway rear window. The sudden gust of air tore the girls’ hairstyles asunder, and produced screams. Marty chuckled and said,
“Well, this doesn’t look good.”, while looking out the double-paned windshield. Fred lit a device and tossed it over the long trunk of the Monterey. Marty drove over it, and it crackled behind them. Another strip of Black Cats were lit and tossed. Fred’s shot hit home and the firecrackers stuck to the grill in comedic fashion. Tiny bombs detonated by the A-pillar and windshield while 4th of July, 1966 was celebrated on the front of Marty’s car. Cordite smoke and bits of paper were drawn into the cabin.
Everyone laughed, even Jennifer, saying “That’s a gas.” The Mercury lurched twice, then accelerated away at full throttle, leaving Marty and friends in a toxic grey plume.
“Cripes a’mighty! That thing moves!”, yelled Gus. Marty tossed his expended bottle out the window, and responded “Now that’s a machine.” Marty had floored the Plymouth when the Mercury took off, but it was imperceptible by everybody else. “Anybody want another?”, Gus offered, pulling another Falstaff from the metal cooler. All accepted.
The Plymouth set pulled off the road. The compliant, undamped suspension glided over the rough gravel and terrain as they made their way towards the swimmin’ hole. Marty’s slightly faded grey 40’s ride saddled up next to the shiny new black Monterey. Its passengers had already disembarked. “You’ve burnt my seat you nimrod!”, Will yelled at Fred. The two were hanging out of the rear doors, inspecting the car’s first injury. They were hoping a little spit would restore the singed material where a rogue piece of fuse had fallen. Marty slowed to a stop with a hearty brake squeal. As everyone climbed out of his car, Marty sat there idling. If there was one thing his car could do well, it would be idling. The engine revolved at a rocksteady state. It was smooth, and silent. Marty imagined the car being sold just before the world fell to pieces in ’41. The cigar-chomping, fedora-clad salesman would have surely used it as a selling point. “Wouldja look at that? Smooth as a baby’s butt. And you gotta get the radio. A radio in your car! You haven’t lived!” Now back to the present, Marty shut down and went to the Merc to gawk for a 3rd time.
“Any survivors?”, asked Fred. “You guys are jerks, my ear is still ringing.”, Marty laughed. The guys talked cars over some beers while the girls surveyed the water’s edge.
“No. Not on the R-code. Can’t handle the power.”
“My god.”, he thought. Will’s pop had pulled some strings at the dealership. He got the R-code motor into a pedestrian Breezeway model. A choice that baffled him initially, he now saw the wisdom behind it. The car was a menacing sleeper. Many chuckleheads would fall to it’s sword. Will explained he had gone to Pikes Peak three years prior. He and his pop had seen Parnelli Jones dominate the competition with a Mercury much like this. Marty had seen these hill climbs on Wide World Of Sports, and in Hot Rod Magazine. It was a trip. The disparity between the two cars was growing miles by the minute. The Plymouth was still in okay shape inside and out though. It wasn’t a total jalopy. He could do much worse for a guy his age. At least he had a radio….sometimes. “Is that an 8-track player? Far out.”
The conversation shifted, as it usually did, to the war. The guys discussed their views, and personal strategies. Team Breezeway was going to Vietnam, and Team Deluxe was wholeheartedly unenthusiastic. Marty explained that he had seen a sympathetic doctor who had fudged the report on his physical. Something had gone awry however, and he still ended up with the dreaded notice in the mailbox. “Well, if you don’t believe in the cause, then I suppose that’s your right, and you should bail if you want.”, said Will. The cool comment was ever so slightly underhanded, and had a tinge of macho. It was at this time that Gus dropped a bomb of his own. He had dropped out of school.
“You did WHAT?”, said Marty.
“Haha, you were 2-S…were.”, said Fred.
“Well that was stupid.”, said Will before smoothly hoisting the bottle of Storz to his lips.
A look of dread was on Gus’s face behind the black-framed spectacles. As team Merc split to find their female companions, Marty invented the facepalm. On the other hand, he was slightly relieved. Now his best friend was with him in the same boat. “Come on man, let’s go in the water.”
Jennifer stood waist deep in the water, toying the surface with her fingers. The sun shined through the trees, bathing her in a heavenly glow. What he wouldn’t give to re-enact the beach scene from From Here To Eternity right now. “What a dish.”, Marty said as he scrutinized her bikini-clad shape.
Gus replied, “Yeah. You think I have a chance?”
“Uhhhh, sure.” Marty was stunned by this revelation. He thought Gus told Beth to invite Jennifer for him. “Thanks for salting the earth on that one buddy.”, he said to himself. He waded over to Beth to run some interference for his pal. The two struck some awkward conversation. “Man, it’s hot today.” She looked at him with doe eyes, retorting with
“Yeah, it must be 100, at least.” Beth segued into complaining about how the humidity damaged her hair.
“This is such a drag.”, he thought. He had to do something to at least change the situation. Derailing her affection to him might be a plus as well. “Well then you won’t mind if I do this!”, he said as he doused her completely with a childlike splash. Beth gasped as water dripped off her wrecked beehive.
“Jerk!” She gave him a playful shove, and delivered a girly punch retaliation. Beth’s smooth skin brushed over him. Suddenly, this girl wasn’t so bad after all.
Beer depleted, and succumbing to exposure after hours of summer fun, the group all agreed they should leave. “Let’s split. We should go downtown, and catch a flick.”, suggested Fred. “At least it’s air conditioned.” It was a solid plan. Everybody piled into the two cars. Marty depressed the starter pedal. The 6 volts slowly cranked the engine to life, and they set out for the road. The Mercury waited for the mopar to line up next to them. Marty jokingly accepted the challenge. He gave the Mercury driver a “You’re going down” gesture, and blipped the little six. Will sat there with a look of feigned fear as his V8 burbled. Fred yelled the countdown, and they were off. Inside the Plymouth, Marty dumped the clutch. The old car lurched and then bogged through first gear. Marty worked the column shift into second with a click, and dumped the clutch violently. At this time, the Monterey stopped facetiously keeping pace next to them. Will pinned the throttles and utterly destroyed them, trailing dual black streaks, and rubber smoke from his 30mph roll. The couple in the back seat waved goodbye through the slanted rear window.
Now underway, Marty stayed out of firing range of Fred’s Saturn Missile batteries. Air swirled in the cabin. Thankfully, the windows could now be allowed to roll down completely. The smell of mohair wetted by damp swimsuits wafted past their senses. Beth seemed to be enjoying his company on the front bench. The kinda-sorta attraction was there between them. She wasn’t girlfriend material though. “Bummer Beth” dated one of his good friends last year. Marty recalled all the miserable details he had told him about her. Such was life in a small circle of friends. It would look bad if anything came of it. Jennifer was unresponsive to Gus’s advances in the back seat. She looked vacantly out the window. Marty gave the dashboard the slap of motivation and powered up the radio to provide some Top 40 atmosphere. As they rode into Omaha, kids played in the hydrants. Sounds of fireworks echoed through the buildings. Marty deftly operated the clutch pedal. The engagement could be rather mean if you didn’t pay attention. He slowly slipped it out after every shift. The brakes did their thing, emitting a shrill squeak on every stop. Quiet brakes were a novel thing on cars of the the 40’s apparently, judging by the rapidly-depleting sample they knew. They disembarked at the theater, and went inside as fireworks crackled in the distance.
Everybody was laughing as they exited the theater. They had seen Assault On A Queen. Fred had lit a firecracker during the torpedo scene. Another patron had “Shhh’d” him in response, to great humor. Gus was sporting a hand print on his face, courtesy of Jennifer. Their levity was short-lived. Numerous cherry-topped Ford Galaxies full of the fuzz roared one after the other down the street, and made their hasty way north, sirens blaring. The gang spilled out onto the sidewalk to take a look. A veil of dark smoke hung in the evening sky, illuminated by the flickering orange glow of obscured hellfire. They overheard the theater manager talking to his employees after getting off the phone.
“It’s bad. Real bad. They are burning everything.”
“The Negroes!” North O was ablaze. The powers that be had put the blacks in their little pressure cooker, and now there would be some venting, perhaps an explosion. Marty sympathized with the blacks.
“This is how the establishment handles it’s minions. Gotta keep them under a thumb.”, he thought. He wondered what abysmal future they had in store for him. “Shall I accept their invite to their little party in Southeast Asia to go play commie hunter? Perhaps we will wait for the other shoe to drop from the Reds in an H-bomb explosion? Maybe they would just be content to let the country tear itself to pieces from the inside out?” Will piped up,”This is hairy guys. Let’s beat feet. It looks like I need to get to work.” The gang piled into their respective automobiles to the background din of sirens whipping the air. Marty depressed the starter pedal, and the flathead six cranked for an unusually long time. Distracted, he had forgotten to add some choke. He pulled on the knob, and tried again. The cranking was labored now. “Oh please girl, don’t let me down now.”, he began to dread. The spectre of running out of 6volt juice in a 12volt world in the middle of a riot instantly popped in his head. Just as he was entertaining the idea of accepting the collateral damage of blown out instruments and electronics by getting a jump from the Mercury, a pump of the gas pedal spurred the old girl to life.
It was rather quiet on the drive home. Marty slapped on the radio. The crackling prehistoric speaker struggled to replicate the organ, and fuzzy tremelo sounds of Don’t Bring Me Down by the Animals. All in the Plymouth just sat and listened, staring out the window into the night like space cadets. Jennifer was more than happy to be dropped off first. She said her goodbyes to Beth, and then went inside. Marty’s opinion of her had changed after observing her all day. “What a stick in the mud.”, he thought.
He dropped off Gus, and he departed with a “We need to talk. Call me tomorrow.”
“You can count on it. Later.”, said Marty as he put the car in gear. The Plymouth pulled away from the curb.
“So, where is your place?”, he asked Beth. She had a cigarette in her mouth and was preoccupied with a futile search for the cigarette lighter. “It doesn’t have one.”, Marty declared, slightly embarrassed. He fished a Zippo from his pocket, and gave the lady a hand. The atmosphere had become rather uneasy now that the two were alone, compounded by Sinatra belting out Strangers In The Night. The songs on the radio had a nasty habit of resonating messages lately. He felt himself sweat. He wanted to turn it off, but that would have meant acknowledging it. Beth took a long drag from her cig and glanced casually at the Super Deluxe badge on the radio grill. “So much for hoping she didn’t notice.”, he thought. He asked her a second time, “Where is your house?”
She exhaled seductively, and replied “What if I don’t want to go home?” The steady cadence of the inline six skipped a beat as Marty responded to this rather upfront revelation briefly with his pedal foot. He nervously lit a cigarette of his own, feeling like panicked prey in the presence of such a sexually aggressive female. It was something he had never encountered before. “I suppose we could park for a bit.” As soon as the flathead was silenced behind the deserted grain elevator, Beth made her move. She pounced on top of him. The couple were suddenly startled from their lust by the Plymouth’s deafening twin horns. Beth lifted her derrière from the horn ring and laughed. They exited the vehicle, where Marty politely opened the suicide door for his ladyfriend. The juvenile fantasy he envisioned so often when he first got this car as a teen, was now about to become a reality.
The chrome ship once again cruised through the night air. The experience had been regrettable for both parties. Smells of cigarettes, mohair, and sex radiated from the back seat. Brake squeals announced the chariot’s arrival at Beth’s residence. “Well, I guess I’ll see you later.”
“Yeah.”, answered Marty. He pulled away, clicking off the radio for the first time in recent memory. He was sick of it. “What the hell just happened!?”, he yelled to himself, banging the cracked steering wheel. There would certainly be some fallout from this little tryst. He concentrated on the soothing drone of the engine, and tried to forget about the rendezvous. A june bug arched through the dim beam of his headlights, terminating in oblivion on the flat windscreen. He felt sympathy for it. As he pulled into the drive, he killed the engine and let the car roll to a stop. His old man was found asleep in the lounger, watching the indian head test pattern on the black and white set. Marty walked past his induction notice on the kitchen counter, noting that it had been disturbed. “From the President of the United States”, it read. He fabricated with his imagination the ludicrous sight of Johnson himself, with Westmoreland, hand-picking him from a list . “Next we have Marty Stinson. He looks like a real go-getter. Sign ’em up!” There was no longer any doubt. He had made his decision. There would be hell to pay in the morning. For now, there would be sleep.
By high noon the next day, the inevitable argument with Marty’s parents had run it’s course. The metaphorical mushroom cloud was swirling in the stratosphere over the family homestead. His father, a veteran of the Korean war, would have none of this. “I will have none of this!”, he would go on to say, “No son of mine is going to be a draft-dodger!” Hurtful things were said by both father and son that would take time to heal. The Plymouth was laden with most of Marty’s meager belongings, and that was that. He fed a dime into the phone booth at the service station.
When Gus answered, he put it simply. “I hear California’s really swell this time of year.” Gus was speechless for a moment, then said,
“Bummer man. Yeah, that sounds like a solid plan. Let’s cut outta here. Pick me up in twenty.” The third tier backup plan of leaving Omaha entirely was now in effect, with very little drama. Gus tossed his clothes, all dirty, into the trunk. “We’re gonna need this.”, he said, carefully placing his guitar in the back seat. The two closed the doors of the solid automobile and looked at each other. They felt electric.
“I get good vibes.”, said Marty, punctuating the comment with the starter pedal.
They stopped at the bank to get their scratch, and then fueled up. “Where exactly are we going?”, laughed Gus, handing Marty a bottle of Coke. While the attendant fueled, the boys studied a map on the hood of the Plymouth.
Marty brandished a half-dollar with a grin. “Heads:L.A., tails:San Fran.” He flicked the coin. “L.A. it is.” While scrutinizing the route, Marty declared “Oh man, looks like we’ll have to take a little detour on the way.” Gus grinned like an idiot, and popped his eyebrows in approval. The bow of the hood ornament was pointed due west. Soon, the boys were as far from home as they had ever been. “This new interstate is so boss!” The car was droning along at a steady 65mph. Marty had never driven so far, so fast. The suspension floated over the smooth roadway. Although they were moving at a steady clip, the longer, lower, and wider were passing them in an endless procession. Marty didn’t want to push the old girl. He had never heard her sound so loud. It was somewhat unnerving.
Gus noted, “We are almost to Lincoln already.” Marty squinted at the windshield.
“What’s that up ahead-oh nuts.” Chrome glinted in the late afternoon sun, stretching for miles, as I-80 merged to a single lane. They had slowed to a crawl behind the menacing tail lights of a Polara. Road crews were busily crafting the state route into the magnificent, efficient roadway they had just experienced. The sweaty men shined in the hot sun. They worked feverishly, scraping and shoveling molten road into place with pride. Marty admired their work ethic. He wouldn’t be able to do that for eight hours a day. It had now been half an hour spent crawling behind the Polara. “She’s getting a little hot.”, said Marty. Gus observed the temperature gauge, creeping past the 212 mark into the danger zone. They pulled off to the side behind a stricken Corvair. It’s driver had opened the engine cover, and he was removing his tie. The boys opened the squeaky hood of the Plymouth to allow the steaming mass of metal some respite. A stationwagon with luggage on it’s roof slowly rolled past.
The freckle-faced punk in the back seat yelled “Scuzz bucket!”, before being promptly smacked in the head by it’s mother. Marty and Gus chatted with the man in the air-cooled Chevy. He was a vacuum cleaner salesman. Fortunately for them, he had nowhere to plug in a vacuum.
After an hour spent by the roadside venting, the lads were back on the road with their extra passenger. They dropped the salesman off in town, and wished him godspeed with his missing fan belt. The traffic had alleviated after passing Lincoln, and an approaching storm had cooled things off. Gus slapped on the radio. “You’re finally getting the hang of it.”, said Marty. Large droplets began pelting the windshield, and Marty was thankful that he had replaced the faulty vacuum wiper motor when he did. He reached up to the base of the windshield to call it to duty. They were suddenly in the thick of it. The sky turned coal black, and The Beatles were drowned out by the cacophony of torrent vs tin.
Marty cut his speed drastically. “This is bad.” To say the wipers struggled would be an understatement. Their vision would have been about the same as a submarine’s while breaching the surface. The puny blades wobbled erratically to and fro, swimming. Marty hit the dimmer switch with his foot. It was a scant improvement in visibility. He dropped the column shifter down into second, and became fearful of being rammed from behind. Nobody would have been able to see their puny tail lights. Not in this soup. Fortunately, the generic, quad round headlamp array that was behind them a moment ago had disappeared. “Rats! A hill.”, he moaned. The wipers were quickly demoralized as the sedan climbed the steep grade. Marty lifted his foot briefly as they ascended to feed vacuum to the motor, getting a few good wipes.
Gus put in an effort to assist. He stuck his head out the window, but was immediately blinded, and pulled his drenched head back inside. “Maybe we should just pull over.”, said a very wet Gus. Finally, the road had leveled off. However, Marty had gotten so distracted by Gus’s antics, that he had lost sight of the center line in the gentle turn. He felt the tires on the right side drop off the roadway and crunch gravel. The right front found itself a pothole, blowing out the tire. Handling was upset severely when the suspension dropped. Marty was abruptly faced with a decision, roll the car, or careen wildly off the road into the unknown. They drove into the ditch with the tire flopping limp on the rim. Marty buried his foot in the brake pedal. The car accelerated on the wet grass. Time slowed. The wipers squeaked across the windshield. The wipe provided just enough vision for the boys to clearly make out the “Burma Shave” on the sign before it was munched by the Plymouth’s grill. The sedan slid sideways, and Marty drifted across the bench, desperately clinging to the controls. This caused a movement of the rudder to port that was not commanded, so Marty let go of the helm. Gus was evicted from his seat. He braced himself to the chrome facade of the fo’c’sle, dented it in, and slid down to the deck. A porthole crank raked his back on the way down. The great ship lifted its stern for a moment as it lurched to a stop. The guys looked at each other, eyes as wide as saucers.
“Righteous!”, said Gus, climbing back up from under the dashboard. Marty responded with,
“I didn’t think it was that cool to be honest. I thought it was the end of us.” The boys went outside, and quickly surveyed the scene in the dim glow of the headlamps. Water splashed back and forth on the windshield. The tire was crumpled around the rim. They were quickly soaked, and darted back into the car. “I guess this is about as good a place as any to call it a night.”, said Marty. Gus climbed into the back seat. As they lay there in the crippled Plymouth, listening to the rain on the metal roof, Gus began laughing. “What!?”, asked Marty.
“Hahaha…Burma Shave. Hahaha.”
Marty countered with, “You could say it was a…close shave.” They both laughed themselves to sleep.
The boys awoke the next morning to the sound of the passing freight train on the other side of the highway. The night spent in the Plymouth was actually pretty comfortable, save for being suddenly roused during the night by a bolt of lightning landing a few hundred feet away. They climbed out of their wounded steed. Birds were chirping all around, enjoying the aftermath of the storm. They laughed at the scars they had left on the ground. Four deep furrows were carved through the muddy soil. They joined into two grassy smears leading up to the highway. A chrome dog dish and the destroyed sign, the last of a series of four, lay off to each side. Gus picked up the hubcap, and dumped out the water. “I almost want to take it with us, as a souvenir.”, said Marty, inspecting the crumpled advertisement with his foot. The sun rose over the horizon creating a beautifully painted orange and purple sky. Standing water in the ditch lapped at the disabled wheel. In the trunk, Marty moved his belongings out of the way, to obtain the jack and cross wrench. Trying to break the lugs loose, their shoes slipped in the mud and diced with the water. They resorted to removing them entirely, rolling up their pant legs, and wading in. Confusion arose regarding which way to turn the wrench. “The nuts turn the other way on this side.” “Noooo, that’s the other side dork! It’s my car. I know which way it goes.” After a bit of a struggle, a fastener relented, and one of the lads was vindicated to smug satisfaction.
Gus placed the jack under the front bumper, and worked it’s ratchet with the supplied lever. His efforts simply drove the base deep into the muddy soil. “HA! That’s reeealll nice.”, he cackled at his folly. After shoring up the base with the Burma Shave sign, he was able to lift the machine skyward.
“Wait till you get a load of this.”, said Marty from the trunk. Gus popped his head up from the front. “Don’t even tell me…” Marty had extracted the spare from the trunk to reveal a bulging bubble in it’s sidewall, cartoonish in appearance. The car’s previous owner had presumably swapped it out, and left it for them to experience. In spite of their setbacks, the guys were enjoying their newfound free and adventurous lifestyle. “Well…let’s throw it on.”, Marty laughed.
The Special Deluxe spun it’s tires for traction, slowly extracting itself from the ditch. It hobbled down the Lincoln Highway at a steady 30mph, with it’s cartoon tire hopping up and down on the pavement. They limped into Ogallala, Nebraska, the “Cowboy Capital”. Some kids playing near the old west-themed tourist trap pointed at them and laughed. Gus hopped up and down on the seat, yelling “Ohh, ohhh, can we go?!” sarcastically. The grey sedan pulled into the Sinclair service station, where an old-timey mechanic assisted them. “Well, I can re-shoe her for twenty bucks.” The boys groaned, pondering the bad pun. The mechanic squirted the ground with tobacco spittle, some of which ran down his chin, and was quickly wiped by a shirt sleeve. He continued, “I might have something used in the back off the ole cab.” Marty forked over five dollars for the latter option. The technician returned twenty minutes later, rolling out the bright yellow wheel and half-worn tire, scavenged from a smashed ’48 Desoto taxi. Marty held his head in his hands. Gus laughed.
The yellow rim was a big hit on the highway. Nearly every station wagon they passed contained a vacationing horde of little brats who pointed, and mocked them. They passed a dark blue Econoline pickup. The door was emblazoned with a U.S. Air Force stencil and serial number. Gus observed the vehicle as they passed. With a mouthful of sandwich, he stated, “They keep the missiles out here.” Marty looked at the picturesque Nebraska landscape filling his windscreen. He superimposed with his vivid imagination, a Minuteman ICBM suddenly emerging from below ground, climbing skyward on a white column of smoke on it’s way to snuff out millions of Reds. Marty pulled the tab on the can of Old Milwaukee sitting in his lap, and hurled the pull-tab out the open window. He took a hearty sip…to forget. Gus picked up on the uneasiness. “Let’s listen to the radio.” He slapped the dash, and California Dreamin’ began to play. The mood changed in an instant. The boys went ape, and began to groove to the tune of a song that seemed to be crafted just for them. Marty swerved back and forth across the highway, singing with his companion. He danced with the tiller of the Plymouth as if it were his gal. He was having so much fun, that it took some time before he noticed the revolving light of The Man in his little round mirror. Marty pulled off to the shoulder, and silenced the radio.
The patrolman dismounted his Ford and approached the misfit driver. “What’s with the wild swerving? Are you guys on reefer?!”
“No sir.”, Marty stammered, “We were just really into some music, and well…” He stopped, as he really didn’t know how to explain the situation to such a stodgy public safety figure.
“You know that’s illegal right?”, boomed the officer, pointing at the beer can sitting in his crotch. “Pour it out.” Marty complied, dumping the can’s contents onto the pavement. “Now keep it in your lane.” With that, the cop returned to his cruiser and sped off.
“What a bummer.”, Gus commented. “I can’t believe he made you dump it.”
They had finally bid Nebraska adieu. Marty switched the radio back on. Amazingly, it powered up on it’s own accord. Gus pushed the preset buttons in vain. He worked the manual AM tuner knob and got a faint signal of music. Most everything else was gospel. “Don’t they play rock’n’roll around here?” Gus pulled the crumpled map from the floorboard, and compared it to some passing bullet-riddled road signs. “You’re gonna make a left up ahead.”, he said, before working the AM dial once again. Marty made his turn on the dirt farm road. Gus got a good signal, and a sickeningly familiar Beatles tune began to play. “There, that’s better.” They had driven many miles on the dusty road. It had been half an hour since they had seen another car. The boys were hungry, and the Plymouth, thirsty. The sun hung low in the sky. After taking a few gambles on some promising stretches of road, they realized they were lost. Gus studied the map. “I think we’re somewhere over here.” Gus showed Marty his dead reckoning guess on the map, pointing at the smiling and saluting Esso mascot that obscured much of what they needed to see.
“His leg, or his smile?”, said Marty as he angrily brushed the paper aside. “We don’t have the fuel for this!” He turned the bow of his ship 180° into the heavy sun, and punched the gas pedal. A single rooster tail of gravel shot out behind them. He waylaid his navigator with criticism. Accusations manifested into a full-fledged argument. Then, the radio died. The argument was paused as both parties attempted to slap it back to life. Marty braced his arm to the vent window in despair while Gus continued to beat the metal dash like a caveman. He sighed, and stated somberly, “It’s gone. Probably blew a tube or something.” The sound of rocks clinking inside metal fenders, and their sputtering six was the only thing providing the atmosphere now.
“What’s that?”, said Gus happily. Up ahead, a headlight bounced as it traversed rough terrain. A tractor. Another human soul. Marty clicked his dimmer switch to signal whomever it was in the dusk. They pulled off along the fence line and waited for the puttering tractor to approach. An older, grey-haired woman sat high on the John Deere. Its exposed flywheel whirled on the side as it idled. She removed her glasses, and wiped away the wheat chaff as she addressed the boys.
“Let me guess. You’re lost.”
Marty responded, “M’am, we are lost, AND out of gas.”
The woman advised the lads, “Well, there’s a Pure about twelve miles back the way you came, but it’ll probably be closed by the time you get there. In the meantime, you’re welcome to spend the night here.” She looked out at the combine emerging from the field. “Looks like we’re calling it a day anyway.”
Marty and Gus graciously accepted her offer. “You’re a saint!” The car sputtered, barely completing the slow procession back to the farm house. Their generous hosts introduced themselves as Martha and Jim. Jim climbed down from the open controls of the combine. “That one looks just like Kevin’s.”, he said, pointing at the Plymouth. “His don’t have the yellow wheel though.”, he continued with a smirk. They cleaned up, and Martha cooked up a meal that would be remembered for years. Kevin sat overwatch in his portrait on the wall as a fresh-faced Air Force cadet. He was at the Academy down in Colorado Springs apparently. Over supper, the conversation focused on the road trip to California. The boys omitted, and actively avoided the part about fleeing the call of duty from their nation. Although, the shot-in-the-dark strategy of their journey was called into question.
“What are you gonna do when you get there? You don’t got no place to stay or nothin?” Marty was mentally grasping at straws. He said the first thing that came to mind. Something he felt would pull at the heartstrings of country folk. Something he actually believed.
“Well, we’re at God’s mercy. We go where the Plymouth takes us. It helped us find you, didn’t it?” There was an uneasy hiatus in Jim and Martha’s response. Then Jim went into the kitchen to fetch “The good stuff”.
“This is The Good Stuff. We’ve been saving it for company, but company never comes. Seems like as good a time as any.” He placed the nondescript bottle of grog on the table. The rest of the night was a blur of dirty limericks and Scrabble.
Marty awoke partially confused in the strange bedroom. Ribbons hung from the wardrobe. Trophies adorned the desk. None of them were his. He crawled out of Kevin’s bedsheets, and curiosity got the better of him. Sunbeams lit the artifacts of a good son. Intrigued, he may have gone too far by opening the desk. Inside was a love letter, presumably from the blonde bombshell pictured in the school dance photograph that was taped to the mirror. Marty wondered what life would be like as “Martin”, the name his father bestowed upon him and continued to use. He hated that. The more he pondered, the more empty he felt. Loss, disappointment, confusion, a spectrum of emotions flowed through him as he sat on the chair. He sat there for awhile, staring at the picture of Kevin and his father posing with the aftermath of some fishing trip. The look on Jim’s face oozed pride in his son. The biggest bass he had ever seen hung from Kevin’s grasp. The kid had it all.
Downstairs, Gus was still on the couch. His Gibson B-25 still hung around his neck. “You got a little something right here.”, Marty said, as he motioned to his face.
Gus brushed the Scrabble letter “A” piece from his face, saying, “They woke me up so early.” He then resumed his slumber. Marty ventured outside, and stretched. Jim and Martha approached from the field on their farm machinery. Martha waved as she passed on her way to deliver the cash crop to the grain elevator, and Jim pulled up on his harvester. He showed Marty to the barn. Inside, lay a Plymouth P11 in a state of slumber. Cobwebs complemented it’s olive drab paint scheme, just about the only thing shining in the orange glow of the morning sun. Even the aluminum trim on the rear haunch, missing from Marty’s, was painted.
“This here, was a staff car during the big one.”, Jim would go on to say, “No telling who rode in it. It’ll probably be worth something some day.”
Marty replied in a rather reserved, and doubtful manner, “Yeah.” He admired it’s blackout accoutrements for a moment, and then left the barn. Gus was finally ready to face the day, and came out of the house with his guitar.
“I reckon five gallons should get you to the filling station.”, Jim offered, “Go ahead and fill up.” Marty put five gallons into the Plymouth from the standup tank. He tried to pay the man for the fuel, but he sternly refused. “No, don’t worry about it.”, he said. Jim and Martha waved through the dust as the Plymouth departed down the dirt driveway. Gus was behind the wheel. He refrained from being his usual chatty self, knowing something was off with his buddy this morning. Marty was very quiet, sitting on the unfamiliar passenger side as he reflected. He thought the determined Mayflower hood ornament, sailing forward in a sense of discovery, was profound in the extreme. They were pilgrims themselves, in search of their own Plymouth Rock…, in search of themselves. His focus returned.
Marty followed the couple’s directions to the letter on the way to the filling station. They pulled up to the single pump, and waited for about 30 seconds. “Are we supposed to pump it ourselves?”, Gus scoffed.
An old geezer waddled out of nowhere. “Fill’er up?”, he asked. His cavity-riddled mouth smiled politely behind grizzly facial hair. Marty gave the attendant a hearty tip, and asked for directions to the road into Denver. “Head to that intersection over yonder, then make a left.” Marty and Gus then saddled up at the station’s attached Diner, ate a generous breakfast, and headed out. Now back on course, Marty pulled the hand throttle once again to maintain speed. With their radio out of service, the steady drone of the inline six added an extra element of monotony. They passed a burning Beetle on the roadside. It instigated an hour long conversation in review. The boys called up every amusing detail of the young man they saw frantically trying to beat the fuel fire out with a shirt as they drove by. Gus reached behind the seat and fished out his Gibson.
“I knew this would come in handy.”, he said as he began to pluck the strings. Gus started off with an improvised remake of a classic. “Get your kicks on Route 6.” Then, the minstrel strummed another remake. This one, an ode to their plucky automobile, was sung ominously in Marty’s face.
You’re the kind of car
you see in certain dismal junkyards
But you’re still running, just not very loud
Driving up and down the boulevards
Betty, it seems to me you have seen
Too many miles in 25 years
Marty packs spare ignition points
Because of that time you gave him tears
Your brakes better stop-HEY! What’s that sound?
Here it comes, here it comes
Here it comes, here it comes
Here comes your 19th breakdown!
Marty shook his head. “Hey man, respect the wheels. She’s not a bad car.” Marty gave the metal dash a loving pat. “And her name is Betsy.” Gus continued to craft more songs for the better part of an hour. His satirical lyrics mainly focused on VW’s on fire, Marty’s love life (“You know about that already?!”), and The Man.
They were greeted in Denver by the snarl of I-25’s construction. “What the hell is this?”, said Marty. He pointed out a big rig truck with confused body language. It’s driver made an aggressive and frustrated lane change to the right. He used half of his 18 gears to do so with his heavy load. The huge two-stroke diesel V8 assaulted their senses. The driver appeared to hang on for dear life as the flat-faced, CB antenna-adorned cab bucked wildly over the front axle from the torque. Mustangs scattered like their namesake, and the truck exited.
“Rats.”, said Gus, upon seeing the congestion up ahead. A well worn big-toothed Buick taildragger belched sickening blue smoke in their faces as it neared the end of it’s life cycle. Toxic fumes poured out freely from tailpipes everywhere. The boys were caught in Denver’s infamous “Mouse Trap”. A bubble helicopter hovered over the scene, observing a trail of overheating men and machinery as it waited for an eternity in the hot sun. The boys sat, sweated on the side of the jammed highway with the Plymouth cooling off once again, and drained their packs of Lucky Strikes.
At the front of the congestion, a finned Cadillac with a smashed fender fared far better than it’s driver. Recovery trucks dragged the bloody, chrome machine off to the side. The critically injured driver was tossed into the back of a Pontiac station wagon, and whisked away, siren blaring. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”, said Marty in regards to the traffic jam, as they passed the carnage.
Once they were free of the Denver city limits, the lads started to make good time on the way down to Colorado Springs. They passed several trailered racing machines that had, no doubt, left Pikes Peak. The two young men had never strayed outside their home state. The Colorado landscape changed drastically outside the passenger window. Mountains rose impressively into the sky. Each consecutive one was mistaken for their destination. “No way. That one HAS to be Pikes Peak.” They arrived in Colorado Springs just as their stomachs began to growl. They pulled into a drive-in for some burgers and malts. The lot was full of weary racing enthusiasts wearing the essential paraphernalia, sitting in their cars gobbling down grub.
A delightful server skated up to take their order. A pro at extracting tips from young males, she worked her goods in a subtle manner and made small talk. “You guys come for the races?”, she asked.
“No, we just got here. We’re driving up to the top today.”, answered Marty with an undertone of bravado. The girl set the tip of her skate on the running board in a sexy attempt at a leg display. She noticed it’s hardened vulcanized rubber coating crackling off onto the ground as she did so. While jotting down their order, she thought “These guys are fresh if they think this heap is gonna make it.” Before skating off, she gave them some advice.
“Well, make sure you have plenty of fuel. It’s a long drive. No gas up there honey.” The boys compensated the waitress handsomely for the “honey” comment. They left, taking her advice to heart. The Mobil gas station was unusually ornate. Banners saying “Pikes Peak Hill Climb” fluttered on it’s facade. The Plymouth confidently pulled up to the “Special” pump. An attendant in a sparkling white uniform ran up. Marty barked orders.
“Fill’er up. Hi-test. Check the oil.” The attendant unscrewed the cap on the Plymouth’s flank, and began servicing it with the finest high-grade leaded gasoline.
He inspected under the hood, reporting “You’re about two quarts low.” Marty was surprised, and told the young man to
“Top it off.” He stopped him before he pierced the top of the store brand oil can with his opener. “Hold it. You got Kendall GT-1? I’ll take some of that.” The uniformed peer lifted an eyebrow as he pierced the tin, and spoke.
“Hopping it up, huh? You guys gonna run up the mountain?” This caught the attention of an elder mechanic in a nearby service bay.
“Yeah, we’re gonna climb that sucker.” The mechanic wiped the grease from his wrench long enough to take in the sight of these out-of-town hot shot youngsters, brimming with machismo next to the grey jalopy. It was something that happened on the regular. He replaced the 1/2″ wrench on his chest next to the rest of the set strapped to his specialized overalls. The mechanic limped up to the driver’s door. “Guess I better stop these poor fools.”, he thought to himself.
“Hey guys, this isn’t a playground. I don’t want to scold you or nothin’, but it’s pretty rough up there on that damn hill. You take anything for granted, and you’re a goner.” The boys felt the hair on the back of their necks stand straight as sense was talked into them. “When was the last time the brakes were looked at on this?”
Marty responded with a nervous “I checked them last…umm…It’s a good car.” Burger dueled with milkshake in the pits of their stomachs. The greasy sage perched on the fender, and looked at the familiar flathead six.
“Your timing’s off by the way.” He pulled out a wrench, and tweaked some advance into the distributor. The crusader then vanished back into the dark service bay like Batman. Marty paid their $7 bill, and after receiving the change, flicked the attendant a quarter. The attempt at being cool backfired. The flicked coin bounced off the fender, causing the guy to chase after it. “Thanks man. Let me get your windows.” He swiped and squeegeed the bug-spattered glass. Then, he jokingly flicked the water off the squeegee onto the bow of the Plymouth in the sign of the cross.
The Plymouth headed northwest. There was an ominous feeling now inside the car, and the boys compensated with cigarettes. “Are you sure you want to do this?”, said Gus. “Maybe we should just take the train thing.” Marty exhaled and retorted,
“Look, I got nothing to prove. But, we came here, and we’re gonna climb this sucker.” He gestured to the Impala station wagon in front of them. “Look, they’re doing it.” Little rascals waved to Gus through the tailgate window. The pavement transformed in an instant to loose, dusty gravel. The vacationers in the Chevy veered away to the welcome center, leaving the boys with an open road. Marty flicked his cig out the window within sight of Smokey Bear on a sign, and said “Here we go.” The throttle response was sharpened. The recent improvements increased the engine’s output by 1.3%, and it was totally perceptible by Marty’s right foot. He clicked the shifter into the high gear. The upcoming curve ascended, and was obscured behind forest. Marty used the brakes early, to make ready for whatever might be around the bend. They squealed with delight. An oncoming pickup came into view and then was past. The Plymouth lugged on the slight grade. “Going to have to avoid that if possible.”, Marty pondered.
He made a quick downshift, and hammered the throttle. The driveline bucked hard, and Gus laughed. The radiator fan roared as it chopped the air at high RPM. The trusty flathead labored through third as it approached the next turn. This time, the road ahead was not screened by trees, and appeared open. Gus braced himself, knowing his pal wouldn’t lift on this one till the bitter end. The sedan made a feint motion to the right, then left, then right again when Marty deftly took his foot off. The steel ass of the Plymouth swung like a pendulum and scrubbed off speed. Marty progressively smashed the gas pedal back to the floor. “Just like the roads out by the Ryerson’s, except…going up.”, he said to Gus with a devilish grin. He simply responded with a “Wahooo!” out the window.
Another gem of a left-hander lay ahead. It was dealt with in similar fashion. Gus stuck his head out the window to take in the wild sight of the yellow rim whirling at an angle in the poof of dust. Marty felt the rear tire grab an edge, and he added more steering correction in a panic. He was now out of teeth in the steering sector, and options. The rear tire jumped back onto the gravel. Marty stared death in the face in the form of a sheer plummet into dense forest. He suppressed the urge to lift from partial-throttle, and willed the tail to change course. He heard the voice of the old man in his head. “…pretty rough on that damn hill.” Miraculously, the rear tires abruptly caught traction again, and he was prepared to battle the tank-slapper that would result. His upper body strained in a battle with the unassisted steering wheel’s feedback. One of his fingers painfully jammed in the horn ring, causing an accidental beep. “Ow.” Marty resumed a sensible pace in second gear. Gus pulled his head back inside. He had noticed neither the immense peril, nor the spectacular save. Gus only noticed the abrupt change in his friend’s driving style, which he didn’t contest. He figured it had something to do with his hand. It was now bleeding.
The Plymouth clawed for altitude above the treeline. It was laboring in second gear, it’s power cut drastically already in the thin air. A swarm of moths pelted the windshield, but were simply brushed aside by the slow moving auto. Gus craned his neck all around, sometimes straight down from his door sill. “Are you seeing this?” Marty continued to concentrate on the road. The dirt road was indeed perilous, with sheer drops unprotected by any guardrail. Now, there was the extra element of traffic. Sightseers were clogging the route around the viewpoints. He leaned forward, looking almost straight up the mountainside to see the road ahead. Dust plumes climbed up in an almost impossible manner. Soon, they had reached the switchbacks, The W’s. The road was now downright terrifying, but it appeared that the Plymouth was going to make it. It wasn’t much farther to the summit. Marty made the almost 180° climbing right turn, and was suddenly presented with an incredible idiot. “Get a move on you dolt!”, he screamed at the windshield. A Valiant wagon had been pulled off to the side so it’s occupants could check out the view. It’s oblivious looky-loo driver cut Marty off. The Plymouth gasped and stalled. “Oh God!” Marty gripped the steering wheel, and stood on the brake pedal, but it was useless. The brake shoes lost their servo effect under the reversed direction. They moaned as the otherwise silent car began to slowly roll backwards towards thin air. “Man! We’re in trouble!”, Marty screamed. He made neutral, and toed the starter. “Come on Betsy.” This was it. It was start, or a deliberate crash to avoid certain death. Marty rapidly weighed his options. One of them was jumping out. The plan was rescinded when the vision included the confused look on Gus’s face, still sitting in the car as it flew over the cliff. The sound of the six coming alive startled him. He looked down at the pedals and made his first heel-toe ever in a high rpm clutch dump. The rear axle jumped up and down, spitting out gravel. The auto came to a stop moments from doom, and dug a little hole in the road. It then began moving up the hill once again, scattering rocks and dirt. They scaled the rest of the fourteener without issue. Marty kept his distance from the “dumb sonofabitch” in the Valiant.
“It would be a real shame if someone let the air out of his tire.”, suggested Gus. They observed the Valiant driver who had nearly killed them embracing his family for a picture in front of the sign indicating Pikes Peak summit.
Marty entertained the notion briefly. “Nah, he’s clueless. He probably wouldn’t even notice the flat, killing his whole family.” They switched their attention to the view around them. The rage instantly fizzled. Small storms cruised by below them. It looked as if you could scoop up the little dark clouds into a cup, and take them as a souvenir. It was humbling. The boys felt small, not just as individuals, but as human beings. Marty seized the moment to make a pastoral statement. “If only the world was run from up here…”
Gus used some oxygen-starved brain cells to add, “…there would never be any war.” Their idyllic concept was shattered by the discovery of the benign Army weather station.
“Oh look, they are up here after all.”, Marty said with dismay. “They’ll probably throw some Nike missiles up here, and fence it off.” Marty and Gus bought donuts from the gift shop, consumed them, and disagreed about the quality. The altitude manifested itself as a headache for each of them, and it was time to scram.
The boys shivered and climbed into the Plymouth. They waited for a break in the traffic flow, and followed the sewage truck down. Marty quickly became dazzled by the view. He enjoyed the second gear coast down through the W’s, but was still terrified of those turns. Each was like a ramp off into nothingness. He used extra brakes, which objected loudly, screaming like a banshee. They were descending through the third switchback, when they heard the sound of the dated brake component fail. The Plymouth spit out it’s overheated lining with a “Ka-thump”. Braking performance was drastically degraded, prompting Marty to furiously pump the pedal to slow the runaway automobile. Gus dug his fingers into the cushion of the bench seat in fright. “Use the low gear!” Marty dropped the column shifter down into first gear and dumped the clutch in a panic. The engine revved wildly, and the axle jumped up and down once again, sending gravel and dust into the air. The squealing of the brakes had now turned into a metal on metal scream, coming from the rear of the car. “This whole ‘almost dying on the mountain’ thing is getting old man.”, Gus commented. “Do you want to pull over?” Marty took note of the puzzled look on the faces of the sightseers as he slowly screamed past. “If we can get through that, then we can make it the rest of the way down, but I’ll pull off up ahead so we can check it out.” The duo stopped at the next plateau. They crawled around the car, but there was little they could see or do to improve things. Smoke, and a hideous stench fanned out of the wheel wells in the bitterly cold breeze. Time for another break to kick rocks while the car cooled off. They sat down to smoke in the high altitude, taking in the view next to the idling Plymouth.
It had taken them a considerable time to make their way down the mountain at an incredibly slow pace. They made it to the point where they almost died the first time, when another malady struck. Marty pumped the pedal for control in the descending turn. When he lifted his foot, he exclaimed “Well that’s just great.”
“Now what?”, Gus asked.
“Now, instead of not enough brake, we have too much brake. They are locked.”
“No way.” Marty tried to limp the car to the visitor’s center, but it wasn’t happening. Presented with a slight uphill, the clutch was beginning to give way, and the engine began overheating. They opened the hood, and assumed the position of a motorist in distress, sitting on the rear bumper. Marty burned his last cigarette as cars drove by on the pass. He shook his head in disgust as the Valiant wagon passed with its delighted crew. “Here we go.”, said Gus.
A two-tone Dodge van pulled up behind them and stopped. “What seems to be the problem?”, asked the man in the passenger seat. “Our brakes are totally shot. They are stuck right now.”, said Gus.
The van’s backseater piped up. “Sounds like his master is clogged up.”, he said as he pushed open the side doors. “We’re all mechanics by the way. We might be able to give you a hand. We’re bored anyway.” They introduced themselves as part of a race team that campaigned a Ford Galaxie. “We did okay, but our truck didn’t do too good.” The C750 cab over was sitting frown-faced somewhere in town, waiting for transmission parts, they explained. Marty and Gus were in awe. Cigarettes loosely dangled from the lips of the three heroes as they poured over the Plymouth like it had its own pit crew.
“Hey Dennis, have a look at this.”, said one of them, holding the cap for the master cylinder. “Oh man. You guys are lucky you made it down the mountain.”, Dennis explained as he pointed out the black sludge. “Pump the pedal.” “Nope. It’s not porting out.” There was a flurry of activity. One of them sacrificed his white t-shirt in the dirt as if it was second nature. He crawled underneath to the rear axle. “Gosh, it’s hotter than shit. Somebody hand me a half-inch flare wrench.” One of them retrieved the tool from the back of the van. “OHhhh! There it goes!”
Said the mechanical wizard under the car. “Yeah. It’s got a pressure lock alright.” He scooted himself out from under the car, and dusted off his ruined clothes. “You’re gonna need a new master cylinder. All your brakes are probably nuked too. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had to replace everything on here.” Marty felt as if he had been punched in the face. Dennis felt bad for him. “Look. He released the pressure. You can probably nurse her into town if you keep it slow. …and don’t hit the brakes again. They will lock up. At least you won’t have to pay for a tow.” The boys thanked the men profusely and they parted ways.
The Plymouth slowly creeped into Colorado Springs. They did 10mph the whole way, shadowed by a rubber flap wrecker, patiently waiting for easy prey. Gus flagged cars by, and Marty kept a keen eye peeled for stray Valiant wagons that might dart out into traffic. They were now waiting sidelined again. This time, they smoked in the parking lot of the gas station. The grey ’41 sat perched atop the lift in the single service bay, sans wheels. A piece of loose friction material lay on the ground where it had fallen. The mechanic wiped his hands, and gave them the news. It was exactly as was foretold. He would indeed need everything. “It’ll take about two days to get the master.”, said the mechanic.
“Fine.”, Marty said with a disgruntled exhale. “You better get this.”, Marty told Gus at the front desk of the motel. “I’ll get the car fixed, and the huge amount of booze we’re going to drink tonight. Then, that will be it.” Even when faced with spending his entire life savings on getting the car fixed in this desperate situation, there would need to be an amount allotted to getting drunk tonight. The situation called for it. Gus acquired the room key, and they went straight to the bar down the street.
“Hey hey!!”, yelled a familiar voice after they walked in. It was Dennis and friends. They bonded more as Marty and Gus thanked them for their help with rounds. It was revealed that they were, in fact, from LA. Dennis stated jokingly, “You guys should just hop in our van!”
“Really?”, Marty asked. Dennis was taken aback slightly.
“Uhh. Yeah, sure. The offer is there.” In Marty’s inebriated state, the decision was a no-brainer. “Sounds boss man. Sure.”
The Plymouth was parked outside the shop, awaiting it’s parts the next morning. Marty and Gus transferred their personal effects into the waiting A100 van. Marty stripped the ignition key of its comrades. He held the extremely basic key in his open hand, it’s finish worn through to the brass. He remembered the day this key was first placed in his hand as if it was yesterday. He remembered what it meant to finally have his first car. Freedom. He remembered first going to see Will, and Gus, and all the other friendships it forged. He remembered sitting in the malt shoppe that first week, and just admiring it out the window. Even the things about the car he would once rather forget, would be remembered as being charming. His eyes fell to the yellow rim, and he cracked a melancholy smile. He heard a snicker, and realized Gus was standing there next to him, doing the same.
“It feels like I’m putting my dog down.”, said Gus. Marty looked at the key again as California Dreamin’ began playing from the van. He reached inside and placed it in the ignition. The emblem on the radio grill caught his eye.
“You really were special.”, he said softly out of fear of embarrassment. He shut the door and hopped in the back of the A100. The journey would go on. For the Plymouth, it was the end of the road…at least for awhile.
Marty watched the snow fall outside. It was beginning to stack up pretty thick on the vast horizontal surfaces of his Mach 1. For some subconscious reason the winter scene made him want a cigarette. He had made the decision to quit years ago. Still, it was an ongoing effort. He kept the cravings at bay by gorging on holiday leftovers, and eggnog. On the news, OPEC was tightening it’s grip. Marty’s father was livid. “We’re all gonna be driving VW’s and six cylinders!” Marty sipped his eggnog and indeed became concerned about how he was going to feed the huge beast in the driveway. Indeed, he might have to trade it in for a VW, or a Datsun. Perhaps he would just pick up an old six cylinder beater that didn’t have any of this emissions nonsense, or need to stop at a gas station every hour.
“Betcha Marty wishes he still had that old Plymouth now.”, his father laughed. Marty agreed, and took his eggnog into his old bedroom. The desk was still covered with his old football trophies, and miscellaneous trinkets. Everything was just as he left it in anger on that hot summer day. He opened the drawer, finding what he expected. He picked up the pink slip for one 1941 Plymouth sedan. It was weathered, square, and actually pink.
Marty smiled. He put the title back in the drawer and slammed it shut. “I don’t even want to know.”