By on September 6, 2011

In Part 10, the Hell Project Impala got Fiat scoops on the hood and hit the I-5 trail again. By late 1993, the car looked more or less the way I’d planned when I started the project and had become a surprisingly good daily driver (thanks to more modern brakes and a reliable, HEI-equipped 350 engine). I still planned to do some suspension and horsepower upgrades, once the early 1990s recession relaxed its grip enough for me to land a decent-paying job, but the setup I had was fulfilling my driving needs very well. Then, in the spring of ’94, Richard Nixon died, and I decided to take the Nixon-hood-ornamented car down to his birthplace and mingle with the mourners.
Before all this happened, however, I’d finally managed to ditch the office- and light-industrial-temp gigs and get a full-time job: delivery driver for a tropical-fish wholesaler.
Every morning I’d drive the Impala to the company’s East Bay warehouse and report to the 120-degree, 100% humidity Fish Room to help pack the day’s merchandise.
The entire aquarium/tropical-fish business is a festival of cruelty from start to finish, particularly with the salt-water varieties; first, starving divers in various Third World coastal towns in the Pacific jump into the water while breathing from a compressor air hose, and they hose down fish habitat with cyanide to stun the fish. Most of the victims die, but some get netted and put into plastic bags, and after another death-filled journey that culminates in the few sickly survivors making it to an American airport’s cargo facility, a Fish Driver (that was me, generally at SFO) arrives in a Mitsubishi Fuso van to pick up a bunch of insulated boxes full of plastic bags containing dead, dying, and (a few) living tropical fish. The fish then take a ride to the Fish Room, where they live in aquariums until being ordered by a retailer. Then the employees of the wholesaler net the fish and dump them in 5-gallon buckets full of salt water, at which point the Fish Driver puts them in plastic bags, fills the bags with oxygen, and dumps them in a styrofoam box for delivery to the customer. Then the fish— those that survive— are sold to the public, and they spend the rest of their abbreviated lives swimming in tiny, desperate circles, searching in vain for an ocean that will never again be their homes. Yeah, this part of the job sucked. If you’re now an underemployed 20-something who’s been on the same sort of not-so-encouraging career path for a couple of years after graduation, you are experiencing a harsher, less forgiving version of the job market of the early 1990s recession, and you probably have a pretty good grasp of the Fish Driver-type jobs out there.
I had no complaints about my commuter vehicle at this time; it drove very well and looked great. My commute covered about 15 miles of some of the nastiest traffic in the East Bay, so I spent a lot of time on the plush green upholstery of my Buick (or maybe it was Oldsmobile) bench seat, inching forward in stop-and-go traffic on I-880 and listening to music on my eight-speaker, twin-amplifier, all-junkyard stereo system.
Being a Fish Driver was pretty stressful, and so I made a special mix tape to listen to while driving to and from my route. Its name: I, Fish Driver.
The vehicles in the Fish Warehouse motor pool were the Fuso, a battered diesel Ford Econoline van, and a diesel Isuzu pickup with rattly-ass camper shell. In order to play cassettes while driving, I drilled a hole in the back of a cheapo Emerson boombox (seen here with a Les Faquins sticker) and ran some long power leads terminating in alligator clips. After loading all the boxes of fish into the Isuzu, Ford, or Mitsubishi, the final step in preparing for my fish-drivin’ day involved crawling under the vehicle’s dash and connecting the alligator clips to 12V+ and ground.

At this point in my life, the Flaming Lips song “Jesus Shooting Heroin” had become more or less the theme song for my days toiling on the Fish Route. In truth, it became the theme song of my life, and my incessant replaying of the song drove everyone around me nuts in a big hurry. When the album containing this fine song first came out in 1986, I wrote off the band as an Oklahoma-fied Butthole Surfers ripoff (which, of course, they were, in most glorious fashion), and I was such a Butthole Surfers fanatic at the time that it took me until the early 1990s to begin to appreciate the genius of the Lips. It goes without saying that “Jesus Shooting Heroin” was the first song on my “I, Fish Driver” tape.

Sometimes I would allow “I, Fish Driver” to run past the first song, in order to hear the mournful Sister Double Happiness song “Wheels A Spinning.” Yes, those two songs make for sort of a Generation X, diminished-expectations/downward-spiral one-two punch, but it made perfect sense at the time. Following them up with Hüsker Dü‘s “Never Talking To You Again” and the Minutemen‘s “Jesus and Tequila,” on the rare occasion that I didn’t hit the Rewind button right after Gary Floyd’s voice stopped.
As a Fish Driver, my days started very early. Into the Impala at dawn, slave in the Fish Room for a couple hours, load the truck, then drive for the next ten or so hours. Repeat. Endlessly.
None of the Fish Driver vehicles had working air conditioning, and my route took me to the broiling-ass Central Valley at least two days a week. Here I am sweating in a Jenny Holzer T-shirt, which is appropriately meta-irono-Gen-X-esque.

I’d usually bring a camera along, so that I could capture old Buicks on Interstate 5 and weird scenes like this “Get Hooked On Fishing, Not On Drugs” bait shop in Stockton.
I shot quite a few proto-DOTS-style interesting street-parked cars during my travels. How about a partially-stripped RX-7 parked in front of an abandoned Pinto?
But mostly I saw strip malls, grim pet-supply chain stores, and about-to-go-out-of-business independent aquarium stores.
I’d finally managed to put a stop to most of the leaky windshield and rear-window weatherstripping— a common GM weak point of the era; my $113 GTO got so bad that crops of mushrooms sprouted from the carpeting by about February— using copious quantities of caulk, Henry’s #204 Roof Cement, and JB Weld. That meant that the Impala’s interior no longer reeked of mildew during Northern California’s rainy winters.
I had gotten used to having weeks off between temp jobs and taking lengthy couch-surfing expeditions to Southern California, but being a Monday-through-Friday Fish Driver meant that my Interstate 5 expeditions had to be weekend-length.
One trip to Los Angeles seemed to promise a job much more interesting than being a Fish Driver.

My friend Ben’s girlfriend had taken a job as “Mistress Nina” at a dungeon in City of Industry, and the dungeon management wanted somebody to weld up some proper torture equipment, preferably using rusty old car parts. Yes, underemployed 20-somethings in a recession will jump at any quasi-interesting job possibility with ice-water-in-hell enthusiasm, an effect one can see all around us today.
Truth was, Mistress Nina’s employer— I’ll call the joint Humiliation-‘Я’-Us, because I can’t recall the real name— had some pretty lame torture equipment. There was a medium-cool Triumph chopper sitting in the waiting room, and this head cage was sort of menacing… but check out the weak-ass chain running to the ceiling. How could a client of Mistress Nina feel the proper mix of fear and arousal, knowing that he could just snap the chain by not-very-desperate struggling?
Clothespins and Icy Hot are fine, sort of your bread-and-butter dungeon implements, but wouldn’t the addition of some gnarly, oxidized jumper cables and a big jar of well-used hose clamps add that extra dungeony je ne sais quoi? The mistresses wouldn’t actually have to use that stuff, so my additions to this sort of gear would be purely cosmetic. Humiliation-‘Я’-Us, after all, was a legitimate, tax-paying business, not some fly-by-night operation that sent its customers to the ER with hard-to-explain injuries.
And this so-called rack? Why, this spindly thing would be smashed to kindling by any real struggles. Why should the customers of Humiliation-‘Я’-Us have to exercise such suspension of disbelief during their ministrations at the hands of Mistress Nina and her coworkers? What this place needed was a rack based on bumper jacks! You know, the big ratcheting jobs preferred by Detroit in the 1960s, the ones that would let you hoist a Chrysler Newport at the top of a teetering shaft of cast iron. Imagine being chained to my rack, with hefty steel manacles at wrists and ankles (attached to clanking, logging-truck-grade rusty-ass chains you’d know you could never break no matter how desperate your struggles). My rack would be vertical, for a greater sense of vulnerability. Mistress Nina and her assistant would, with great deliberation, insert their tire irons into the twin bumper jacks behind your back and, at the count of three, crank down another notch. The glorious fear! Who knows what those evil torturin’ mistresses might do next? I’d use drum-brake return springs as safety devices, to limit the amount of torque on the victim. What could possibly go wrong?
Sadly, the job of dungeon-implement-maker never panned out. Negotiations with Humiliation-‘Я’-Us broke down over the subject of remuneration. First, they wanted to pay in services. No, thanks. How about speed? Hell, no! I wanted cash, and that seemed like a foreign concept to the graduates of the Dungeon School of Business.
That was sort of a bummer, because it would be unimaginably hip to be able to put “Sex Torture Equipment Designer” on my resume today. Still, I was able to put the knowledge I acquired about the world of dominatrices and dungeons to good use more than a decade later, when I wrote Torment, Incorporated (now available for the Kindle!). Actually, my disdain for the low-budget, make-believe setting of the Humiliation-‘Я’-Us facilities led me to come up with my own ideas for a really effective dungeon, and most of you will be pleased to know that I won’t subject you to any more of this digression here; jump over to for a semi-work-safe excerpt from the novel.
The Impala was really looking and running great around this time; the Fiat hood scoops were the crucial finishing touch for the car’s look, and now only a few more years of patina acquisition were needed.
I was still loosely affiliated with the anti-nuclear canvassing organization for which I did occasional wrenching work on the donated cars used to transport canvassers to door-knocking “turf” (a great San Francisco-to-Reno road trip in a ’76 Nova with one such canvasser is documented here). After spending most of 1993 suffering under the cruel lash of the Fish Master, I finally quit my Fish Driver job, which gave me time to visit my friends protesting imminent thermonuclear annihilation at Lawrence Livermore Labs aka Edward Teller‘s Commie-Vaporizin’ Playground. The sight of the Impala among all those hippie-driven Tercel wagons and lefty-sticker-encrusted Vanagons caused some consternation among the jaded CHPs who were keeping the rabid peaceniks from storming the facilities, but no harm came to me or my wheels.
I was surprised that nobody seemed upset about the Richard Nixon hood ornament (which started life as a rubber shower-nozzle decoration, for those who wanted to feel that Tricky Dick was spitting on them in the shower) above the car’s grille. I was also surprised that no Mission District hipster ripped the thing off while the car parked in San Francisco, since the Nixon Head was held in place by a just couple of easily-sliced lengths of speaker wire.
Most who saw my car just tuned it out as “yet another hooptied-out Detroit heap,” but a few recognized it as the art car I’d intended to build all along. Here’s a note left under the windshield one night in early 1994: The Sinester (sic) Car of the Week!
Greasy handprints, three-dimensional texture, and blacked-out trim. I’d returned to the temp-gig lifestyle; the light-industrial gigs were too similar to Fish Driving, so I stuck with office-temp jobs this time around. I had some sort of weird job working a microfilm camera at a Ross Perot-owned facility with an incomprehensible purpose involving billions of cancelled checks being pumped through thousand-yard industrial lines; I still don’t know what they did in that place, which had a spy-movie-style security tunnel with remote-operated doors (through which bewildered temps had to pass after being interrogated via PA speaker every morning) and such uptight security that my job was never explained to me.
I was eating lunch in my car in the parking lot (all office temps have an aversion to eating in the break room with the perms, who look upon temps as not-quite-human creatures) when the news came over the radio: Richard Nixon was dead. At that point, I thought to glance at my car’s Nixon Head hood ornament and found that someone had cut one of the wires affixing it to the car, so that Nixon’s face was now facing the ground. It meant something, and I decided in that moment that it meant I’d better tell Ross Perot that I was done working in his mysterious check-eating facility… and head down I-5 to Richard Milhous Nixon’s homeland: Orange County, California.
So, I finished my last shift, told the temp agency I was through with that gig, packed up the Impala, and headed south. My destination: Yorba Linda, California, birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.

A bit of background might be in order here. At this point, Frank Zappa’s ode to the 37th President of the United States, “Son of Orange County,” seems the appropriate background music (my dad, a big Zappa fan since the days of “Freak Out,” i.e. my entire life, played this song endlessly during the era of the Watergate hearings; therefore it’s etched forever in my mind as “the Watergate theme song”), so crank it up.
Where did my Nixon obsession come from? As a kindergartner and first-grader in Minneapolis during the run-up to the 1972 presidential elections, I didn’t have a very clear grasp of politics; I knew we had been bombing the shit out of Southeast Asia going back to before I was born, for some reason that didn’t even make sense to the grown-ups, and that somehow the upcoming election had something to do with bombs and protesters, but that was about it. What I did know, however, was that my mom (a tough ER nurse from union-stronghold St. Paul) hated this Nixon guy’s guts, and the anti-Nixon tirades I overheard her delivering had me convinced that Terrible Things would ensue if Nixon won the election. I wasn’t sure quite what these things were (nor did I get that Nixon was already president at the time), but I somehow came up with the idea that we’d all be rounded up and sent to concentration camps in the desert if McGovern lost the election… which he did by the biggest blowout in United States presidential election history.
So, Nixon won… and a few weeks later, my parents quit their jobs, sold their house, bought a 1973 Chevrolet Beauville passenger van (shown here after the family got totally 1970s-California-ized, down to the floppy leather cowboy hats), and we left Minnesota for California… or that was the cover story. I knew that we were really heading to Nixon’s camps in the desert, where we’d be put to work digging holes and filling them up again, or whatever evil presidents did to innocent Minnesota families.
Actually, my parents left Minnesota because they’d gone to visit friends in California on a week when the temperature in Minneapolis was 25 below and the temperature in the San Francisco Bay Area was 75 above. That 100-degree difference was all they needed to ditch the Midwest, forever. The Beauville survived long enough for me to wreck it as a teenager, incidentally; here are my sisters on a family trip in the red-and-white Chevy, circa 1981.

Even though the camps in the desert never happened, I remained fascinated with Nixon. During the period starting with the Watergate hearings and peaking with the Fall of Saigon, the Malaise Era was in full effect, with a downward-spiral sense that all principles had been betrayed, no institution was trustworthy, life would always get worse, etc., and Richard Nixon’s face was always front and center for me throughout all of it.

Nixon would be regarded as a flaming socialist liberal these days, what with such Trotskyist big-government/nanny-state moves as the EPA, Clean Air Act, radical economic moves, and so on, and he might have made an OK president (in spite of his SoCal-real-estate-money-backed reprehensible campaign tactics and general lack of moral compass), but unfortunately he was driven completely insane by having the ’60 Presidential election stolen for Kennedy by the vote-generating machines of Mayor Daley and LBJ and then— a mere two years later— losing the race for Governor of California to liberal Pat Brown (no, not this Pat Brown). Nixon had spent his life up to that point convinced that he needed to crush his enemies before they crushed him (an activity at which he excelled), but after the ’62 elections he became convinced that everyone, particularly the “East Coast media elite,” was out to destroy him. By the early 1970s, he was all hopped up on Dilantin, obsessed with legions of real and imagined enemies, and surrounding himself with cronies who felt it necessary to burglarize the offices of the (obviously hapless and doomed) opposition. As I got older, I read everything I could find on the subject of Richard Milhous Nixon, and came to see him as a profoundly American tragic figure— I didn’t exactly empathize with him, what with the permanent damage he inflicted on everything America was supposed to stand for and all, but I couldn’t look away.
When the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace had its grand opening in 1990, I was living 20 minutes away and had just purchased a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan. Naturally, one of the first trips I took in the car was to Yorba Linda, to be there when two ex-presidents and one current president (Ford, Reagan, and Bush I) dedicated the site honoring yet another ex-president.
Even though I was an obvious freak with a huge red beard at the time, I figured that my appreciation of Nixon’s significance would be understood by the wholesome Orange County Republicans running the show, and that I’d be welcomed to the ceremony outside the little house that lemon farmer and grocer Frank Nixon had built with his own two hands.
Unfortunately, the Secret Service guys saw it differently. The nice old ladies in red-white-and-blue dresses who guide visitors around the place (right side of the above photo) are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, no matter how unlike clean-cut La Habra Republicans they might appear, but the SS guys obviously figured I was about to produce a five-gallon bucket of pig blood and dump it on Gerald Ford, screaming about millions of dead Southeast Asians, tit-for-tat presidential pardons, and so forth.
I probably risked getting hustled off to an unmarked van and given a very unpleasant lecture about the lack of wisdom shown by photographing Secret Service personnel with four United States Presidents nearby, but this guy just gritted his teeth and told me to take off and never come back.
I did come back, of course, returning a few months later to tour the place. It may be different now, but the Nixon Museum was extremely… well, Nixonian. In stark contrast to the LBJ Museum (where they’re proud of the fact that LBJ stole elections, treated his subordinates like crap, sold out his allies, and lied like a sumbitch every chance he got), the Nixon Museum is a temple to spin and revisionist history, like the sort of thing Assad will set up if he gets booted out of Syria. The Silent Majority speech has its own little house with a white picket fence, the Vietnam War is blamed entirely on Democrats (fair enough, until 1969, not counting Eisenhower and the French), and Watergate was a conspiracy to destroy the Executive Branch of the United States government. Needless to say, I loved the place, especially the gift shop that provided me with the pewter Nixon Museum & Birthplace keychain shown here with my Impala keys.
So, I steered the Chevy onto I-5 south. The Northridge Earthquake had occurred a couple months before, and the freeways south of the Grapevine were a nightmare of construction and detours.
But I persevered, because I knew that I had to be present at the Richard Nixon Museum & Birthplace when the distraught Orange County mourners showed up to pay their respects to their idol.
In truth, I was a little worried that I’d be lynched by a yowling mob of enraged retirees from Laguna Hills and .38-packin’ Tustin housewives the very moment anyone caught sight of my wretched-looking car and its disrespectful hood ornament, but I had no choice. The Nixon Head hood ornament would stay, lynch mob or no.
I needn’t have worried about getting strung up on a lamppost at some Yorba Linda strip mall, because the mourners at the RNM&B were so caught up in their own grief that they didn’t even notice my car rumbling into the parking lot. The nice old Republican ladies in their red-white-and-blue dresses just wanted to make sure I had a chance to sign the guest book.
The steps of the Museum were covered with flowers, flags, and heartfelt notes. “Love from my children. Sleep well, sweet Nixon.” You can’t make this stuff up!
I hadn’t thought to bring flowers, but I did feel a sense of loss that we wouldn’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more. Not quite the sadness that I felt when, say, Frank Zappa, Charles Bukowski, and Kurt Cobain died during the several months prior to Nixon’s death, of course, but it did feel strange knowing that Nixon was gone.
“Soon. Very soon. Under golden skies and in fair clime. We’ll all be there again to meet & greet you again.”
Maybe so, if heaven turns out to be something like a Corona del Mar guard-gated community, peopled with honest small businessmen out of Yorba Linda, circa 1922. I hung around the mourners for a while, then climbed in the Impala and headed out of Yorba Linda. Perhaps it’s time to let the late Hunter S. Thompson, a man whose life often seemed bound to Nixon’s, have the last word here:

If the right people had been in charge of Nixon’s funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.

Next up: Packin’ up, movin’ to Georgia!

IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9Part 10Part 12

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32 Comments on “1965 Impala Hell Project, Part 11: Son of Orange County...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Cool story, Bro. I’m actually amazed that you managed to wreck a Beauville and survive, in my area of the Midwest they tended to oxidize pretty quickly.

    Read “Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon” if you haven’t already. (BTW I always read conflicting acounts of controversial people. I’m reading Nixon’s memoirs next.)

  • avatar

    I have to say, this is really turning into an exemplary work of long-form journalism for the internet era. From the Kafkaesque (“my job was never explained to me”) to the Nixonian, with a sufficient complement of dominatrix photos, you touched a lot of bases here in part 11. My respects.

    What are your sources concerning how saltwater aquarium fish are harvested? I’d like to dissuade one of my kids who’s interested in progressing from freshwater to saltwater tanks.

  • avatar

    I knew it !!! I knew it!!! I always had Chez Murilee pegged as an MC 900 Ft Jesus fan!!!! YES!!!!

  • avatar

    There’s this ’67 or ’68 Impala hardtop (with vinyl roof which probably makes it a ’68. I can’t see the rear, so I can’t tell) sitting off the road up near our country house. It’s for sale. Last week as we passed it by, I got to thinking that maybe I should buy it. Wonder where I got that idea?

    In ’68, I took my first trip to California to spend a couple of weeks staying with a boyhood friend of my Dad and his wife and kids. He was an ex-pat Dane who happened to work for my dad running the flight kitchen in L.A. He had just bought a new ’68 Impala and I remember riding in it through the alien landscape of SoCal to Disneyland, past the Douglas plant in Long Beach where the DC-8s that we flew every summer were built. My Dad owned a ’65 Valiant wagon. The Impala had what seemed to me to be the largest trunk I had ever seen. The Valiant replaced the ’65 Volvo Amazon wagon (a company car which replaced the ’64 Amazon wagon that he rolled three times coming home from a company party and press event at the NY World’s Fair where he and my mom ran the Swedish Pavilion Restaurant). Trunks were alien places to me. The proper back end of a car had a tailgate, not a trunk.

    My mom and dad were Republicans, like most immigrants. My mom campaigned for Nixon and I had my very own Nixon-Agnew bumper sticker on the door to my room. I was 13 and the sheer horror of ’68 hadn’t yet completely sunk in. It would with the cancellation of our planned Christmas trip to Bangkok (the airline my dad worked for owned a big share in Thai Airlines and he had gone there 21 years earlier just after the end of his five year experience as a prisoner in his own country). My mom vetoed the trip because, after all, it was a little too close to Viet Nam. That Christmas, my mom had an epiphany when she realized that the war might go on long enough to lay claim to her only son. Things changed for her after that, she lost her faith in American politics. My dad remained a Republican. He hated LBJ.

    A few years later, I was living in Boston and a friend of mine owned a ’67 Convertible Impala which he had bought new more than a decade earlier. One summer night he lent me the Impaler (nickname Vlad) so that I could drive this girl home from a party. I never saw her again, but, for a brief moment, it was a timeless perfect evening with her very close to me on the bench seat, my arm around her shoulder, steering it one finger. I dropped her off at her home, drove the Impala to my place and left the top down. Coming out the next morning, that served to remind me that it was all real, not some imagined dream with Puck laughing at me.

  • avatar

    Woah Dude,

    You’ve been ALL OVER the place back then with experiences, haven’t you?

    This is a remarkable series I’m telling you.

    I remember seeing a story about the unemployment issues back then and feeling frustrated at the time and seeing how the US went to war in Gulf with George the 1st as prez.

    I’ve not been exactly a fan of Bush 1 but he’s definitely better than his sad sack son GWB in many respects, he makes Nixon, and to some extent, Johnson look halfway decent as presidents but they ALL sucked,Johnson with his paranoia and Nixon with everything else, including Watergate.

    If I had the fortitude at the time, I could’ve done something in a similar vein with my old ’68 Chrysler Newport I had in HS as it would’ve made a great art car as well, but this time, as a juxtaposition of a luxury brand car in its over the hill state, never mind it WAS the base Newport 4 door sedan with an under-dash Air Temp AC unit and not much else in the way of options.

  • avatar

    This is great stuff, really interesting dive into the realities of 20-somethings in early 90’s. That self portrait in the fish van really captures the misery of the situation.

  • avatar

    Bnukie and Murilee- you’d love what I’ve got. Two months ago my friend and I rescued a ’66 Chevy Biscayne two-door from a local wrecking yard. It was destined to be parted and crushed if I hadn’t spotted it in the recieving area while on a parts-scrounging mission for my ’72 Delta 88 Royale convertible.

    We plan on turning it from an aborted lowrider project ( the previous owner had already “cut” the frame and installed a carrier for mounting four deep cycle batteries ) to a period-correct factory lightweight super stock clone.

  • avatar

    Too bad Mike_AR got banned before his head could explode reading this counter-cultural semi-ironic hymn to the Trickster. Great stuff, Murilee. This is the kind of journalism that Motor Trend and Popular Mechanix just don’t provide anymore.

  • avatar

    “I knew we had been bombing the shit out of Southeast Asia going back to before I was born, for some reason that didn’t even make sense to the grown-ups…”

    The old moral ambiguity critique of the war.
    You really don’t see there were good reasons to oppose North Vietnam?
    Do you feel that way about North Korea?
    It makes plenty of sense to oppose regimes like those two.

  • avatar

    This reminds me of Jack Kerouac and Edward Hopper, both the photos and the story. My father loved to hate Nixon, LOVED to hate him. My mother just hated him. I see Nixon pretty much as you do. I wore a “Nixon in ’92: More than Ever!” button all through the Bush2 years. I woiuld love to have one of those Nixon masks for my car, although a reasonably cherry ’99 Accord will never be a ’65 Impala, nor would I want it to be one.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      My personal favorites are the t-shirts that say “Nixon: Tan, Rested, Ready, and Dead.” Although in my personal political button collection I have one that says “Who says Dick Nixion’s Backward?” And of course on the button, Nixion’s name is written backwards.

  • avatar

    Nobody wrote a better, or more true obituary of Richard Millhouse Nixon than Hunter S. Thompson.

  • avatar

    A few thoughts on this series;
    I’m getting quite curious on what eventually happens to the Impala.
    I love the tape mix; Black Sabbath, Husker Du, BH Surfers, along with mainstream dance and rock music, pretty cool.
    I love how a car blog can segue from cars to dead politicians without missing a beat.
    BTW – Conrad Black wrote a book called “Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full” and it portrays Nixon in a far more favourable light.
    Full disclosure; I have not read the book as I prefer to read what a nasty little man he was.
    But Black’s book on FDR is very good and I’d recommend it, however, like the Nixon book it’s a heavy read and can test the most focused of readers

  • avatar

    Not much ideological consistency in the man and certainly no conservative. As Murilee pointed out, a lot of the growth of the federal government happened under Nixon and he was no enemy of regulations, imposing price controls (as if that ever worked). Still he went to China.

    In the end I don’t think he was as wicked as we liked to believe he was. He was very smart. That’s clear from his perception that the coverup is always more damaging than the underlying scandal.

    Speaking of scandals and coverups, it’s getting harder and harder to keep a lid on the Fast and the Furious gunwalking scandal at ATF. They threw the acting ATF director under the bus but the story is still percolating. Now the latest is that they let a supplier to a Mexican drug gang “walk” IEDs into Mexico. I mean I can understand Watergate a little. It was stupid because Nixon was going to win in a landslide but I can understand spying on your opposition. The Fast and the Furious gunrunning thing is just insane. Sure, let’s let weapons flow to Mexico so our anti-gun allies can point to how US guns end up in Mexico. Geez, compared to that, Nixon was morally upright.

    Frankly, the worst aspect of the Watergate scandal was that it weakened Nixon at a time when he was negotiating with the North Vietnamese, and then the subsequent Democratic congressional election successes of the Democrats meant that the Senate cravenly cut off funds and air support to the South Vietnamese gov’t. By 1972, US troop levels had been drastically reduced and ARVN was doing most of the fighting, successfully. In 1973 they fought off a larger invasion than the one that ultimately captured Saigon, but then the Senate bailed on the war.

    In retrospect, Nixon prosecuted the war well. The military tide started changing with the North’s failure during the Tet offensive (a military failure but a PR success on the US home front what with video of fighting on the grounds of the US embassy in Saigon – Mr. Cronkite failed to tell us that the offensive failed and the VC shot its shot and was no longer an effective fighting force). Bombing the North brought them to the negotiating table. Whether or not the Paris Peace Accords were good or not is for history to debate but unquestionably by ramping up the bombing, Nixon brought the North Vietnamese to the table.

    So, like most US presidents, he did some good and some bad.

    Nixon wasn’t the worst president (my personal favorite for that title is Woodrow Wilson, the racist progressive but then I repeat myself, though the oxygen thief Jimmy Carter gives Wilson a run for his money), but then the country is strong enough to survive most any president.

    • 0 avatar

      We never, ever, ever had a chance in hell of “winning” the Vietnam war, because we’d set the terms of victory as “non-communist government controlling the country.” The South Vietnamese were utterly incapable of providing such a government. We did have the military strength to A) conquer the entire country and set up an occupation government or B) kill everyone in North Vietnam and then kill everyone in South Vietnam who seemed even slightly hostile, but that would have been bad for business.

      The Christmas Bombings was a drive-by shooting out of the Crips playbook. Nixon ended our ground-force involvement in the war (and, crucially, bought enough time to avoid being “the first president to lose a war”) by going to China, traditional enemy and sometime conqueror of Vietnam, which scared the shit out of Hanoi.

      As for the Tet Offensive and the “Walter Cronkite’s stab in the back” theory so beloved by the “we never lost a battle” folks today, I say: bullshit. The Tet Offensive was a cynical move by the North Vietnamese communists to weaken the South Vietnamese communists so that they’d utterly dominate the country after we left, and it was a huge success; the fact that Tet made it clear to the American public that all the talk of imminent victory was horseshit was just a happy byproduct for Hanoi, because they knew they were going to win eventually. Why? Because we could never kill enough people to make them love the Saigon government more than they feared the communists.

      But that’s the mildest version of the Nixonian “Liberal Media Sells Out The Country” theory of the Vietman war taken as gospel among members of the American right; I just read Moyar’s “Triumph Forsaken,” which details the communist/Buddhist plot that induced (hapless dupe or full-on traitor? you decide!) David Halberstam to turn against that champion of democracy, Ngo Dinh Diem. Fortunately for those that blame Cronkite, it is now possible for any individual to tailor his sources of information so as to receive only that information that reinforces his or own biases; had the Internet existed back in the Vietnam War era, the Silent Majority would have written off Cronkite and his ilk as pawns of Lenin, period.

  • avatar

    One thing you could say about Nixon is he didn’t take any shit from anybody. Dropping the gold standard set the stage for today’s problems though and I can’t forgive the SOB for that.

  • avatar

    I’ll be keeping my eyes open for the next Murilee Martin novel — she could be to erotic fiction what Ellroy was for crime fiction. (quote from the first Amazon review of Torment, Incorporated)

  • avatar

    Even tho’ I’m no longer political, I liked Nixon. A lot. He was in a dirty business and got caught. All politics is corrupt, like it or not.

    About Vietnam: I was in the air force 1969-1973 and was in the wing headquarters of the 9th Strategic Recon. Wing of SAC up at Beale AFB. My outfit flew the SR-71 spy plane. When on Okinawa, I got to see some of the photos that were taken. An intelligence sgt. had me look at a few. One showed a large building. He said to take a look at it – I saw nothing of significance; he said to look closer – it was a hospital in Hanoi with a SAM missle site in the courtyard and the U.S. bombers couldn’t touch it! Politics is what “lost” the war, not military might. The ideology didn’t fit, either. Once again, ideology got in the way, and instead of the U.S. backing Ho Chi Minh, who had real power and could truly unite Vietnam, the U.S. chose the opposite.

    In 1974 when Nixon stepped down, my buddy and I paused from the car we were working on and watched his speech. I decided to step outside for a second – the neighborhood was eerily quiet, not a car on the streets! Good or bad, Nixon had an impact.

    Fascinating series of articles. I can’t fathom where you found the type of music you listened to, though, or who would pay bands to record that stuff!

    Did Nixon start the U.S. on the downward spiral? No. That was GM when they changed to fixed side glass in their formerly pillarless hardtop coupes with the 1973 models!

    • 0 avatar

      There would have been no way for any American politician to support Ho Chi Minh after about 1947 (the French would have flipped out and hosed NATO and the Marshall Plan, not to mention the reaction among communism-fearing US voters), though it’s interesting to imagine what would have happened if such had been the case. Ho was always a Vietnamese nationalist first, communist second (Ho Chi Minh trivia: he drove a Peugeot 404 during the 1960s), so he’d have been willing to sell out the communists in order to get Vietnamese independence from France… but then what would the Chinese (the only enemy the Vietnamese have ever feared) have done?

      As for certain North Vietnam targets being off-limits to US attack, such decision have always been political in countries with civilian control over the military. To use examples from “the good war,” why didn’t we bomb the Swedish iron mines and Swiss ball-bearing factories that supplied the Third Reich? Why didn’t we use mustard gas during the invasions of Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa? We’d probably have done all of those things, had the decisions been up to the military commanders.

      I think the real “what might have been” question is: What if we had sweated our “bad puppet” Diem into allowing the 1956 referendum called for by the Geneva Accords to take place? The communists might have won, but we wouldn’t have betrayed our pro-democracy principles.

      • 0 avatar

        “…why didn’t we bomb the Swedish iron mines and Swiss ball-bearing factories that supplied the Third Reich? Why didn’t we use mustard gas during the invasions of Saipan, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa?”

        I don’t know. Fear of bad publicity? We went ahead and bombed the life out of Hamburg and Dresden. How many civilians killed, a couple hundred thousand?

        As Michael Walzer said, “It is perfectly possible for a just war to be fought unjustly and for an unjust war to be fought in strict accordance with the rules.”

    • 0 avatar

      Now I know – Nixon had to be the guy who killed the Hardtop! The “gang of four” struck one last time! Now, after all these years, I’m as ticked off as you!

  • avatar

    As a U.S. military dependent living far away in Japan during this era, I was well isolated from the effects of the recession. I wouldn’t have even known it existed without my father’s “When this recession turns into a depression, the shit’s really gonna hit the fan!” tirades. I was actually PUSHED into a cushy government job on the marine base doing little more than standing around eating snacks. Thanks for the history lesson.

  • avatar
    Mike C.

    I’m going to have to scour Ebay for one of those Nixon shower heads…

  • avatar

    Love the mix tape haha some oldies but goodies on there.

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