By on September 2, 2015

shelby side

In addition to advice about the long-term benefits of wearing sunscreen, the world’s most famous commencement address included this bit of wisdom: “The real troubles in your life are apt to be the things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.” And so it was, true to the author of that essay’s own meandering experience, that I found myself on a sunny, if not entirely idle, afternoon this past June tossing a small rucksack into the back of my well-worn Shelby Charger setting out for Seattle, some 1800 miles away.

That my mother was ill was a fact I had long known. Just how serious the situation truly was, however, took everyone by surprise. One day the doctors were telling my brothers and sisters that our mother had as much as a year left to live and then, almost the next day, were coming back to say that she might have just a few weeks. By the time the news reached me in Leavenworth, the prognosis had been shortened to just days. After an hour or two of hand wringing, I decided I should probably go.

I can say now that the right thing to do would have been to fly, but there were several factors that played into my decision to drive. The first was that I really didn’t believe the news. I had spoken to my mother the previous week and she had sounded healthy and happy, so this sudden turn for the worse didn’t really register with me at the time. She had been sick and then better several times and this was, I reasoned, just another low point that she would claw her way back from. She had done it before and she would, I thought, do it again.

Also, my time in Leavenworth was coming to an end. Graduation was just a week away and, the best year of our life completed, our household goods were set to be packed and shipped almost immediately thereafter. I had a thousand things on my mind — orders, passports, reservations, airline tickets, the kids, the dog, and, added in there somewhere, the disposal of my Shelby Charger. This last thing, surprisingly, was proving to be quite irksome.

Selling the Shelby should have been a snap. It looked great, ran good, and had a raft of new-old-stock replacement parts to go along with it. Someone somewhere, I reasoned, should want it. Originally, I had worried about selling it too quickly. I still needed a second vehicle for our final days in Kansas and so, overconfident that the buyers would beat down my door, I hung too high a price on it. Ultimately, I think now, that helped drive them away.

Shelby front

Looking back, I can see that a Shelby Charger isn’t the kind of car the general public is usually interested in. Most people who buy a car like this, a “near classic” I call them, have to be a model-specific enthusiast; someone who wants a specific car in good but not totally pristine condition, at a good price. These people, it turns out, are in short supply, so after weeks of running fruitless advertisements,I decided to send the car to my brother’s house where he could use it as he saw fit and where it would be when I ventured back to the Seattle area on whatever odd errand would eventually carry me there.

I was considering shipping the car and had already obtained several quotes when the news of my mother’s situation interrupted my planning process. Still not entirely convinced that she really was in her last days, driving the Shelby out to Seattle would help solve two problems at one time. The added benefit would be that I wouldn’t need to rent a car while I was there and, once mom got better, I could just fly home. It was a perfect solution.

With this in mind, I carefully packed the car with the many replacement parts that had been included when I purchased it, packed a small bag for what was sure to be a quick trip, and said goodbye to my wife and kids. It was about 3 p.m. when I put the little car on the road to the interstate and, although I had originally questioned the decision to go, now that I was on my way it felt right. After a stop for gas in Platte City, MO, I caught northbound Interstate 29 and gradually wicked the speed up to just under the limit. Although I had owned the car for several months, this was the first time I had taken it out for more than a short blast. As I rolled through St. Joseph, the town where my mom was born and raised, I was surprised at how smooth the car was running.

Way back in 1983 when the little Shelby had rolled off the production line, the speed limit was just 55 miles per hour and it seemed logical to me that the car had been geared to run most efficiently at right around that speed. To my happy surprise, however, the car wanted to run at 65. Although that was still slower than most of the posted speed limits in the many states that lay west of the Mississippi, it seemed a good pace. I could, of course, have pushed the car harder, but after noticing that the temperature gauge was hanging just below the red zone, I decided not to push my luck.

Nor was handling an issue. The Shelby felt at home on the superslab and tracked smoothly along at speed. The little car might be old, I thought, but it was definitely in its element on the open road.

I passed into Nebraska in the late afternoon and switched over to I-80 in Omaha just after the evening rush hour had cleared. As I ran westward, a line of severe storms plunged the countryside into an early, ominous dusk and soon I was observing lightning with an ever increasing frequency off to my right. At around 8 p.m. the storms that had been staying just slightly north of the Interstate finally worked their way south and began to dump buckets of rain onto the road. The little Shelby’s windshield wipers beat furiously on their high-speed setting, but no matter how hard they worked the driving rain made clearing the windshield impossible and I found it difficult to see. Blinded, I moved the car to the right side of the interstate, found the fog line, and switched on my emergency flashers as I straddled that glorious line at a bare 30 miles per hour like a slot car on a track. At one point, the steady drum of raindrops turned into the pinging of high-speed hail and, for the first time that day, I began to wonder just what the hell I had gotten myself into. As I approached the town of Grand Island, I decided enough was enough and pulled off the road for the night. Although that sort of weather may seem normal to some people, I felt lucky to just be alive.

By 5 a.m. the next morning, the skies had cleared and the raging torrent that had been the road the night before was once again dry. I spent a few minutes looking over the little car before I started on my way and was relieved to find out that the only damage the hail had caused had been to my nerves. After topping off the oil and filling up with gas I put the car back on the interstate determined to reach Salt Lake City in just one Jump.

It turns out that it is almost 800 miles from Grand Island, Nebraska to Salt Lake City, Utah. Google Maps tells me that it should take somewhere around 11 hours and, in order to make it, I had to push the little car relentlessly. Although I was confined to the slow lane almost the entire way, I made decent time as the sun rose behind me and about the time it got into my eyes I had noted that the countryside turned from verdant farmland into the drier, more varied terrain of the high plains. Sometime in the early afternoon , I entered Wyoming and, a few hours after, crossed the continental divide. From there, I reminded myself that it was, technically, all down-hill and I found myself relieved to be, once again, on “my own side of the continent.”

Shelby interior

All through the long, hot day, the car beat steadily along at just over 65 miles per hour and, despite their age, the Shelby’s overstuffed, velour seats proved to be surprisingly comfortable. Once again the needle on the temperature gauge climbed and remained dangerously close to the redline and I worried as, from time to time, the slight odor of blistering hot motor oil wafted through the cabin. Still, as car after car screamed by in the fast lane, the little Charger continued to hum merrily along, looking good and, I’m sure, providing a fun momentary distraction to the bored passengers of those faster, if only slightly more comfortable, cars as they flashed by.

I had another run-in with a huge thunderstorm that again left me driving blind and questioning the wisdom of my journey and by 5 p.m. had reached the town of Rock Springs, Wyoming. By now I had been in the driver’s seat long enough to be tired and cranky and, as the day had progressed, left me spending considerable time thinking about my mother’s condition. Now, as I found myself stopped in the back-up for what had obviously been a terrible one-car accident, thoughts of life and death were hitting close to home. My mood was thoroughly dark when I finally rolled past the nearly unrecognizable hulk of what had once been a Jeep Liberty and got back up to speed.

I still had a long way to go and, to make matters worse, the Shelby struggled as I worked my way upward through the gears. The engine seemed to be fine. I had shut the car down during the long wait and it had cooled off nicely, but the clutch was having a real issue as its normally high engagement point had dropped to the final inch of its travel. Getting it to disengage as I ran up through the gears was a problem and, as I worked my way further west, I considered the possible mechanical issues. The car had a non-hydraulic clutch, I knew, and it seemed most likely that an lock-nut or adjustment screw had vibrated loose during the day-long drone. It wouldn’t be especially difficult to fix, I thought, but despite the fact that I had a car full of replacement parts not having any tools would be a problem. I was pondering my options when I passed a billboard for a place called “Little America” and noticed that they had a mechanic on duty 24 hours a day. Problem solved, I thought.

As the desert oasis known as Little America hove into view I worked the car down through the gears with as little grinding as possible and exited the highway. I limped over to a service area only to find that it was intended for semi-trucks, not cars, but by now the situation was obviously so bad that I could go no further. I shut it down right there and went inside.

It took some convincing to get one of the mechanics to come and look at my car, but to his credit, when he finally did, he spotted the issue right away. The plastic housing on the clutch cable was broken and the entire part needed to be replaced. Parts I had in abundance, so I unloaded the back of the car looking for what I needed but came up empty handed. I sat there pondering my luck, if it had been almost anything else I would have been fine, but for whatever reason it had turned out that the one part I needed was the one I didn’t have.

Of course I tried to cobble something together, to make some temporary modification that would make it work in order to get back on the road, but after an hour of rolling around under the car on the still-hot asphalt I realized my journey was at an end. Even if I could get the car back on the road, I thought, there was still a 150 miles of desolate western Wyoming terrain to cross and at least one major mountain pass to clear before I pulled into Salt Lake. Having a breakdown out there in the dark could be fatal and I had already had enough thoughts about death and dying for one day. Enough was enough. Defeated, I called my sister in Salt Lake and she agreed to come and get me.

With the help of a good Samaritan, I pushed the Shelby to the corner of the parking lot and wondered how much of it would remain there in the time it would take to arrange to get someone to come and get it. I couldn’t stay, I had to go on, and so it was likely I wouldn’t see the car again soon, if at all. Physically exhausted and emotionally drained, I walked past the gas pumps to the store to get a drink and, as I did so, noticed an almost empty car hauler at one of the pumps. “Are you heading to Salt Lake” I asked.

“No,” the man told me, “I’m going to Kansas City.”

I paused for a second and then asked, “How much would cost to have you take my broken down car to Leavenworth?”

The man thought for a moment and answered, “$500?” We struck the deal on a handshake and within the hour the Shelby was on the truck, headed back the way it came. Problem solved. I was exhausted and repaired to the snack bar where, it turned out, the food was pretty good and I had time to decompress.

Shlby on carrier

It took a couple of hours for my sister and her husband to arrive and we returned to Salt Lake that night. As we cleared the pass and dropped down into the deep canyons that Interstate 80 followed into the city, I realized there was no way I could have made it with the car locked into 5th gear. Safe and relieved, I slept that night at my sister’s house, the steering wheel of the Shelby still buzzing in my fingertips as I drifted off to sleep.

The next day, my sister and I flew to Seattle and on Sunday afternoon, just about the time we probably would have arrived, my mother passed away. Although she was not entirely lucid during the few hours we had with her, I know that she knew my sister and I were there. If we hadn’t arrived when we did ,we would have missed it or needlessly prolonged her suffering while she strained to wait for us.

A few days later I flew back to Leavenworth where a classmate met me at the airport. After stopping at the local auto parts store to pick up the part I had ordered on-line prior to departing to Seattle, my friend took me home where I found the little Shelby waiting in my driveway exactly where the car hauler had assured me he would put it. The next morning, I used the new part to fix the car in about 10 minutes without any tools and then took it for a short test drive. Out on my favorite road the little car shrugged off the days of hard travel and buzzed along as happily as ever. Life, I realized, goes on.

As I worked the car up and down through the gears, noting the flawless action of the clutch pedal beneath my left foot, I pondered the mysteries of the universe and how I have, over the past few years, questioned the faith in which I was raised. God is in everything and every man, people told me; God has a plan but I wasn’t so sure any more. My mother believed but, having fought the good fight every day without reward and having only advanced myself in life through interminable struggles, I had my own doubts. But, after breaking down in a little car filled with every replacement part but the one I needed, and as a result taking the flight to see my mom that one last time when she was really there in the hours before cancer finally took her, I wonder now if maybe I haven’t been wrong.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Kanagawa, Japan with his wife and three children. He has spent most of his adult life overseas with more than 9 years spent in Japan, 2 years i Jamaica and almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. Although originally from Snohomish, WA he has also lived in several places around the United States including Buffalo, NY and Leavenworth, KS. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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66 Comments on “An Unexpected Lesson: Making the Long Trip Home...”

  • avatar

    A very well-written account, nice work. Glad you got to see her before the end.

    When you’re having trouble selling you come here and complain, and somebody will come get the Shelby!

  • avatar

    I am also of a time and age to reflect on actions and choices. Please advise on any firm conclusions, as I find myself baffled.

  • avatar

    Sorry for your loss, this was a very well written story, hope the future is kind to you.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Thomas, Sincere condolences and thanks for sharing this story with us.

    With this article and Jack’s TTAC demonstrates why I visit this site. Two ‘home run’ postings in one day. Sure they are tangentially about vehicles but more importantly they convey lessons about life.

    • 0 avatar

      +2 on the two home runs

      Sincere condolences from me, as well. I’m glad you made it in time to commune with your mother.

      I once had the same drive or fly decision, when I got the third call that my father was dying. I was on the outer end of Cape Cod, MA, he was in northern VA living with my sister and her family. I really really wanted to drive (7 1/2 hrs if no traffic–I don’t remember why I thought there would be no traffic on that particular day, almost exactly 13 years ago, but I did), but I just felt the two 1/2 hrs or so that I would be saving by flying could be critical, and so I flew. He lived for a few more days, and had his moments of lucidity, and died at 3AM on Sept. 1, three years to the hour after my mother had suffered the stroke that ultimately led to her death.)

      I don’t believe in deities or fate; nonetheless, I think you wrote an excellent story, both technically, and in terms of general content, and the deeply personal ending. I would be very interested as to how you perceive the religion issue in a half a year or a year, whether this brings you back to the Church of your youth, or not.

      • 0 avatar

        I guess I will have to wait and see. I don’t really have a huge desire to go back to church at this point but I do find that my attitude towards God and religion in general has changed when I encounter it in my day to day life. It seems a little more comforting and a little more poignant now. I find myself listening and thinking about it it rather than just turning it off.

        • 0 avatar
          Dave M.

          Thomas – What an incredibly powerful yet painful story. Similarly, when my dad was given “6 months to a year” to live, my brother and I suddenly found ourselves on the road 8 days later, racing 1800 miles home to be there for his last hours in a mind-shattering downturn. (My guess is that my dad, a WWII combat vet, after given his dire prognosis said “fuck this I’m outta here”)

          I will say when the reality and weight of the full situation hit me 3-4 months later, I unexpectedly found myself gathering incredible comfort and strength at the daily 6 am Mass, surrounded by a handful of widows. I went for 6-7 months straight, each day renewing and clarifying my beliefs.

          All said, it sucks being a grownup.

          Peace and strength to you.

  • avatar

    People tend to regret those things they didn’t do over the things they did, also everything happens for a reason although it may be years until you can figure out why.

  • avatar

    I am glad you are safe. My condolences to you and your family. I know your mom is in a better place and I am sure she appreciated your presence.

    I am now super curious as to what faith you have called home in your past. Maybe that which I espouse?

    Great writing. Good luck selling the car and with all you have coming up.

  • avatar

    Great story!
    This write-up brought back some memories for me. I was a student and later an Academic Counselor/Evaluator (ACE) at the Army Command and General Staff College in the 90s. Nothing has really changed there, although the school is no longer “Alcoa on the Missouri”. It was fascinating to me how many life changes happened to the student body over the period of a year. The first year I was an ACE, I got a call at home from a new student who had only been in class for a week when he got the notification that his mother had passed away. Had to get him all cleared to go on emergency leave. Also a lot of divorces. I bet they still tell the story of some student having relations in an odd location with his new “partner” in one of the base housing areas. The odd location was reputed to be a dumpster, but I can’t picture that. Things were more genteel then.

    Good luck on your next career challenge. Even the bad days count towards 20 years of service!

    • 0 avatar

      I understand there was some drama in other staff groups but precious little in mine. We did have one ugly divorce but to the man’s credit he still showed up ready to contribute every day.

      I’m not in the Army by the way, I was offered a special opportunity to attend the program. The trade-off for the education they provided was my outside perspective and access to my wider range of professional experiences. I will admit, however, that the day one of the instructors told us, “Let’s face it, our job is to break things.” I felt like I found a home. I made great friends and gained great respect for the institution that is the Army. The caliber of people who are in our nation’s service is absolutely amazing.

  • avatar
    Jack Baruth

    Thank you for writing this.

  • avatar

    Wow there’s a blast from the past. The Shelby took the standard Charger’s 2.2 from 101hp all the way up to 110hp plus you got that chrome valve cover. The first year you could get two paint schemes. Mainly blue with a silver center like the one in the picture, or the colors reversed. I had a demo just like the one in the picture and my nephew had the mainly silver one.

    I think it was ’85 when the came out with the Turbo model and two new colors, black with silver and red with silver but I don’t think you could reverse them.

    Thanks for bringing back those memories and my condolences on your loss.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I’m sorry for your loss TK.

  • avatar

    Sorry for your loss. My Dad recently passed in a similar situation. I took the easy way and flew out and drove another rental Camry. No story to tell, but I saw my Dad one last time and that’s all that matters.

  • avatar

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

  • avatar

    A very good article; one that should inspire a lot of people. I highly recommend publishing it in a magazine.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Thomas – my sincere condolences, and thank you so much for sharing this.

  • avatar

    Very moving story. Reminds me of many of my over the road trips in an old vehicle, but none of my trips were connected to loosing a family member.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I’ve been wondering where you’ve been. Good to have you back . . . with your best piece yet. PLease accept my condolences on your loss. I lost my mother 20 years ago, quite unexpectedly. But I have a feeling that, unexpectedly or not, the feeling of loss is just the same.

    On a more prosaic note: How’s the head gasket in your Charger? Shouldn’t be running hot at 65 mph.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    Having touched down at the airport the day of my mother’s passing, I can partially understand your feelings of loss. Please accept my sincere condolences.

    Now let me guess: disconnect tension spring from plastic slider inside clutch pedal box; let clutch pedal fall to floor; remove cable spring clip and rubber bushing from clutch lever, thus freeing the cable assembly; remove and replace actual cable assembly; reverse assembly of bushing/clip and tension spring.

  • avatar

    @Thomas Kreutzer – thank you for sharing. My condolences.

    Questioning one’s faith or beliefs in times of trouble is not unusual nor is it wrong. Bad things happen to good people. I see that unfortunate fact on a daily basis.
    “WHY?” is the most common question.

    I wish I had the answer.

    All I can offer is love and compassion.

  • avatar

    I’ve been there; I’m still there. If you’re still there too come by for a drink on me.

  • avatar

    Thomas, so sorry for your loss. May peace be with you and your family.

  • avatar

    Sorry for your loss. My mother passed away in 2011 from Cancer. She too was told she had a year or more. After 2 months however, she seemed to get better. We got the surprise call in the middle of the night to go to the hospital 3 months after the diagnosis. She died later that evening. As someone who has lived through that experience, I’m glad you got to see her in time.

    On a more positive note, I’m glad you were able to fix the Shelby!

  • avatar

    Thomas ;

    Sorry you lost Moms , sounds like you were close and that’s a good thing , she’ll always be in your heart .

    Is it not possible to drive a modern close ration equipped car sans clutch ? . wow , I’ve nursed so many old klunkers 1,000’s of miles home back before cell ‘phones and Auto Club Cards .

    Before sweating the head gasket , look for debris in the radiator’s external fins then look into Citric Acid cleaning of the cooling system , it’s like , cannot damage alloy parts making it especially good for modern engines and thin aluminum radiators .


    • 0 avatar

      Thanks Nate, it’s always a pleasure to read your comments on anything I write. I appreciate your condolences.

      Unfortunately, shifting without the clutch is not a skill I have mastered and, truth be told, it never even occurred to me to try and drive without it.

      • 0 avatar

        Shifting without the clutch is tough with a synchromesh transmission. With a non-syncro box such as would be found in a prewar car or certain race cars, it’s easy.

        I’d only try that if I were out in the middle of nowhere and needed to get back to civilization, otherwise you could put a lot of wear on the synchros and possibly damage the parts that engage the gears to the shaft. You’d have to start the car while in first gear, and work your way through the gearbox to cruising speed. If there were any traffic to speak of, you’d be hard pressed to keep going.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Thank you for sharing this with us, I’m sure it isn’t easy to do so.

    Especially nice work on those final few paragraphs weaving together a run in your healed car and the contemplation of life’s mysteries and anomalies.

  • avatar

    Tom keep writing, I have read all your TTAC articles, all excellent.

  • avatar

    This was a really moving piece (and I rarely say that.) My condolences to you and your family.

  • avatar

    Condolences for your loss. Very touching, thanks for sharing.

  • avatar

    This is a tremendous piece Thomas. Sincere condolences to you and your family.

  • avatar

    This is very well written. Thank you for sharing and my please take my condolences for your loss.

  • avatar

    Great story.

    I am not a religious man, but sometimes you do have to marvel at the mysteries of the universe.

    Sorry for your loss.

  • avatar

    To Thomas, condolences on your family’s loss.

    To everyone else, if your mom or dad is still alive, call them.

    My father was recovering from quadruple bypass surgery. I was then volunteering with a non-profit Jewish organization which had an important activity planned in Pennsylvania outside of Harrisburg. I told my dad that I didn’t want to go out of town with him still in the hospital and he told me that if it was a paying job taking me out of town, I’d go, so to do a mitzvah I should certainly go.

    We kissed and I told him that I’d see him when I got back.

    When I got to our destination, one of the organization’s leaders, a close friend, put his arm around my shoulder, started walking me away from the group and told me, “I got a call from Jeffrey.”

    “My brother?”

    He nodded. Nothing more needed to be said.

  • avatar

    I thought for sure that this was going to end up like one of mine. Great read. Tough news. I’m sorry.

    The aspect of being stranded has been like the last 2 years of my life with cars. I’ve pretty much written off the rest of the year for taking out my “toys”.

  • avatar

    Thanks for the kind thoughts and words, everyone. They are much appreciated. It’s good to have an article back on TTAC, I’ve grown fond of the community here and hope to contribute more in the future. My thanks to Mark for helping me to come back, and for getting this article formatted as my family is still sorting out from our move.

    In case anyone is wondering, I am back in Japan and, although I may not have the time to write as often as I did before, I’m hoping that what I can contribute will be more polished and on a wider range of subjects.

  • avatar

    Beautiful story, and yes – you’ve been wrong… but that’s okay. Your journey is your journey, and you had to go through it to arrive where you are now. Over time, I’m finding that the very best thing you can ever do for yourself is to be still and listen for a while. You’ll be shown the way. My condolences.

  • avatar

    An excellent contribution to the site. Condolences and Thanks!

    A couple of years ago the outcome of my own sudden long drive in an old Chrysler product to visit a distant dying parent was different. The parent rallied, but the Spirit died when I fell asleep during the drive. I was very lucky.

  • avatar

    Thank you for this article. It hit home. When my wife died two years ago, I was fortunate that it was in town, but it was still a race to be there when she breathed her last. And a mad chase to find the hospital, since she deteriorated so fast that the ambulance crew had to change destinations to get her into some kind of care while she was still breathing. And then had to try and find me to let me know where they were.

    Years ago, when dad died, I was too late to get there for his last breath – deliberately. His girl friend (mom had died seven years earlier, and it took a good kick in the ass from me to get him to start dating again) had been at the hospital with him for the previous 48 hours solid. I figured she deserved the time with him – my sister and I had had him all our lives. She’d only gotten three years.

  • avatar

    When my aunt passed away earlier this year from a perforated bowel as a side-effect of four years of battle with ovarian cancer, the doctor was going to try one last operation, with a slim-to-none chance of success. My aunt and uncle chose to roll the dice, which ended up a losing gamble.

    I haven’t asked my uncle about the final conversation, but I can’t imagine what that was like, after 48 years of marriage! (I can’t imagine being on the gurney about to be wheeled into OR under those circumstances!)

    As someone said, call your folks (I did)! Keep family close! Pray often, if you have a religion or deity in which you believe. (As for me, I can’t imagine what the heck God was thinking when He made me, and a lot of other folks can’t, as well! ;-) )

  • avatar

    Thanks, Tom, and welcome back!

  • avatar

    Man, if I was in a different financial situation I’d buy your Shelby in a minute. I used to have an ’84 non-turbo in silver on red (garnet I think they called it.) Drove it happily for 405,600 miles before realizing the need to retire it due to rust issues. Also, by that time, the clutch was starting to slip a bit on hard acceleration. Only used a quart every 2K and still got around 34 mpg. I sold the car to a fellow in Illinois. It started on the second try after being parked and undriven for 2 months. My son got a quick video of it driving away. At that point the exhaust was needing replacement so it was loud. I sure miss that car. Thanks for relating your story and giving me a glimpse at what I enjoyed driving for so many years.

  • avatar

    Man, if I was in a different financial situation I’d buy your Shelby in a minute. I used to have an ’84 non-turbo in silver on red (garnet I think they called it.) Drove it happily for 405,600 miles before realizing the need to retire it due to rust issues. Also, by that time, the clutch was starting to slip a bit on hard acceleration. Only used a quart every 2K and still got around 34 mpg. I sold the car to a fellow in Illinois. It started on the second try after being parked and undriven for 2 months. My son got a quick video of it driving away. At that point the exhaust was needing replacement so it was loud. I sure miss that car. Thanks for relating your story and giving me a glimpse at what I enjoyed driving for so many years. Condolences for your loss also.

    When my dad passed I was at work. He was in hospice just across the street from our house and I had been there often. He was not responding any more. On what was to be my last visit, even though he appeared “asleep” I kissed him and whispered in his ear that I loved him and it was okay if he wanted to go. I was called at work when he passed. They would hold the “body” until I could get there if I wanted. It was an hour drive. I knew where he was at that point so I declined to go. A poor choice on my part? I will never know, but I feel I made the best choice at the time. Thanks again, Thomas.

  • avatar

    I always wondered, when some one suffered a loss such as this, what I would have to say .. I thought I needed to bust out some real eloquent spiritual information. Then I found out that what you do most is just listen.

  • avatar

    Fantastic, fantastic essay on life & death with the automobile and journey using one as a contextual backdrop.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Tom, and speaking from my own experience, the death of a parent (when I was 25) affected me in a very profound way.

    • 0 avatar

      25 was about the time I lost my father. He was only 62 and had a lot of life left to live. In some ways I still have a lot harder time with that then I do with the loss of my mother who was almost 80 and who decided it was time to go.

      Loss is never easy, but cosmic unfairness – if there is such a thing – is harder.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Terrific story and please accept my condolences for your loss.

  • avatar

    Thomas, my sincere condolences for your loss, and my thanks for your sharing of such a thought and feeling provoking work.

    Brings back memories of my ratrace from NYC to FL to say goodbye to my father. He had been dying of cancer for close to three years, but the end was finally close, coming up on us more quickly than we had been led to believe.

    My father had been proud that I had gotten my life back together after a few years of sowing my wild oats, and had wanted me to continue in engineering school, rather than move back to FL for a couple of years.

    My now very long-gone ex-wife insisted that she had a fear of flying, and would not fly down, so we took the trek on the Amtrak. Something like 36 hours. Got to spend a few hours with my father, with the last hours being a chance for us to bond one more time. He had been a very reserved man, but at the end, he was open about sharing his feelings.

    And for once, we were able to express our love for each other verbally. Right at the end, I led our small family in the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm at his bedside, just before he passed. It was the kind of moment that was so perfect you might think it was a movie script, but life gave us that perfect final moment.

    I had wished I had decided to fly down to have a day or two more with him, but it was what it was.

    But to put salt on the wound, my then-wife decided after he passed that she didn’t want to have to ride the train again, and would fly back to NYC.

    That wasn’t what ended our marriage, but it certainly helped put a couple more nails in it.

    But one of the good things that came out of that was that now that I am older, and my wife (the real one, the love of my life) and I have our one son, we are careful to be sure that we frequently express our love and other feelings to each other regularly.

    But your well-written story, and your sharing of your feelings about those moments, have served to remind me once more, to be sure to stay in touch with my own feelings, and to share them with the people I love on a regular and frequent basis.

    Stoicism has its benefits, but has its limitations as well.

    Once again, my condolences for your loss, and thanks for sharing the story of that time with us.

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    Sorry to hear of your loss and travails. I once limped that same car home from Bethesda to Frederick, MD when the steel core of the clutch cable sawed through the plastic jacket. A pocket full of small hose clamps will usually fix it well enough to get you home or to a garage or parts store.

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      This time the plastic jacket broke right in half where the clamp held it. There wasn’t anything that could be done about it. It was old and brittle, and it was bound to break sooner or later anyhow. I was just fortunate that I found a truck headed the right direction and go it on board. It was on it’s way home before I was.

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        As always, thanks for sharing your experiences. Condolences and prayers for the loss of your mother. It’s interesting to read the story and observe that what appears to be disjointed events, then unite to become part of a whole fabric at the end.

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    Well written, and glad it worked out in the end. So very sorry for your loss.

    I’m in this situation at the moment with my 92yo Grandfather (who raised me as my father). He was diagnosed with cancer three months ago and given 3-6 months. I’ve had this nearly month long trip to Europe planned for my Mom and I for a long time. She is my Grandparents live-in caretaker, but my brother and his wife live in the house as well. I intended to cancel this trip, but he absolutely insisted we go regardless of what happens. So far, he is doing OK (better than expected actually) but you never know. We have another 1.5 weeks to go in Europe before flying home. Mom Facetimes with home every night, so far no dilemmas but with cancer you just never know, as many stories here have demonstrated. Given the amount that I travel for work, I just hope that when the end comes I am at home, and not somewhere across the country in the middle of a project. But that bridge will be crossed when it happens.

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    My own mortality related thoughts have been swirling in my head, and they also involve vehicles. I am sorry for your loss. That little Shelby might be a keeper. She knew just what to do to get you where you needed to be, when you needed to be there. Even at the risk of self-sacrifice.

    Again, sorry for your loss. I learned myself how odd it feels to lose a parent. I drive his old Explorer every day. But the old Explorer is starting to become impractical to maintain. I will miss it when the day comes.

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    I read this when it came out but couldn’t comment. Thanks for a great read and for reminding us of how sometimes when it all seems wrong, the universe puts it right. Or at least puts it in context for us to understand at some point.

    Sorry for your loss.

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    Thank you for sharing.

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    I was scrounging through the garage attic today digging out spare parts I could send to the swap meet and found a box with a carb, a starter, and, of course, a clutch cable for that car. Didn’t remember I had it or it would have been in the car.

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