Last Rides Premium Selects: Heartburn? Reach For the One That Coats

by Crabspirits

Did you think I would end this column on just any random car? Not only is subject vehicle a real mind-scrambler, but this dramatization is based on a true account from the former owner of this bubblegum Ford Festiva.

If there’s one thing I’m conflicted about when scribbling these tales, it’s accuracy. Throwing out a random guess about what happened just doesn’t sit well with me. So let’s don our cheap blazers and rubber gloves and dig into the evidence.

There’s no ignoring the paint job. Silver bass-boat flake over black with a pink ’90s minitruckin’ bubblegum splat motif. This is not the typical high-schooler’s self-defeating rolling pun, however. The quality of the work was nice, with airbrushed touches here and there. I actually wouldn’t mind having it in my personal fleet of offensively modified compact cars. If this puts me in the minority, then you don’t know what you’re missing.

If you stare at this long enough, you can hear Vanilla Ice.

The interior is even more stripped than originally equipped, with a fake Sparco racing seat fitted.

After discovering the racing coilover suspension and drilled rotors, I expected to find one of the hotter versions of the Mazda B-series engine swapped under the hood. However, the only enhancement was a crudely improvised “Ram Air” intake.

Examining the rear, there are signs of a collision with a vehicle tall enough to override the bumper, possibly a truck or SUV. As bad as this looks, another $50 junkyard liftgate would have fixed most of the damage. This is where I start to develop a profile. The rust on the sections of popped paint and tape work suggest that the Festiva plied the streets for quite a while post-crash. Based on this evidence, I theorized that the person who gave the car its personal touches was not the final operator. I wouldn’t say it was unloved at the end, just that whomever expended this much effort into the car would not have left it as such.

So if the accident didn’t kill it, what did? The engine block was slathered in its own juices. Did its final owner put too much faith in the idiot light? The car made it into the yard remarkably complete, with no effort made to reclaim parts like the seat or Pioneer deck. The $85 Chicago vehicle sticker was paid just a month before scrapping (I later saw that a scavenger had removed it to keep Chicago out of their wallet, which may have been a good or terrible idea). I started looking for the yellow sticker of doom, but found none. Death came swiftly to the little Ford, and it was quickly whisked away.

I wanted to know more. I wanted to brace my theories. The trash on the floor yielded a bevy of personal information. (Disclaimer: Don’t ever leave pay stubs or anything with your SSN in your car.) I knew where this guy lived, where he used to live, his age, how much he made, and where he worked. I used my doxing skills and found his Facebook and Reddit accounts, all while telling myself, “This isn’t creepy. It’s just journalism.” Then I started finding pictures of the car when it was “above ground,” taken by people encountering it on the street.

At this point, creating a work of fiction didn’t seem as fun. So I talked to Blaine. He was surprisingly cooperative.

Blaine was irresolute. (Some names and details have been changed.)

Blaine finished mopping the floor of the Jimmy John’s. As he used the mop handle to support himself, he gazed at one of the inspirational metal signs hanging on the wall. It began with HOW I LIVE MY LIFE. Further down the bullet points on the motivational ode: CHALLENGE YOURSELF and VALUE FAMILY AND FRIENDS. Jen began turning off the lights, breaking him of his idle state. He jetted out a melancholy breath and grabbed his Members Only jacket. His mind fell to the fight he had with his mother and how he had estranged himself from that side of his family nearly a decade ago. Shuttling hoagies around town certainly wasn’t a career challenging his degree either.

“See ya, Jen.”

The striking little bubblegum splat in the parking lot didn’t exactly fit his personality profile, but it was growing on him more by the day. After the ordeal with the randomly exploding racing wheels, there was still a great deal of apprehension before stepping into his recent purchase. Delivery service was rough, but things could be worse. Blaine had burned though a few cars already. Adapted for autocross racing by its previous owner and purchased for less than $1000, the Festiva had the thrift and the durability for its new role. He deemed it suitable. The Magnaflow muffler announced to the world that this mean machine was about to take to the streets with the gusto of a furious popcorn maker. Blaine prodded the Pioneer deck for volume to compensate, and then warmed hands in his visible breath. The cold engine idled on loping waves, nearly succumbing with each dip of the tach needle. Blaine spurred it with his boot to keep it in line, selected first gear, and then pulled out on LaGrange Rd.

You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness

Like resignation to the end, always the end

The Festiva entered the main artery and was immediately held up by the light. Traffic was remarkably sparse. The helmsman sat and pondered nothingness, scratching his neckbeard. Suddenly, the loping became erratic and the vibration felt in the seat of the Sparco was gone. He glanced down at the gauges while reaching for the key. As he did so, the traffic light turned green. Out of his periphery, lights were approaching from behind. They weren’t stopping. Some St. Patrick’s Day revelers were coming to deliver Blaine a birthday present in the form of 16 instantaneous Gs. The Dodge Ram buried its fog lights in the Festiva’s ass, hurling its spoiler into orbit. Blaine rode the Sparco up into the ceiling, his arms flailing off the wheel. The noise of air pressure and sprinkling glass fragments was horrendous as the little Ford commuter launched through the intersection with acceleration rivaling a top fuel dragster. Then there was the sharp contrast of silence, coupled with a new airy feel to the cabin. Gotye continued as Blaine’s senses rebooted.

And I don’t even need your love

But you treat me like a stranger and that feels so rough

Quickly, blue and red strobes bathed the scene. Blaine sat on the curb and cried loudly. He had nothing in this world of struggle. Nothing. Just a shitty little car that gave him the slightest sliver of Kia pride. Now even that was gone. Nearby, the man in the Ram pleaded his side of the story to police.

“How am I supposed to see that thing? It’s so low to the ground, and you can barely see his lights.”

Another officer, gazing at the BubbleYum wreck in the road, slighted him.

“How can you NOT see it?” he asked before initiating a much-needed sobriety test.

Then Blaine heard a familiar voice.

“Oh my god! Blaine, are you okay!?”

It was Jen. He could barely answer her from his hysteria.

“He’s just a little shaken up Miss. That was quite a hit,” said an officer, who then asked Blaine, “Does your car run, or do we need to call a tow?”

Surprisingly, the Festiva fired right up, and Blaine nervously guided it into the parking lot.

“It-it seems okay … ”

That was nearly a year ago.

Blaine eased out of bed and made his way across the bedroom to his gaming chair without need for pants. He pulled up the stats from last night’s League game. He had to know just what the fuck went wrong last night. After scrutinizing the entire match, he realized that there was a point where he could extend from the lane by flash-engaging with Tibbers equipped with molten shield. A Boeing 737 on approach shook the house and snapped him away from Summoner’s Rift. It was almost time to go to work.

From the back porch, Blaine could see some repairs were needed on the Pepto pink prole car sitting next to the garage. Luckily, Jeff was in the backyard clearing some pool debris. Blaine’s roommate and childhood pal wasn’t just any regular noob when it came down to the household fleet of Festivas. He had the tools and the know-how.

“Hey … you got any more of that tape?” Blaine asked.

Ozone and a hard winter had taken their toll on the weather stripping around the improvised plastic hatch window. Jeff produced the roll of transparent duct tape, and while Blaine effected repair upon the taillight, Jeff inquired, “You give any more thought to moving up north?”

Blaine paused his taping and recalled that last phone conversation he had with his brother, the one he almost forgot he had. Jeff snapped his fingers to awaken him from his vacant state. He seemingly couldn’t think about the subject enough. At some point, his life had jumped the track. Now here was an offer from the ivy of left field to help set him straight. He just needed to make the choice. A place to stay and a shot at becoming a software engineer, or continue to sling sandwiches? Why was it so hard? A rift of another sort needed to be addressed. There was underlying damage harder to repair than Festivas.

“I … I don’t know man. I just don’t know.”

Jeff wore a crestfallen expression, and resumed skimming the pool.

Blaine placed the Jimmy John’s placard on the rooftop, and tossed his load of sammich on the passenger seat. He depressed the gas pedal from “OFF” to “ON” and the exposed CV-joint’s marbles objected to the hard right out of the parking lot with a harsh crunching clatter. The Ford reached its northwest route along the loading docks to avoid traffic, bleating past at a ridiculous pace. By the time the manager from Vitamin Shoppe emerged from the back door to say, “Where is that son of a bitch?” the little pink car was gone. Blaine chopped the throttle, shifted to second gear with a nasty blip, and lifted the Festiva’s right rear tire from the pavement as he rounded the parking lot island. He squealed to a stop in front of Casa Margarita, a destination within spitting distance of his origin. He could have simply crossed the street, but this way was faster. The Ford was left to idle and smoke off the oil leaking from its bevy of hemorrhages as he went inside to make his delivery.

“Where are the packets of extra mayo?” the Casa Margarita employee asked. Blaine simply shrugged. No tip. He got back into the Festiva to return to base. There, he collected an ensemble of subs for 20 people, plus a single. The party package was at the extreme fringe of his two-mile delivery radius, and the single sub delivery was for the theater across town. The load flailed around wildly on the floor amidst the assorted trash, and he arrived at a raging five-year-old’s birthday celebration. The parents made a point to check for every sandwich, further delaying the man. When they paid, Blaine was slightly annoyed by no tip. The little car chirped a front tire out of there. Blaine relaxed in the substandard foam of the Chinese Sparco replica at the light and listened to some Shinedown. There was no need to rush now, for this next customer would assuredly be furious anyway at the delivery speed of his lone sub not living up to the expectations set by the radio ads. Blaine’s cup of soda had tipped over on the passenger seat and spilled three glugs into the cushion before he noticed it. He grabbed it and pulled a swig into his mouth. It was at that moment that he noticed a phone taking his picture to post on Facebook. A common occurrence. He almost smiled. Sure enough, at the theater, the young man freaked out over the delivery time.

“I’ve waited 30 minutes for this. What the hell? You guys are right down the street. I could have just walked there.” For his efforts, Blaine received a dollar.

Blaine punched out of Jimmy John’s for the final time.

“See you tomorrow.”

The Festiva restarted and carefully eased onto LaGrange Road. He continued past the right that took him on his usual route home. There was no longer a need to be freaky fast and he needed to decompress. The chaos of Orland Park fell away and the Festiva was now buzzing its way through the placid Palos forest as the sun burnt out. He sat in the queue for the turn onto 95th Street; his mind wandered. His future was as clear as the opaque piece of plastic vibrating behind him. The Ford took a step forward. He couldn’t even call his life a failure. He would’ve had to make an attempt first. Another car turned, and the Festiva crept up to the stop line. The empty feeling had always been there; solitude. Blaine flicked his signal and seized the opportunity to make the right. He let out the clutch pedal. The car shuddered for a split second, followed by a dull tha-whomp sound from behind the firewall. Then the engine revved to the limiter. He barely made it around the corner, and coasted to the shoulder. Blaine pumped the clutch pedal and tried every gear. The sensation of Is this really happening? washed over him. The engine just revved. The Festiva was no more.

Blaine, his face wet with tears, checked under the hood. Jeff asked him over the phone with uncertainty, “Is the cable still hooked where it goes into the transmission?”

Blaine ensured him that he thought so, and Jeff elicited a dire, “Well … ” from the Festiva roadside service hotline.

There was nothing left to do but call a tow and gaze at the wafts of burnt 10W-30 rising off the engine in the dying light. With despair welling up in his eyes, Blaine sat and listened to the rhythmic clicking of the hazards. It was a familiar sound associated with the turn signals. Now, here in this otherwise silent setting in the dark, it became more poignant as the sound of dead automobile.

“It’s an unusual car, that’s for sure,” said the tow truck driver as he unloaded the Festiva in the alley.

By now, Blaine had composed himself to the point of sighing heavily and often. He reached in, working the steering wheel all the way to the lock while the two of them pushed the car through the backyard gate. The wrecked CV joint expended a slow clack as they did so, in a way exuding finality. It was almost as if gasping, “You … you go … leeeave m-.”

Blaine gave the towing company a hearty part of his life savings and then gave the car a cursory glance with Jeff that devolved into a blank stare at the engine compartment.

“We could probably do the clutch ourselves. It would be maybe $200,” Jeff suggested. That was the rest of Blaine’s life savings. Besides, even the simple task of replacing those grenading wheels came with a snag requiring the attention of professionals when the lug stud broke. This job entailed transmission removal. He gave no response.

“Maybe you could have a shop do it, and put it on a credit card?”

That sounded even worse. There were other looming issues with the car as well. Even the license plate needed attention.

“No,” Blaine relented. “No … I know what I need to do now.” He closed the hood.

“I’m gonna miss you dude,” said Jeff.

Blaine finished packing and tossed the last bag of detritus from his room into the garbage can. There was only one loose end to tie up. He wanted to get this over quickly and get the hell out of Chicago before a sense of complacency returned. Jeff swapped tires with the Festiva and then the ferryman in the International rollback came for the little car. After receiving a check for $80, Blaine watched his trusty sidekick bounce down the alley on the back of the tow truck before it rounded the corner and disappeared from his life.

It wasn’t until Blaine passed Grand Rapids that his new reality began to set in. His computer and the rest of his belongings filled the space behind him in the back seat of his mom’s Taurus, jittering on every expansion joint. He reflected on what he was leaving behind. His friends, half of his family, and a pokey little joke of a car that he chanced upon. It was more than just a cheap beater; it changed his power of perception. Somewhere in his subconscious, he would always be beating that Festiva within an inch of its life.

Blaine smiled.


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2 of 22 comments
  • Roberto Esponja Roberto Esponja on Jul 20, 2016

    Very nice, and will greatly miss your stories. CoreyDL, time to take the torch.

  • CarOli CarOli on Oct 22, 2016

    Just now found this...sad to hear you are leaving us, but thanks for this 100th last ride. I'm sure we will see your prose somewhere in the future.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Totally Agree War is total hell!
  • SCE to AUX JFK used to pronounce Laos as "lay-oss", so I want to call this car "tay-oss". But I'm told by a true VW lover that it's pronounced "ta-owse", rhyming with "house". Maybe VW should rethink a few of their product names.
  • Jalop1991 No Android Auto/Apple Carplay, no car. It's that simple. I always have my phone with me, and it's dirt simple to plug it in and have Spotify continue where it left off. And the maps I want--Waze--are right there.
  • Eric As I would not buy a GM or any other EV the question is moot. As to Apple or Android play, I don't care if the car uses them. I don't use those apps anyway.
  • SCE to AUX I'd want Android Auto.