My car is an older car. I love that fucking car. It’s spitting distance from twenty years old. It’s my first car; a hand-me-down from my mom that I received when she decided to get herself a new car a bunch of years ago. Going from absolutely no mode of transportation to my own set of wheels was peachy goddamn dandy by me. I couldn’t have cared less if my car wasn’t the newest, or the shiniest, or if it wasn’t the most powerful pussy magnet available to mankind, Savannah was mine.¹ Still is. I take care of her, and I plan on driving her into the ground.
I take a lot of shit for my automotive loyalty. First order of business when people get a new, fancy pants job is to buy a new car. If the car is a horrendous piece of crap, I totally get it. It’s nice to not have to worry about some mediocre mechanical event possibly hindering a straight up, important real-life event. But Savannah still runs great, again, because I take care of her. Most of my friends, and some family, don’t get why after a few years of working my ass off at my “actually a career” job, I haven’t gotten a new ride (*or, “whip”, as the young’uns call it*). It’s because I don’t need one.
More than that… I don’t want one.
This car and I have been through a lot together. A lot….
I remember something just shy of ten years ago, my very good friend, Techno Bear, and I were driving around in the middle of the night. We were not more than a mile or two from our school, where Techno Bear lived in the dorms. We had with us a digital video camera that I, in all my wisdom, was shooting with as I was driving (*because, clearly, college was working*). I was filming my odometer for the remaining two miles before it displayed that my car had been driven one hundred thousand miles. This was an exciting moment for us (*or at least it was for me because, again, college*). It was a milestone at time of my life when I really had none to claim as my own. At least it was my car that hit the six figure milestone. That had to count for something. The odometer hit 100,000, we cheered, we got some beer, and went back to T-Bear’s place to drink and watch “Yo Gabba Gabby”² Twenty years old, and the biggest moment of my recent life that I could claim was a measurement.
Then, wouldn’t you know it… fucking life happened.
I had moments of pure joy, I hated myself, I had fallen in love, I had the most fun I’d ever had, I’d been the most depressed I never knew I could be, I learned how goddamn miserable it was to be heartbroken, I’d been disappointed by people and things I didn’t know could manage bringing me down like that, I began to realize who I really was as a person, I was the most scared I had ever been in my life, I was more proud of myself than i though possible, I thought harder about things that I realized really mattered, I learn to shake off unimportant subjects that twisted themselves into my thoughts (*kinda*), happiness, depression, loneliness, inspiration, gratitude, relief, fear, sexy time, EVERYTHING! Everything happened to me that has made me the person I am today, for better or for worse, and everything is connected to me through that car, whether because of long drives alone with nothing but my deep, bruiting thoughts, or experiences taking place in or near Savannah herself.
I think about my car, the car that is sitting right now in front of my house, that i can see through the window as I write at this moment, and I miss it. I miss a thing that I still actually have. I get nostalgic, which is actually pretty weird for me, I think.
Most of the time when I see people get nostalgic, it’s usually about things from when they were very young. I see a lot of Facebook post in the vein of “If you remember this, you are a 90’s kid” and usually there is a screen shot from “Ducktales”, or “Pinky and the Brain” or some other cartoon from my youth that is definitely way better than most of the cartoons kids watch today (*young fucking punks*). Remembering old tv shows and movies is cool and all, but I don’t get the warm and squishy feelings thinking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Not even close. In fact, I realize now that a whole heap of stuff that I watched when I was young was ridiculous to the point of terrible. Except Batman, because… Batman.
It’s probably just me. I’m sure loads of folks get the warm and snugglies when thinking about old cartoons and movies and stuff. Thinking about times sitting with their siblings, watching stuff on a rainy saturday, eating cookies and just having a nice time. Time that most people don’t get a lot of nowadays, and the feelings that go went with them. I just don’t feel that way about my old kid stuff. My experiences trigger my old feelings almost exclusively. Almost…
Truth be told, there is only three things I can think of that really make me feel all the things that, to my understanding, bring about those nostalgic moments. My aforementioned car, Late 70’s and Early 80’s adult contemporary rock, and the smell of cow manure
HEAR ME OUT!!! …you bunch of judgmental jerks.
I live in a pretty thriving town. I have lived here for over twenty years already. I was only seven years old when my family moved here. I like the set up we have here, and I like that we have loads of shops and restaurants and stuff that don’t make it absolutely necessary to travel way over yonder to, i don’t know, buy a tv, or fine a nice steak place, or buy an eight gallon drum of mustard. But I remember this town when we first moved here. And this place smelled like shit. This town was famous for two things: the prison, and the dairy farms. Loads and loads of dairy farms.
You knew when you were heading too far south in town when the mosquitoes started smashing themselves en mass against your windshield. But it didn’t matter what part of town you were in in the morning hours, because every goddamn day, especially before ten in the morning, it smelled like cow manure. That odor wafted over the entire town, and there wasn’t anything anyone could do but suck it up and go about their day. Every singled day, my mom would drive my sister and I to school and we’d always complain about the smell. As if there was anything to be done. For some reason, it seemed like the smell became more pungent in colder weather and when it was raining. I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explaination as to why that is, but this far in my life, I no longer care to look it up. We just inhaled, and went to school. To this day, the smell of cow manure will be associated to me with the beginning of the school day. Eau de Bovine and P.E. Everyone was used to it, but we still all complained. It was almost as if complaining about the smell was part of what made our town special. We all had something in common, even if it was extremely gross.
For me, it was the smell of knowing that getting to school and taking in the poop stink was the hardest part of my day. All I had to worry about was making it through the twilight of the shit smell, which did go away everyday, and make it through all my classes, which also ended every day. And that was it. That was literally all I had to worry about in my life. Being an adult now, I worry about everything. “Do I have enough gas to get to work tomorrow or am I going to have to get up early to get some?” “Do I get enough sleep? What’s going to happen to my health if I don’t?” “Should I of tried to get that girl’s number? … Fuck! AM I GOING TO DIE ALONE?!?!”
School and cow stink. I was on easy street.
The thirty years plus adult-contempo music is a bit easier to explain. To me, it’s the soundtrack of absolutely no worries in my life.
I have a memory in my head of being very very young. No way was I older than five years old. It was a Sunday that was spent at my cousin’s house. We played all day. Basketball, video games, freeze tag, it was all day recess. We (*My parents, sister, aunt and uncle, and all four cousin’s of this brood*) went to dinner at a steak house/rib joint that sits at the edge of Whittier, and is still beloved by my parents to this day. The place had a cozy feeling that was helped in no short order by the scent of liquid smoke that filled it. We sat in a long, round booth of worn brown leather, and joked around while eating onion rings while waiting for the real food. Plates of meat and garlic bread began to arrive, and we all pretended that we were not nearly as excited as we actually were. My mom would cut me a few of the barbecue ribs from the full rack she planned on demolishing, while my dad helped me prepare my baked potato just the way I liked it (*Butter, chives, and just a couple drops of steak sauce*) My sister and I would see who had the meatiest looking rib on their plate, while my cousins dug into their steakhouse burgers. I would eat relishing the fact that I was allowed to look as sloppy as possible while eating ribs, and that I could have more than one glass of soda.
The sun was down as we would all said our good-byes in the parking lot. My cousins in their minivan would turn left out of the parking lot, and our car would turn right. I was too full and tired to focus on the usual mixed feelings of safety and exposure I would get when we drove through Whittier, seeing as it was one of those odd cities on the far eastern edge of the L.A. basin where family types and thug types found a balance of co-habitation. I sat in the back seat, half asleep with my head resting into the seatbelt slung across my shoulder like it was a hammock specifically meant to cradle the heavy head of a little boy that was actually looking forward to bedtime. I would stare at my dad as he silently drove through the hills towards our house, with beams of light scanning his stern face as we drove past the street lights. Under all of that, the radio was playing “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” at such a low, almost in-audible volume that if anyone would have started to talk, the song couldn’t be heard. But no one did. We all sat quietly and content. That is the only time in my life I have felt I didn’t have an honest to God worry in the world.
I have moments like this with several songs from that era that just mean a lot to me because they remind me moments like this. Four stand out to me as my favorites:
- “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” by Elvin Bishop³
- “I Can’t Go for That” by Hall and Oats
- “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty, and
- “Goodbye Stranger” by Supertramp
These are the songs of peace to me. The lyrics might not have the same message, but isn’t that the point of music, and art in general? Figuring out what it means to the individual? To me, they calm me. They make me feel like I don’t have a worry in the world, if only for four minutes.
That’s it. Cow shit, song’s your mom probably loves, and my car. One time, all that stuff came together in the most horrifying way possible.
One night after work, I was heading to a bar near my work place to meet with my friend, Techno Bear. Going to have us a couple after work beers. We are adults, and that is how we do after work. I was on the freeway looking to change lanes as I was going into a wide curve. I looked back to check my blind spot, looked back to where I was heading, and almost shit my pants. In my lane, coming at me at seventy miles an hour, was a small goddamn bale of hay.
I took the last ounce of clear thinking I had to remember that my blind spot was clear, and used my now flooded sense of panic to jerk the wheel into the next lane. But I was going to fast. I hit the bale of hay. Since Savannah sits high off the ground, the top half of the bale took the brunt of the impact and exploded loose hay over my car and the freeway. The bottom half of the hay stayed intact, which somehow wasn’t the worst of the situation. The worst part was that since I hadn’t been able to get completely out of the way in time, but still had tried to move to avoid the impact, the part of the car that struck the bale was the passenger side corner of car. Once the top half of the bale exploded, the front tire of my car lifted up onto the un-exploded bottom half… going seventy miles an hour.
Savannah was airborne.
“Jesus… Is this how I’m going to die? Rolling my SUV trying to avoid a pile of hay?”
I remember this line running through my head at least a half a dozen times. It had time to run that many times because as I was in the air, time slowed down. It was like a movie. Not only did I hit the bale of hay, but I also hit the edge of a of an anomaly of time where, even though short, was stretched out to a point where I could think, and do, and assess the current situation. Also like in a movie, when it was time for my car to land, time came back to normal, and I landed fast and hard.
I don’t know how, but somehow, my car didn’t flip on it’s side. I didn’t roll. I landed on the driver’s side wheels, and then the passenger side came down immediately after, and hard. The wheels still turning, I broke hard enough to try and stabilize the car and keep from swerving violently, possible causing an accident with another car, but not hard enough to end up completely stopped in the middle of the freeway. The instant I regained control, I pulled over to the side of the road.
I sat there, trembling, trying to reassemble the preceding ten seconds in my head, and not crap myself. “What the fuck just happened?!?!” I said, literally out loud to no one. For the life of me, I could not grasp the severity of the ridiculous goddamn situation, and how much worse it could have been. My train of thought wasn’t helped now there was a burning smell coming through my air vents.
I was stopped before an exit where an all-night diner shined it’s light as a beacon of sanctuary. I drove slowly off the freeway toward the diner. I called Techno Bear and asked if he wouldn’t mind changing the venue of our meet to the diner. When he asked why, I told him. I could hear in his voice that he didn’t believe me. He must have thought I wanted to change locations all along and came up with the most idiotic reason to do so. Or maybe he just wanted a beer. But he obliged.
Waiting for Techno Bear in the parking lot, I took off my white work shirt and put on my work gloves. I crawled underneath Savannah with my flashlight, pulling out huge clumps of hay that were jammed in the wheel wells and between various components of my exhaust and fuel system. It was a lot. Eventually Techno Bear arrived, and walked up to me with the biggest grin on his face. When I asked why, he said that when he got off the freeway and drove over the bridge to get to the diner, from the westbound off-ramp (*which I took*) there was a long trail of hay leading from the bridge to the parking lot at the diner. For some reason, I didn’t totally believe him, but it did sound like a funny thing to see when you doubted someones already stupid situation.
I put the gloves and flashlight back in my work bag, put the work shirt back on, and we went inside to break down every possibly single funny aspect I just escaped from. Dinner with Techno Bear usually does good for the spirit.
We ate, we chatted in the parking lot, we hugged and we parted ways. As I drove back out towards the freeway, I saw the giant trail of hay, complete with large intermediate piles. Techno Bear was right. It was actually fucking hilarious.
Burning down the freeway at midnight, I took a deep breath to calm myself and focus my thoughts now that enough time had passed and it was even possible to do so. But I noticed that the burning smell from earlier was gone. I had probably removed enough hay from particularly hot areas of my car to keep a brush fire from starting under there, so I was safe from that. But the smell was different. It wasn’t burning anymore.
It was manure.
A light fragrance of manure that lingered deep within the bale of had had been set free in my ventilation system and was filling my car with the scent of (*god help me*) relaxation. AT THE EXACT SAME TIME that I noticed the smell, swelling up from my radio was the long “wah’s” of the guitar that I immediately recognized as the intro to “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”.
The smell of my youth. The song of kindergarten-aged abandon. The most loyal fucking car I can think of. All together to renew my sense of safety and calm. Somehow, another car ride I will never forget.
That bale of hay, unattended shopping carts, loose 2×4’s flying off the back of work trucks, crooks stealing parts off her for small amounts of precious metals, student drivers rear-ending her, countless late night food runs, midday naps between classes, dragging ass from Southern California to the Bay Area and back looking for a new job and possible new life, intimate moments in the back seat (*and some front*), driving away pain in the middle of the night because I couldn’t sleep anymore… that car has been through so much and still to this day keeps going for as long and hard as she can, as long as someone will love her. She has been through so much… we have been through so much… I have been through so much…
As I write this, I have been 30 years old for an hour and a half. It is a moment I have been dreading for an entire year. It is a moment that I had convinced myself was going to be miserable. “My youth is really gone from me. Things are really going to be different now and I have no indication whether or not the change is going to be great or terrible!” Though my experiences in my forth decade of life are severely limited, I think I can safely say this… It’s going to be fine. More so, It’s going to be the same.
I have been convinced for years that because I am not married, or because I’m not as happy as I thought I should be, or that because I live with my parents still that I have failed. But in the past year, especially the last few months leading directly to this point, I have realized that, no, I’m not a failure. I’m just slow. Things can’t be the way I thought they would be when I was a child because things aren’t the same since then. Society is completely different. I’m completely different. It’s like chasing dinosaurs. Running after something that isn’t even there anymore. On top of that, what kid knows what the fuck they actually want in their life anyway!? Most kids can’t decide their own fucking dinner, let alone pick, plot and prance down the perfect plan for their life. I’m not a failure… I’m just slow. (*Except for the still living with my parents bit. That’s bad. But don’t worry, gunna rectify that soon enough*)
My life is not where I thought it would be, but it is my life. And I got here. And I’m living the hell out of it, the best I can. One day, I will get to a point where I can reflect on myself and say, “Boom. I did it. I’m not totally where I thought, but I’m totally ok.”
My car just recently hit another milestone. 200,000 miles. Did I film it in the middle of the night to forever commemorate the event? No. Did I at least take a picture? Nope. Know what I did? Nothing. I forgot about it. I knew the moment was coming up, and I forgot about it. It turned somewhere in Orange County while I was on my way to work, and I noticed twelve miles after the fact. That was it. No pomp. No friends. No beer and “Gabba”. Just our daily grind.
Savannah has been through a lot in the past ten years. I’ll do everything I can to make sure she goes through a lot more. And I’ll make sure, even with bales of hay abound, that she gets through it the best she can… the old bastard.
¹ Yes, my car has a name. It’s about the most “Gear head” I’ll ever be, and I am not even the one that named it.
² Probably. The “Beer and Gabba” evening happened enough times that I’m just assuming that’s what happened afterwards… college.
³ People who know me personally wondered why this song was my favorite track on the “marvel”ous (*get it?*) “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack, and not the David Bowie track (*Bowie being a personal favorite of mine*). This is why.