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Every time I write one of these I’m reminded of another story.
Eventually I’ll tell all the tales and I’ll be forced to leave the house and
generate new experiences, but for now live vicariously and historically with
another episode of…
LIVING IN A SHOTGUN SHACK
The first vehicle I ever had was a little Datsun pickup given to me by my folks. Nice little truck, really, but it was a wreck magnet. I had an accident in it every other week, some of them not even my fault, for the first two or three months I had it. I was on my way across the county, taking a new fender to a body shop to replace the one that had gotten mangled the week before. I took a back route, not so much a shortcut as a fun way to get there, buzzing along a dirt road at too high a rate of speed when a monster truck came around the bend. There wasn’t enough room to get by, or enough room to stop. The gigantic Ford crushed the Datsun. The hood bent in half and halfway up that was where the guy’s bumper left its mark.
I got out and joked, “My new headlight!”, picking up pieces of broken glass.
The Datsun oozed its ichors out into the dirt. The Ford had a slight ding in the bumper and a piece of trim had popped off.
I went months without a vehicle, not an easy thing to do when you live 10 miles from a small town in the mountains. I had to ride the bus home from school and my social life all but died.
So when my father offered me his 1972 Datsun B210 I took it. The aquamarine paint was less glaringly ugly than usual, thanks to a buildup of mildew that had accumulated over months of being abandoned. It had been in a wreck at some point it its life. The passenger door was smashed in against the seat and welded shut to keep it from falling open (or off.) This horrific dent started on the front fender and continued to the back. Unfortunately, it was only a 2-door so everyone had to climb through the driver’s door. Trampling feet had destroyed the 13-year-old vinyl seats.
I was embarrassed to be seen in it at first, but the damn thing got me other friends who lacked reliable transportation into town, and neighboring towns, whenever we wanted to go. I developed a strong love-hate relationship with the battered Japanese mutt. It cheerfully took abuse, egging us on to dish out more. We jumped on the roof until the ceiling hit the headrests, then popped it back out with a few swift punches – good as new. It leaked oil, but I rarely bothered to put any in. I’d pull in at the full-service station for a laugh and the guy would pull the dipstick and look at me and look back at the dipstick, “Uh… it’s not even touching the stick.”
”Yeah yeah, put a quart in her, I gotta get to work.”
At some point it was christened The Shitmobile, a name I wrote with my finger in the mildew on the hood. It drove my stepfather nuts that I refused to clean the thing.
“What, it’s going to look nicer clean?!?” I’d ask.
One morning I was sleeping off a hangover and when I got up I found him scrubbing the mildew off. It wasn’t worth arguing with him, so I just let him finish while I hunted for breakfast.
The thing was the ugliest car in town by far, which worked to my advantage when flying around town too fast. I think cops felt pity for me and rarely pulled me over. I was hauling ass back from Gainesville with R.V.I. and D.N.
and blew past a state patrolman. Flashing blue lights followed me up the mountain.
“Son, you know how fast you were going?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a short in the electric choke that my mechanic can’t find so I can’t get up the hill without a running start,” I said. I did have a short in the choke - months before, one of the only mechanical problems I’d ever had with the car, so it wasn’t entirely untrue. It had cost me $15 to fix.
But I’ve found that the more truth you can weave into a lie the more believable it is, and the easier it is to tell.
“Well you get that looked at,” the officer said, shaking his head at the car.
He got back in his cruiser and left us to roll on. It was a miracle we’d made it back to town at all with as much Boone’s Farm as we had in us, and a further miracle we’d gotten away clean. R.V.I. swore the thing had some magical autopilot guiding us around.
Every summer the few students that stuck around North Georgia College would find a new spot on a river somewhere and designate it as the party spot. One year it was "the copper mines," an abandoned mine overlooking an old steel girder bridge over a rough section of the river. R.V.I. and I were down there one night with Phil, a guy who’s initials I can’t recall. Phil was stoned out of his gourd, R.V.I. and I were guzzling wine, and the college girls were ignoring us as always. Eventually Phil passed out in the back seat while R.V.I. and I sat on the hood philosophizing. The party died, so we decided to split. On the way out I decided to have some fun and punched the gas. R.V.I. cursed but I didn’t slow down, bouncing along the dirt road.
Near the end of the road was a mound of dirt the county had put there in an effort to stop people going down to the mines, but the 4x4’s had driven over it so many times it was flattened just enough for Japanese compacts to clear, if you took your time.
I hit this hump as fast as the car would go – WHAM – the car sailed into the air. Time stretched out in slow-mo. I heard the front shocks pop as the wheels left the ground. I turned and looked at R.V.I. He was screaming, “AAAAAAAH SHIIIIIIIIIT…” and clutching the shoulder strap of the seatbelt with white knuckles. In the rear view mirror I saw Phil’s body rise in the back seat, levitating close to the ceiling. I laughed maniacally,
“HAHHAHAHAHHAHAHA”- BOOOM – the car landed, bounced, weaved for a moment then straightened out.
“What’s going on?” came Phil’s drowsy voice as he climbed out of the floorboard behind us.
I giggled all the way back to campus.
A couple of days later I noticed the Shitmobile wouldn’t shift cleanly. I had a hard time getting it from third to forth so I took it to the shop and waited. The mechanic fetched me to look at the car, suspended on a lift.
“What have you been doing in this thing?”
“Uh… went down a muddy road the other day?” I said, noticing the red clay caked on the bottom of the car.
“Well whatever you were doing you ‘bout tore the transmission out. The bolts are pulled out of the body.”
I giggled, “Ok, so can you fix it?”
“No, the damn holes are stripped. I could weld it together but if you ever needed to work on it you’d have to cut it loose.”
”I doubt it’ll ever be worth working on the transmission on this thing.”
“Yeah, you’re right there. So you want me to weld it up?”
“Uh… fifty bucks?”
Half an hour later I was back on the road and the car drove like a top.
I drove the thing for a couple of years. I couldn’t afford another vehicle after wasting all my money on wine, games, the arcade and tuition. But eventually a friend of the family offered me his Toyota wagon. It was two years younger and didn’t look like it was in dire need of being sent to the scrap heap. I sold the Shitmobile to a neighbor for $75 and got the Toyota.
The neighbor wanted both doors on the Shitmobile to work so he spent a couple of days beating the damn thing with a sledgehammer until it approximated its original shape. But once he got the weld loose he couldn’t get the door to latch properly. He ended up tying a rope around the passenger seat and attaching it to the door’s armrest to hold it shut.
He was even less attentive to maintenance than I was. It needed new tires when I sold it to him but he drove it a year on may-pops until they were as bald as a chemo patient. The brakes were shot and the clutch was going when he sold it to a friend.
The guy pulled the engine, intending to rebuild it – why, I have no idea.
But of course he never got around to it and the thing sat rusting in his yard for a year or two, the engine hanging from the limb of a tree.
I was home for a weekend one winter when my brother walked in and said he and his buddies had been using the hood of the car as a sled, jumping over moguls in the guy’s yard. I was simultaneously heartbroken and happy. I was sad the car would never run again, but it was funny that even in it’s afterlife it was providing dangerous thrills.
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