Monday, October 09, 2006

Blue Plate Special

In our family we've always been fans of cars and racing. My Dad was a dump truck driver and worked on the Indianapolis 500 track back in the 1950s. The month before I was born he became an owner-operator, professional long haul truck driver hauling--what else, but automobile parts.He raced on the back roads of Tennessee in his teens and twenties, rolling a few cars in the process. (He won the Million-Mile Safety Award for driving a million miles in his truck without an accident, so he later became a model driver.)

This is not a true story. It's fiction. However, I wrote it (and placed in a fiction contest with it) with that bit of truth tucked in-between the lines. Another writing sample.

Candy Apple Red
by Crystal Warren Miller

"I think we could drive to Indianapolis to look at a few more,
don't you, Dad?" I said.

It was no use. His eyes were glassy, obsessed. He headed toward the used car dealer's office, expecting me to follow.

"Haley, bring your checkbook," he said.

I took one more look at the car I didn't want, but was to be mine, anyway. The little bubble of hope called "Candy Apple Red" burst into a bloody puddle in my dreams. Drat!

What did I expect? The ink was barely dry on my teacher's license. I had drawn only a few paychecks in my first teaching job, and I needed transportation. I knew I couldn't afford a new car. It would have to be reliable, but at twenty-two, who wants reliable? Candy Apple Red was the name of paint in a car dealer's brochure. Now, wasn't that appropriate for a teacher? Who cared about gas mileage, or if it would start in ten below? I wanted a machine.

Dad listened to my ideas about a car. He then asked me how much I wanted to spend. He looked for one right away. I smiled. Oh, yeah! I mean, this is the dad who'd had car fever every year while Mom "made do" with one burner on the stove and the same old winter coat. This was the dad who bought the powder blue T-bird while we ate skillet lasagna. This is the dad whom I knew loved cars--as much I do.

The car dealer handed the keys of my new/old car to my dad, not me. Oh, the dealer took my check readily enough. I signed the papers, but he was looking at Dad, not me.

Dad drove it home and changed the sparkplugs. I think he was afraid it wasn't going to make the drive home.

Every time I looked at it, it almost made me puke. It was a mustard yellow 1973 Mercury Comet with cracked bucket seats.

It had personality. The rotted top had brown spikes of vinyl sticking up everywhere. It gave the appearance of a guy with a crew cut. I was living in the opulent '80's, so this was not cool. It was like a bad blind date who wouldn't go home. It was mine, so I figured I could name it, even though I never mentioned my pet name to Dad. I called it, "The Vomit." Yeah, that's right. "Haley's Vomit Comet."

The Vomit had some cool features. If I left the car running with the keys locked inside as I went into school for my first evaluation (yes, a bit nervous,) it wasn't that hard to get into it. A simple twist of the wrist with a coat hanger through the gap in the side window made locking it up nearly obsolete. With just a hit of a fist on the trunk and--voila!--everything in the trunk, including my spare coat hangers, were available.

One late night on the interstate I could see sparks in my rearview mirror. I thought, This is it, and pulled over to the side of the road. When I looked underneath, with rain pouring down, of course, I could see the exhaust system hanging by mere rust. Hitting the trunk with my fists of steel, while trucks barreled past me in some sort of centrifugal semi-truck 500, I took a coat hanger and wired up the dangling remainder of the system.

Wicked thoughts of envy and disgust crossed my mind as The Vomit fired up to carry me home. The muffler guys said I'd done a great job wiring up the exhaust system. They wanted to know if I needed a job.

If that wasn't bad enough, the students in my sixth grade class, notorious for being the baddest of the bad by rep, weren't tempted at all.

"It'd be an easy car to steal, wouldn't it?" I'd taunt.

No bites.

"Miz Studebaker, who would want to steal that car? No one even wants the parts!" said Charlie, who was fifteen in the sixth grade. He knew his car parts.

Then, winter came. When the temperatures plunged to minus thirty-five degrees during a freezing rain, the doors froze shut. No problem. A hair dryer on an extension cord soon had The Vomit sputtering down the road while everyone else had dead batteries. The Vomit didn't even appeal to those in need.

"No, Haley, I don't believe I'll take that ride," said Dr. Smock. "Thanks, anyway. I'll just call my office and, uh, let them know my car is dead, and that so is everyone else's. It's not that cold waiting out here--really. Snowmobiles will be along soon. Mrs. Zukowski probably won't have that baby for hours."

It was beginning to be worse than a tag-along relative from North Carolina who said,"Shazzam!" every other word.

Right before I started suffering from a complex from an inanimate object, I received a desperate call from my mother.

"Haley, honey? Can you get here now? Dad isn't feeling well. He needs to get to the emergency room, and he won't let me call an ambulance. Says he doesn't trust the drivers."

"I'll be right there, Mom," I said.

I didn't even think of the irony of taking Dad to the hospital in The Vomit. It ran smooth with the perfection of a fine Indy racing machine, all the way to the hospital. As I parked it, after dropping Mom and Dad at the door, I didn't even worry that it might be tagged as an abandoned junk car and towed, like usual.

After hours of testing, Dad ended up in the coronary care unit. With words like myocardial infarction being flung around, we soon were versed in heart attack lingo. The surgery which cracked his chest was enough to make me grateful for any moments I'd spent with Dad.

Nurses smiled their smiles of sympathy, as Dad's soul hovered between us and God. We spent hours in the waiting room just talking about his love of cars, his years of trucking, and the way he never read one instruction to assemble something before throwing tools across the room. We slipped between tears and laughter.

Then, the hour came when he opened his eyes. In a hospital, even if you just had major heart surgery, there is always this tough-looking nurse who comes in to not only get the patient up, but also to get him mobile. Dad was close to a normal setting. He was uncooperative.

"Haley, didn't I tell you that Comet was a good car? Didn't I tell her, Linda?" He said this looking smug at Mom.

The nurse twiddled on some monitor.

"My daughter here didn't think her car was so hot, but it's been as reliable as a wind-up clock. I guarantold you that car was good. It got me here in the nick of time. Your car saved my life."

Not "you, Haley, saved my life" but "your car saved my life."

The nurse, already a witness to Dad's stubbornness, didn't argue.

"Now, what do you have to say, Miss Haley, about that Comet of yours?"

I oscillated for a moment on whether to drive my point home on a man with a sore chest, or to just be nice and let it rest.

I pointed my finger down my throat, making a gagging motion.

Then, I said, "Dad, there's something I want to say to help you get out of here. I want you to think of three little words."

Mom smiled her sweet smile. Dad looked a bit confused and flustered, not being one much for raw emotion.

"Candy Apple Red."


Sheryl said...

Are you sure that's fiction? Sounds like there's more than a bit of "true story" in there to me :-)

I did enjoy the story. Makes me think of my first car which, reading your story, I guess I was fortunate to have :-) It was my mom's old car. A sporty looking brown Buick Riviera. I was thrilled to death with it!


Anonymous said...

Haha, sounds a bit like my first car!

I really liked this story! And the dad reminded me of some men I know, lol.

Anonymous said...

Crystal, found your blog through the TWV2 post. SOOOO glad I did, because it's both fun and thought-provoking (a la the laughter entry).

Loved the car story. I too have always longed for a sporty car, but just too practical, I guess. Which is probably why I graduated from the Mom-van to a used Honda Accord. In Heaven, will I ever drive a Triumph Spitfire?

Crystal Laine said...

Sheryl--They always say that there is a fine line between fact and fiction...ha

Delia--I love a good car story!

Karen--thanks so much for checking out the blog! I was sort of hoping in heaven we could pick different cars for every day...You know, like Jay Leno does on earth.

Sabrina L. Fox said...

Great story, Crystal. I can relate. Back in the day, my dad would come home with all kinds of different cars. My mom would get so frustrated. She told me once that she used one burner on her stove for 7 years before he bought her a new stove. But if he saw a car that was a deal...Men!

As far as what I'm going to drive in heaven--you know those newer Thunderbird convertibles? I want a yellow one. Sigh.