Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Yes, Chariots of Fire

I don't really have a car right now. I haven't really had one for years, since I moved away from Arizona.

Oh, yes, I occasionally drive the trusty Mazda 6 around, blundering my way to my chosen destination (There's Towson Town Center) and calling up David with questions like, "Hi honey. I'm on a bridge. Where am I?"

But the car I liked the most was our family's 1967 Ford Galaxy convertible - ours was light metallic blue with a white top. It had a 390 engine, with cool chrome buttons on the radio, a streamlined gearshift knob, and a gigantic steering wheel. It was like being at the helm of an iron boat.

My family moved around quite a bit when I was very young - my father was in the Air Force - but when I was around five, we headed for Arizona, where we would stay put for many years. We made the cross-country journey in our two cars: a VW bug, which would expire from the exertion, and the sturdy Ford.

The Ford had a space behind the backseat that the top folded into when it was down. There was an automatic mechanism for putting the top up and down; gears would grind away while the roof would rise majestically like a white sail. Once fully extended, you would clamp it onto the frame around the windshield - a challenge if it hadn't seated itself exactly right.

We kids called the space behind the backseat "the well," and my brother and sister and I would clamor for the chance to be the one who "got the well" on long trips. You could climb back into a cozy pile of blankets, with books and toys and whatever else you wanted, and have your own private nest. I loved riding in the well.

I don't know if it was on the drive to Arizona, or on a different road trip (we always seemed to be hitting the road to visit relatives somewhere), but on at least one occasion, I felt comfortable enough back there to divest myself of my clothes. Hey, it was snuggly, but it could get hot there under the back window. I think we had stopped at a gas station; I was sleeping away, sprawled out, enjoying the freedom (I would have been seven or eight.) Apparently the gas station attendant informed my mother that the kid in the back of her car was naked.

This was not news to her.

The Ford had a comforting, solid feel to it; it was a good car to fall asleep in, leaning against your siblings in the back seat, while your parents drove you home from a party or a family night out. We would also go to drive-ins, dressed in our pajamas and robes, with a grocery bag full of home-popped popcorn, ready for a double-feature of whatever Disney movies were in re-release, top down, drive-in speakers perched on the window ledges.

This was before the days of videos and DVDs, kids. Drive-ins were the thing.

At one of the multi-screen drive-ins, my sister and I sometimes would scope out the other movies playing. Instead of paying attention to The Aristocats (I'm a Disney fan, but that one is a bit of a snoozer,) we would surreptitiously try to watch Jaws out the back window. It seemed very frightening, catching forbidden glimpses of it in the dark distance. My father did eventually take us to see it (at that same drive-in,) and gleefully scared the crap out of us by shouting "Aaaah!" at the moment when Richard Dreyfuss discovers the floating head. Ah, Dad. He liked doing stuff like that.

When I grew old enough to drive to school, I would sometimes take the Ford, although more often I would wheedle my way into driving my mother's Zephyr. Yes, yes, I was cool. I liked the Zephyr because of the booming sound system, which came in handy when making out with my girlfriend while the soundtrack from "Chariots of Fire" was blasting away.

I'll pause a moment to let the snickering subside.

One of my favorite things to do in Tucson was to drive the Ford with the top down to the far west side of town, over Gates Pass to the other side of the Tucson mountains. There most of the lights of the city were blocked, and you could see the stars clearly in a dark black sky. I would go there with friends sometimes, or else alone, parking in one of the pull-out areas, turning off the car and just leaning back to stargaze. The car was wide and solid and comforting. I felt secure there, grownup and adventurous, sitting in the open-roofed car in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night.

The car had its problems; the gas gauge was stuck reading just below half-empty, so you had to just remember to gas it up every so often. It was a gas-guzzler, so you had to fill it often. I remember it having an enormous tank - twenty-five gallons or so.

It was this broken gauge that actually saved the car. At one point, it was stolen; in Tucson, stolen cars are usually quickly driven to Mexico. If the thieves make it over the border, the chances of ever seeing the car again are next to nothing. But as luck would have it, the police found the car at the side of the road, abandoned: the car-nappers had run out of gas. We never repaired the gauge.

I grew up reading Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (for those of you who have only seen the rather bizarre movie, I recommend the book - it's entirely different.) In that book, the car has a truly defined personality - protective, strong, sometimes stubborn. I liked to imagine the Ford Galaxy having a personality, since we had grown up in that car. I can remember the feeling of being hidden in the well, the rumble of the tires against the road, the wind rushing past the windows, falling asleep to the sounds of the car.

Naked, of course.


Blogger jwer said...

I am happy that this story did not end with one of the children being crushed by the convertible roof. Also, I am entertained to learn that Ian Fleming wrote CCBB... I had no idea.

5:34 AM  
Blogger crumblord said...

CCBB is really an entertaining read. The movie was straining to compete with Mary Poppins and that sort of fantasy film, so it was set in the early 1900s. The action of the book takes place in contemporary times (the mid-60s, when it was published) and involves gangsters and spooky caves and things like that.

6:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see, searching the ROB INCIDENTS vertical file under NUDE, would that be the time along I-10 in west Texas during the trip to Orlando to visit Nana and Pappa during my August vacation? barb

7:53 PM  
Blogger David said...

It's all true. The other day, he hopped in the car (it's a Mazda THREE, by the way) and got lost on the way to the mall. He was nude at the time.

7:28 AM  
Blogger Rindy said...

The ROB INCIDENTS vertical file under NUDE is a very crowded file. What about the time when the neighbors let you know your nude son was down the street on their lawn?

What was he, like, 30?

(Okay, or maybe 6. I get the nude file all mixed up.)

8:20 AM  
Blogger David said...

The ROB INCIDENTS vertical file isn't getting thinner, and 39 is right around the corner.

9:33 AM  

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