“Hop in,” he said, “I’ll drive.”
I just shook my head.
He reached across the bench seat and swung the passenger door open, then rubbing his hands for warmth, said, “My heater finally kicked in and if I give it a rest, I don’t know when it might work again.”
”I won’t ride in your car,” I told him, “it hates me.”
“That’s not true,” he said, “cars don’t hate people.”
But it was true. For some reason, Stan’s car has it in for me. Perhaps it was something I said or at least something I considered saying, either way, his car took offense.
Whenever I ride in it, things happen. On cold days, the air conditioner blows on my side. There is no way to shut it off. On hot days, the heater vent fries me.
We once hit a skunk and the worst parts of it came up through the rotted floor boards – on my side. I had to throw away my jeans, socks and boots. I also had to explain to a cop why I was half dressed. He could smell what happened – but just wanted to hear me explain it.
The thing is, the car loves Stan as much as it hates me, and Stan loves the car with a passion usually reserved for things not made of metal. To understand the connection, you have to understand both Stan and his car. Since I will never understand Stan, at least I can say something about the car.
It’s a Chrysler 1977 New Yorker, the biggest, ugliest, least reliable car to ever come out of Detroit, and for Detroit during the 1970’s, that says a great deal. The New Yorker has the dubious distinction of incorporating every known flaw and every bad idea conceived by the automotive industry in a single vehicle.
The body was fashioned from steel soft enough to chew. It came out of the hearth half rusted and emerged fully rusted from the assembly line. The corrosion was so bad that the sales staff were instructed to call the paint job, a patina.
The engine was huge and had more cylinders than claimed by the sticker. It was a ravenous gas-hog introduced just in time for the OPEC Oil Embargo.
The interior had electronic everything: windows, locks and seat-adjustments during an era where nothing electronic ever worked and no mechanic knew how to fix it.
The only thing the car had going for it was size and an ugliness that has never been surpassed.
To anyone else, these would be negatives – but not to Stan. He once told me, “Everything needs to be loved and I am the one who God chose to love big, ugly 70’s cars.”
“You are not driving,” I told him.
“C’mon,” he said, “give the car one more chance, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll never insist on driving again.”
To be honest, I didn’t want to drive. I had washed my pickup just in time for a late winter rain to turn our dirt road into gumbo. Stan’s deal was too good to pass up. so I agreed.
We took off, pushing a bow wave of mud and by the time we reached the state highway, a hard rain stood the wipers on end. A mile later, Stan’s car died. Despite his best efforts, it refused to be resurrected.
“I tell you what,” I told him, “I’ll get my truck and tow your car back to my shed. You can work on it there.”
He agreed, so I trudged through rain, sloshed through puddles and squished through mud all the way home. No sooner had I reached the house when Stan called.
His voice bubbled with glee, “I got her going!”
“Good,” I said, “I’ll drive.”
“Naw,” he said, “I’d better get her home before we have more trouble.”
“Okay,” I said, glad to be done with it.
“My car doesn’t really hate you.”
And as he said that, I heard a deep rumble in the background that was an unmistakably malevolent snicker..