Life up “Nort”, an ongoing tale

I am settling in nicely into my new life, job, and home in Gaylord, but I have noticed that there are two very distinct groups of residents living here. Bear in mind, I’m not judging either of them, I’m just relating what I’ve observed.

First- there are the rugged, salt of the earth types. They grew up here, just as the past few generations of their family did. The husband likely got a job in the manufacturing, logging, or oil industry right out of high school. His wife likely works in one of the many department stores, restaurants, specialty shoppes, salons, spas, or resorts in the area. They live paycheck to paycheck in smaller homes in rural areas and heat with a wood stove. They grow a garden, hunt, fish, and have a freezer and shelves well stocked with what they have grown, processed or caught. They drive a domestic four wheel drive truck or SUV that is typically around 10 years old. They can fix and repair most anything in the home or garage. Give ’em a windmill or solar panels for electricity, and they are very capable of living life off of the grid.

Second- there are the more affluent types. They grew up somewhere else, in a large well known city such as Boston, New York, Chicago, or Detroit, and a member of the family may have had a summer home here. The head of the household has a degree from an Ivy League college and holds a position in a large corporation that can be done from a remote location, or they are in the medical or legal field. The spouse, be it wife, husband or life partner (not that there’s anything wrong with that) does not work, and typically spends the day in the shoppes, salons and spas. They invest heavily in the markets, live in palatial homes in exclusive communities, and buy or go out for everything they eat and drink on a daily basis. They (and their teenage children) drive large, expensive imported cars and SUV’s that are typically less than a year old. They can fix or repair anything by writing a check, and rely heavily on the grid.

Of the two, I am definitely the first type, but being an outsider, and heating with natural gas, I expected to be shunned by them at first, and called that dreaded word—a flatlander. (Truth be known, I’m from an area that is so flat you can see the curvature of the earth, so I guess, technically, I am.)

And then I had an encounter with The Self-Appointed Chief of Parking Police.

I dropped my granddaughter off at her school because she had a school project we worked on together, which was a bit bulky for the bus. As I approached the school, I noticed an area beside the building with one clearly marked handicapped parking spot near the door and a looooong area along the curb with no further signage at all. A lone vehicle sat idling before the handicapped space unoccupied, so I pulled up behind it and escorted her into the school, where her teacher greeted us just inside the door and was back outside in no time flat.

When I reached for the door handle on my truck 2.7 minutes later, a huge, gleaming black SUV pulled up next to me and the passengers window went down.
“YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO PARK THERE!!! THIS IS FOR DROP OFF ONLY!!!” the 30 something driver shouted at me in number 37 bold font.

I surveyed the area again, looking for signage I may have missed. “Oh…sorry..I didn’t..”

“ YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO PARK THERE!!!!” The well coiffed, designer clothed driver with veins now popping out of his forehead interrupted. (the word “there” was in number 52 bold font btw ) He was pointing his manicured finger ahead of the handicapped spot where a 20 foot deep snow pile was.

“I didn’t kn..” I started to explain, wishing I had a Winnebago with a 40 foot trailer behind it that I could park there…and take the damn wheels off.

“DON’T YOU SEE ALL THOSE CARS THERE??” he screamed, pointing at the four cars already two blocks past the school at a red light. “YOU’RE CLOGGING UP THIS WHOLE AREA!!!”

He slammed his chrome plated shifter with an imported hand made walnut from the black forest shift knob into low and sped off, which allowed the 3 cars that had stacked up behind his behemoth to safely drive away.

And so goes my first run in as an outsider. I hope the obviously over expressoed guys daughter didn’t wind up undergoing a barrage of tests that evening to check for signs of hypothermia because she had to walk the extra length of a Ford Explorer to enter her school.

But, at least I wasn’t called a flatlander…yet.

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Defining crazy

Muffled voices of some co-workers in the lunchroom seeped under the gap at the bottom of the bathroom door. I could have sworn I heard my name being mentioned, which didn’t surprise me. I have been the topic of conversation ever since my big announcement a couple weeks ago.

“He put in his two weeks notice, found a job, and is moving up north and getting married.” a fellow long time employee said, his loud voice echoed off of the walls and reverberated into the bathroom.

“He’s f**kin’ nuts!!!” I heard a recent hire shout, followed by muffled giggles and snickers from the peanut gallery.

I just smiled. In two days, I would be leaving a job I’ve had and enjoyed for 14 years, an area I’ve lived in most of my life, and packing it up and moving north. I’ve always been (and always will be) about a half a bubble off of normal, and usually thank those who take the time to notice and comment on my behavior. I’ve been called silly, crazy, weird, strange, and have even been told I ain’t wrapped tight, and I just beam with pride.

But f**kin’ nuts? That seemed a bit harsh. To me, that’s the somebody’s gonna get hurt/ragged edge kind of crazy.
The guy who jumps a motorcycle over 27 buses is f**kin’ nuts.
The guy who walks a thin wire 300 feet above the sidewalk is f**kin’ nuts.
The guy on TV that I watched stick his arm in a murky swamp to untangle a line that had a pissed off alligator on the other end is f**kin’ nuts, writ large.

But I have to admit, I have been asking myself if I was that type of crazy for years.
I’d been repeatedly doing things and living my life to make others happy, and making myself miserable in the end. So, a little more than a year ago, I pulled my figurative arm out of the murky swamp that had become my life and said enough was enough.

A few months later, a wonderful woman from Northern Michigan came into my life. She is the kind you wish for, and wonder if they exist. The kind you can talk to and laugh with for hours. We mesh perfectly, and every day it just gets better.

I’ve been blessed with two wonderful and successful children, who are now adults and live far away, with lives of their own. She has a daughter that has the same creative, artistic streak as me. She has two sons, one a master chef at one of the finest restaurants in the area, the other an aspiring writer, working hard on his first novel. I’d love to see him hold an author’s copy of it, and experience the thrill of seeing your first book in print. She also has a 9 going on 27 year old granddaughter that makes me smile. All of them accept me and welcome me to their family.

So, am I f**kin’ nuts to leave what has been my lifelong home and a job I’ve held for 14 years to live with her in a nice home with a view of Otsego Lake?

I don’t think so. This feels as right as rain.
But I’ll still be my crazy old self.

To be continued …

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Shaker Do Two vs. The Big Dog

                   

 Just tuned my car now, she really peels,

Lookin’ real tough with chrome reverse wheels.

Blue Corral wax job sure looks pretty,

Gonna get my chick an’ make it out to Drag City…

 

(Drag City, Jan and Dean, 1964)

 

It was Detroit, The Motor City, and 1967, but I can still remember a ’57 Chevy that belonged to a friend of my big brother like it was yesterday.

I couldn’t tell you what it had for an engine, but my little eight year old ears could hear it coming from three blocks away. When it was outside our home, it rattled our windows. It was a two-door 150 sedan painted a sinister dark green. It had big cheater slicks on black steel rims out back and skinny tires on mags up front. The front sat up a bit, and white painted headers poked out of the fender wells behind the front tires. It had a roll bar, two bucket seats and a Hurst white ball shifter poked up between them. I vividly remember the cartoon version of it painted on the trunk lid depicting it doing a wheelie and smoking the tires with a Rat Fink behind the wheel. The words “Shaker Do” were emblazoned above it. It was all business, bad ass, and left quite an impression on me. So much so, that when I found an incredible deal on a two-door ’57 Bel Air in 1983, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do with it. It was also an old drag car at one time, and mothballed when the engine and rear axle simultaneously blew. I painted it a dark green metallic, then went to work on the broken drivetrain. I hand built a destroked 327 with 12.5 to 1 compression, a full roller cam valve train, and many more carefully chosen parts that all worked in perfect unison. The M-22 close ratio Muncie trans that came with the car was now set up as a crash box, and a beefed ’57 Olds rear axle spun 4:11 cogs.

Small subtle lettering on the corner of the trunk lid read “Shaker Do II”. It sounded, ran, and looked a lot like it’s namesake. The car was my daily driver for years, weather permitting, and way too much fun to drive. It seen a lot of street racing, but once and a while, I’d take it to the local drag strip in Ubly, Michigan. The old gas classes the original car used to run in were long gone, so I had to settle for bracket racing.

 

You want to race?!? If you insist.  At that prices, I CAN”T resist!

 

(Manic Mechanic, ZZ Top, 1980)

 

On one such occasion, the prize was $5000 to win, which was hard to resist for a lot of people. On most weekends, the track seen the usual local racers, along with a few that would venture up from Detroit now and then. With that kind of money at stake, the place was packed.

The money was attractive, but I was also there to test out a warmed over Holley carb a friend was trying to sell me. He used to run it on a similar ’56 Chevy years ago, and the timers were proving it to be good for a couple of tenths of a second faster. Life was good. My car was running better than ever, and I had the opportunity (albeit slim) to win a pile of money.

All eyes were focused on a custom painted and chromed out Chevy dually towing a matching 3 axle enclosed trailer when it rolled through the gates. A crowd formed around it when the crew of five in matching uniforms rolled a matching brand new, state of the art, IHRA legal, Pro Stock Camaro out of the trailer. The owner/driver quickly began to show the crowd how big of an ass wipe he was, bragging himself and his car up. There was even a complete spare mountain motor, trans, tires, and other expensive parts in the front compartment of the trailer. He was going to show all of us local yocals his air-brushed on tail lights. The money was his; racin’ for it was just a formality.

He made a few time trial runs, shutting it off at the 1000 foot mark, before writing a dial in on his window that was FAR below what his car should run. It was the oldest trick in the book. Catch ’em fast, then let off just enough to stay ahead and stomp the brakes at the end to prevent a breakout.

None of us played that game. We raced for fun. We all ran the best we could, and the best car won, often with help from the guy, or parts from his car,  that you just beat in the last round. But, the big money had brought out the big dogs, and their big bags of fancy tricks. Was this guy and his car really that good  to succeed at brake light racing?

When it came time to race, I learned that I had drawn him as my opponent in the first round. Lucky me!

I wrote an 11:65 dial in on my window, (which was the best my car had run)  told myself to tune “Chuckles” out,  focus on the tree, stage deep, and try for the best reaction time I could. I had to simply race myself and the track. (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!)

Still, his ridiculous 10:16 dial in , for a car capable of at least 9:90, was pretty intimidating. I would only have roughly a second and a half head start. Plus, I’d be going through the lights doing almost 120 mph with this jackass standing on his brake pedal right next to me. Anything could happen.

 

Two in a row, everybody knows, at the green light you rev it on the redline.

Been waitin’ all week to get my wheels on the street

Put my hands on the wheel, slide down in the seat.

She’s wearin’ new colors, an’ runnin’ pretty good,

I’ve got 400 horses tucked under the hood…

 

(Rev On The Redline, Foreigner, 1982)

 

When the second yellow went out, I sidestepped the clutch, the green lit up, and the electronic board at the finish line posted an .012 reaction time. Friends later told me that I lifted the front wheels 3” off the ground. The car was pulling like a freight train, but when I yanked the shifter to second, the engine died instantly. The front came down with a thump and I rolled along in total silence (other than the electric fuel pump running). Then, I heard what sounded like a Top Fueler taking off in the left lane, and seen an .002 reaction time come up on his side.

I was sickened to see that cat puke yellow Camaro blow past me like I was backing up. He kicked it neutral, then reached up and shut it off. He was going to show me how good he was by coasting to a win. I mentally pictured him back in the pits, gloating on about how easy it was to kick my ass.

But then, a funny thing happened. 

I realized that I had instinctively pushed the clutch in when the engine died. It stopped so fast I kind of wondered if it blew up. Or, did it just stall out? Either way, my day was over. I didn’t see my crankshaft laying on the tarmac in the rear view mirror, the trans was still in second, so I let the clutch back out to see if my car would start. Hopefully, I could at least drive it off the track under it’s own power.

It fired right up and seemed to be running fine! I shoved the gas to the floor and took off. When the tach hit the 7500 redline, I cranked it into third. When I caught up to the Camaro, I could see the driver fiddling with the ignition switch and start button with one hand, while frantically trying to get his finicky Lenco trans back in gear with the other.

I passed him just as the tach summoned the redline again, and grabbed fourth.  My foot was on the floor. That’s all there is and there ain’t no more. I held on and hoped as I heard his car roar to life.

The howl of his engine approaching sounded like it was going to suck up my car and spit it out this time. A yellow blur flew past me just as I streaked through the lights with a miserable 13:57. The finish was so close I couldn’t tell who crossed the line first. Then, the timing lights on his side lit up. He had run a time of 10:14.

He didn’t have time to brake light race me, he had to stay on it the whole way to catch me. He broke out by two tenths. The win light came on in my lane!

 

Shut it off, shut it off…buddy, gonna shut you down
(Shut Down, Beach Boys, 1964)

Unfortunately, I didn’t go on to win the event, but I did become the hero of the day for taking out the stoutest car there in the first round. Everyone enjoyed watching the Camaro owner and crew silently load everything back up and leave before the second round started. I was happy to eventually see a local racer take home the prize money to his wife and kids. He even bought me a beer after the races.

Through trial and error, we found that the new carb made my car leave so hard, anything less than ¾ of a tank would slosh away from the fuel pickup in the front of the tank and starve the engine. When we moved it to the back of the tank, the problem went away!

 

 

 

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Respect for Tradition

ImageTake me to any car show, and I will naturally gravitate to the “traditional cars”. They are the cars built using parts and modifications that honor the early days of hot  rodding. I think they have a lot of soul and character, which is what led me to the black primered and customized 1949 Ford Coupe at the 2010 Maritime Festival car show in Harbor Beach.

Having done similar work to what had been done to this car, I could appreciate and see what was done to it much more than the average person. I took two trips around the car, admiring the work, knowing the countless hours, not to mention dollars it took to make the modifications. They were all done correctly, very well, and in time honored fashion. This was  the real thing. The primered finish, which might look unfinished to some, was even a tribute to the old days, when the builders often couldn’t afford paint right away, once the custom work was done. 

Is this your car?” I asked the tattooed, well traveled man with long silvery hair, pony tail and ZZ top style beard sitting at a picnic table behind it.

Yep,” he replied.

Nice car.” I said.  He thanked me, and showed my lady friend and I pictures of his small fleet of similar cars he had back home. I joked with him about how tough it must be to decide which car to drive. (wouldn’t you love to be in that position?) We were having a nice conversation when he suddenly stopped talking. He stood up and peered over his dark glasses toward the front of his car.

Lady!” he shouted at a middle-aged woman leaning her full weight on the front fender of his car, laughing and talking to some other people.

Hey! Lady!” he repeated much louder, startling her from her conversation, causing her and everyone within earshot, to direct their attention to him. She gave him a look of contempt, staring at his tattoo’s, long hair and cigar clamped in the side of his mouth.

I ain’t done paintin’ that yet…’preciate it if ya didn’t sit on it!” he told her.

She gasped. These are one hundred percent cotton!” she huffed, tapping the seat of her pants, then returning to leaning against the car. It wasn’t the cotton he (or I at this point) was concerned about, it was her considerable weight she was applying to a very old fender with countless hours of work done to it, not to mention a very easy to scuff primer finish.

Yeah well, I still don’t want ya sittin’ on my car,” he replied. I wouldn’t have either, and had it been my car, she’d have gotten the same request, verbatim.

She gasped again. Don’t sit on your car?” she shrieked. “Fine! Here’s what I think of your car!” She stood up and slammed her butt into his front fender. The car bounced, coming back up an tapping her in the behind. She then wiped the back of her pants down half the length of the fender.

Aw, that ain’t right …” the owner said.

She took a digital camera from her purse and began to take pictures of the car and the owner.

Don’t sit on this car?” She screamed, snapping more pictures. “I work for the NEWSPAPER … I’ll show you … I’ll be damned …This is going in the paper … don’t sit on this car…” She was babbling incomplete sentences, snapping pictures like she was Federico Fellini.

The gentleman that she was with was giving an amen to each of her soundbites, confirming that she was in fact employed in some manner by an undisclosed newspaper. The car owner was in BIG trouble now.

I won’t tell you the expletive the car owner gave him. Let’s just say that when they parted ways, it wasn’t on the best of terms.

I felt bad for the guy, mostly because I knew the amount of work he had invested on his car. Her big ass did leave scuff marks in the fragile primered surface too. 

I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to talk to her about it. I knew she didn’t understand the amount of work that went into the car and hoped I could put it in terms she could understand. Maybe give her a hypothetical situation of someone showing little regard for something she put a lot of effort into.  A well tended flower garden that someone else trampled through perhaps. How would she feel? I even thought of asking if he were clean shaven and tattoo free like me, would she have reacted the same way? I hoped to get her to go back and look at the damage she had done.

I seen her a while later and approached her. “Ma’am, I’m not condoning his language, nor his approach,” I said, “but you have to realize the amount of work tha …”

I know how much work goes into these!” she interrupted. She leaned against a beautiful red Corvette and began to preach, “It was how he tried to humiliate me in front of …what? Forty people? Unbelievable!” 

But ma’am I,”

No! I will not put up with this!” she shouted, pounding on the front fender of the  gleaming red Corvette. “He could have asked nicely…ma’am could you please move away… please don’t touch. But no! This is going in the paper!” she shouted, continuing to hammer on the shiny ‘Vette she was using for a pulpit.

It was becoming more and more apparent she hadn’t seen the entry signs on every car  that, along with car and owner information, read -look, reminisce and admire, but please don’t touch, in bold three inch high letters

Ma’am, as someone familiar this sort of work, I’m just saying– ” I tried once more while trying to figure a way to stop her from assaulting the Vette before she cracked it.

I’m tired of this and these Goddamn tourists! Do you know he is the SECOND one that has yelled at me for doing that?”

No kiddin’, I thought to myself.

I will NOT be talked down to in my own town! If these tourists don’t like it, they can go back down to the damn city, where they belong!” she said, pointing to the owner of the ’49 Ford. (Had she read the sign in his car window, she would have seen he was from Sebewaing, a similar small town some 30 miles away, not the city.)

Now she had made me angry. I have very little respect for those with that sort of backwards, Klan-ish thinking. It’s way up there on my list of things I won’t tolerate.

I walked away from her, knowing I wasn’t going to get a word in edge-wise.

You should have saved your breath,” my lady friend told me. “She just doesn’t get it.”

I agreed. Not only the amount of work in the car(s), but the amount of dollars brought into the area by the tourists she holds so much contempt for. The car owner was part of a club that brought four cars to the show, all paying the entry fee. They all spent the day in town, so I’m sure they, and their families, patronized at least one business. I hope they all  had a great time and left with good memories of Harbor Beach to offset the bad one.

As a resident, I apologize to the car owner and hope to see you again to talk cars at another show … hopefully in Harbor Beach someday.

My advise to the lady from Harbor Beach – show a little respect for people and property and they’ll do the same. Also, if you happen go to another car show this summer, I hope you do look, reminisce and admire, but please don’t touch, just like the SIGN says.

Especially if it’s a blue 1942 Pontiac. I might not be so kind.

 

 

 

 

 

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My First Car

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike to a junkyard three miles out of town, where the local Chevy dealer dumped the wrecked, worn out cars they couldn’t sell, and visit a 1948 Chevy.

It was painted black with a brush. Parts of old screen doors were riveted over rust holes and the wheels had been spray painted silver, covering half of the tires as well. It looked as if someone tried (operative word) to dress it up to sell, which never happened. Now, it had been relegated to sit forlorn under an oak tree in the back corner.

I’d sit behind the huge steering wheel, peer out the tiny windows, and dream I was driving it. Of course, in my dreams it was pristine, rather than the rusting hulk sitting in the briars on two flat tires it really was. Someday, I’m gonna have one of these, I’d tell myself.

When I was thirteen, I got up the nerve to ask the owner, Paul Geyer, or P.G. as everyone called him, about buying it. He let out a huge belly laugh and told me “Ga-home kid.”

But I kept after him, hoping someday he’d take me serious.

The day before my fifteenth birthday, I had just finished mowing a customers lawn when I noticed him standing in front of his dealership across the street. He was wearing his usual bright yellow plaid pants, shiny patent leather white shoes, bright green suit coat and white straw hat with a rainbow-colored band. He was puffing on a fat cigar, looking over some new Chevy’s that had just been delivered.

I hopped on my bike and rode over, and as I neared him, I noticed an oh-here-comes-that-damn-kid-again look on his face.

Still interested in that ‘48, if ya figgered out how much” I said, which was one my standard lines for breaking the ice over the past couple of years.

Ya don’t want that heap, kid” he said.

I was shocked. It wasn’t his standard ga-home kid response, and no belly laugh either.

What’cha need is one-a ‘dose,” he went on, taking the cigar out of his mouth long enough to point it at a gleaming brand new ‘74 Z-28 Camaro that was dark green with white stripes. “Come back when ya got money, kid, and we’ll put ya in one,” he said, turning to go back inside.

I do have money…and I’m not interested in that! Well, I guess I am interested…it’s a nice car and all…but it’s not what I want. (Or could afford) So, just tell me…how much for the ‘48 in the boneyard.?”

You just ain’t gonna let up on me, are ya kid?” he turned and asked.

Nope.”

Ya say ya got money too?”

Yep.”

How much ya got?”

I thought of the money I had stashed in my piggy bank back home. I figured I had a little over 100 bucks.

Thirty five bucks” I sheepishly muttered. I fully expected to hear his laugh echo between the dealership and Jerry Toole’s General Store.

I’ll be damned!” he snorted. “That’s exactly how much I figgered it was worth! Looks like ya got yer-self a car, son” he said, offering me a handshake.

I stared in disbelief and shook his hand. I had my first car! I didn’t have a license yet, no idea if it even ran, and no real income to fix it. But I finally had it.

Oh yeah, one more small detail. I still hadn’t brought it up to mom and dad.

I figured I’d tell them about my plans that night, and paced back and forth in the living room, practicing my speech over and over, and came up with answers to everything I thought they could throw at me.

A short time later, I heard a truck pulling up the hill leading to our home. When I looked out, I saw Rick Lautner, the mechanic at the dealership, backing the old Chevy wrecker into our driveway, with the ‘48 hanging off the back.

What’cha gonna do with this pile a shit?” he asked as he lowered it down off the wrecker.

I’m gonna fix it and it’s gonna be my first car” I replied.

Yeah…good luck with that!” he snorted.

Hey, it ain’t that bad.” I lied.

Kid, you and all the money in the world ain’t gonna fix this dog turd,” he said.

Rick always was an arrogant SOB that I didn’t care for, but deep down inside, I wondered if he was right. I had never touched the inner workings of a car, I just knew I loved the looks of the older cars like this one.

Besides, you’re just a kid…what do you know about cars? With any luck, you’ll screw it up so damn bad, it’ll never see the road.” he sneered. He climbed back in the tow truck and left.

That cemented what I thought of him, and my resolve to someday, somehow drive this car.

I looked at the car with briars and tall weeds hanging off of it and listened to the tires lose air. So much for gently breaking the news to mom and dad about what I was PLANNING to buy. Two of the rotten tires had gone flat again by the time mom got home and pulled into the driveway with a bewildered look on her face.

When dad got home the shit hit the fan. Obviously, I had lost my mind. Had I thought of how I was gonna fix it? And what was I gonna use for money? Did I have any idea how hard it was to find parts for old cars? And how expensive they were?

I stammered through some half- asset, half thought out answers to each of his questions (none of which were ones I planned for) until he announced he was going up to Geyers to give HIM a piece of his mind.

I pleaded with him. I’d do anything he asked – just let me keep it. Besides, it was only thirty-five bucks, and it was my money, right? I could be spending it on a lot worse stuff than this.

It worked! (That, and the fact one of the first cars mom and dad had was a ’48 Chevy)

I subscribed to every car magazine out there and poured through how-to’s in each issue. I hung on every word Gray Baskerville wrote about iconic builders like Lil John Buttera, Pete Chapouris, Jim Jacobs, Magoo (Dick Megourac) and Barry Lobeck and studied the pictures of their latest works to learn how to do it myself.

The car was the first of many cars I’ve had, but it technically didn’t make it as my first car, as it was nowhere near drivable by the time I was sixteen. That honor fell to my dads hand me down ‘69 Camaro.

It would be four long years before I drove that ’48 under it’s own power, But it was worth every skinned knuckle, bloodied hand, shed tear, and hard-earned dollar that went into it.

Why would all that work be worth so much to me?

First off, I did it myself with no formal training. The only thing not done by me was chrome on the bumpers and the upholstery. Mom did the upholstery once I took the seat covers apart for patterns so she could make new ones, and the bumpers were done by a family friend’s son, who owned a chrome shop, for a bargain out the back door price.

Was it a showstopper? Not hardly. It still wore a coat of rattle can hot rod red primer. It had a set of used chrome reverse wheels that were slightly pitted that I bought at a swap meet for 10 bucks that looked decent enough. To those wheels, I added just the right size big’s and little’s (tires) and it had that same “stance” I’d seen in the magazines. I did the bodywork over and over until it was straight and didn’t look like a 15 year old kid did it.

But the best thing it had going for it was a nasty sounding 327 Chevy V-8 that made all the right sounds. It was a mismatch of parts that really didn’t complement each other very well, all of which I picked up for free or next to nothing, which was my budget at the time. It could barely wheeze out of its own way on takeoff, but it sounded like it was ready for The Winternationals. It had that hot rod look and sound, and that was good enough.

It also gave me the proudest moment in my life. My best friend Don and I took it to Columbus, Ohio to the NSRA Street Rod Nationals. The night before the show, we were looking at all the cars in a hotel parking lot, many of which we had seen in magazines. All of them made my car look like a pile of crap.

As we made our way through the sea of cars, I almost literally ran into none other than my personal hero, Gray Baskerville, who was standing there talking with Buttera and Chapouris. We introduced ourselves, told them we were their biggest fans, and I mentioned my car, albeit not worthy of sharing the same ground as theirs.

Gray was intrigued. “Ya mean that primered Chevy ridin’ around is yours?” he asked.

I shook my head yes, not knowing why he asked.

Man, that car sounds bitchin’! Good job kid.”

He could have said nothing. He could have berated it for the amateurish heap it was in comparison to everything there. He could have blown us both off and went back to his conversation with two legends in the car world. He himself was one of a handful of people responsible for the evolution of hot rodding. Instead, THE absolute car guy picked out something good about my car and gave me a verbal pat on the back.

It’s first tank of gas was a glorious moment too. What’s so great about a tank of gas you ask? I got it at GEYER CHEVROLET, which offered full service. I actually paid more for the gas there, because it was full service. Why?

Because the mechanic (remember my friend Rick Lautner?) would have to drop whatever he was doing and give me polite and courteous service.

He never said a word to me while he pumped my gas, but I couldn’t resist. When I paid him for the gas I looked him straight in the eye and said “Guess I didn’t screw it up so bad, huh?”

That car started the addiction to cars I still have to this day.

 The picture below is of my Chevy at the Street Rod Nationals North in Detroit, circa 198248 chebbie

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A Car Story… or is it?

While helping my nephew set up a hunting blind in a wooded area behind the house where I used to live, I (literally) tripped over a part of a 1957 Chevy front bumper that was laying in the dirt.

It was part of a stockpile of extra parts for a car I used to own. The part must have been in a shed on the ex-wife’s property. I must have missed it when I moved out years ago, and perhaps one of her grandchildren drug it out here.

I bought the car in 1982, and it’s long gone, but the memories of it began to flow through me as if it were yesterday.

 I already had a small fleet of old cars when I saw the ad the Auto Swapper magazine that read “1957 Chevy two-door, 327, 4 speed, special parts, good shape, $1000 or best offer.”

At the time, decent examples were selling for prices ranging from $3000 to $7000, so when I called, I fully expected to hear the same story – it’s sold, followed by how he couldn’t believe how many people had called. If it wasn’t that, surely I would hear that the magazine goofed on the price, and he really wanted (a ridiculous) 10K for it. If the price were correct (and it was still there) chances were excellent that it was a rotted out pile of junk. I knew the drill, because  I’d already made this call several times in my quest to own The Holy Grail of Cars, a ’57 Chevy. But, I made that call anyway. You just never know.

This time, the owner still had it. It was solid as a rock, and hadn’t run since he entombed in dry storage in 1969. The price was correct, and he’d lost track of how many calls he had gotten already. It was roughly fifty miles away. I bought it sight unseen, over the phone. It was like one of those once in a lifetime “old Corvette in a barn” stories, where someone bought a really valuable car for a fraction of its actual worth.

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The picture is of a much younger me, standing in the engine compartment, preparing it for what would come to be the first (of seven) engines I built for it. The car was so simple to work on, a blast to drive, and turned heads wherever I went.

 I remembered a trip my cousins Keith and Kevin and I took to the Indy 500 in it. I remembered the rumble of the exhaust and sinister whine of the gear-driven cam shaft in the last and most powerful engine I built for it, and the shriek that engine produced at wide open throttle.

 Thoughts of late night thrashes making it faster while having a few brews with my friends Dennis and Bob went through my mind, along with clandestine street races we used to run with it. It grew quite a reputation as one of the fastest cars in the area. A lot of guys who thought they had a fast car got to watch a pair of tail fins and blue dots pulling away.

 I remembered being a hero for the day at Ubly Dragway, beating and putting a much faster professionally built car on the trailer with one of the most bizarre runs ever recorded there, allowing a local driver (not me) to go on to win the $5000 prize, rather than the city guy with a bad attitude toward us “local-yocals”.

Good times. Great times. Ever since I found the part languishing in the woods, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them and that car.

I found myself repeatedly saying what every car guy has said at one time or another –  I sure wish I had that car back.

 But did I really? The more I thought about it, the more I realized how unrealistic my wish was. That wonderful engine that created all those Pavarotti-esque sounds required nothing less than Sunoco racing gas that was $2.78 a gallon in 1983 (when normal gas was less than a dollar) and it got roughly 4 mpg.

 The four-speed manual trans had special gear syncronizers, requiring it to be yanked into the next gear without the use of the clutch. It was harsh, clunky, and every shift chirped the tires and set me back in the seat, which was fun when I was young. I’m not so sure how much it would be now….and would pry spill my coffee.

And if you think ’57’s were expensive then, wait’ll you see what prices for them are now.

I began to realize that what I really wish for is not the car, but happier times it represented.

 Back then, I worked hard from 8 AM til 5 PM, made damn good money, had enough time to enjoy it, and piss most of it away on an old (and fast) car addiction while still providing a good home for my family.

These days, I work harder, and from 5AM to at least 7 PM, make about half of what I used to, and have to be in bed by 9 PM to do it all again tomorrow. I consider myself very fortunate, and am thankful for my job and income. I can’t imagine what it costs to raise a family today.

Every day, we hear and see dire predictions of how bad things are, and watch those in charge bicker like children instead of fix things. On top of that we have the media skewing it for shock value and ratings.

I’m a rational thinking man, but sometimes I wonder…when will it get better? Will it get worse? Is that possible? I can’t imagine what it all looks like to someone who isn’t thinking rationally.

All too often, we are hearing of horrible tragedies, the latest being Sandy Hook Elementary, and a public outcry of how to stop it from ever happening again.

Are guns the problem like so many want us to believe? My friends and I all had and enjoyed guns back then and still do. Our fathers taught us how to use them properly and respect them.  The thought of turning them toward an innocent child is something none of us could fathom, let alone do. Like them or not, guns will always be here.

Are violent video games  to blame?  Having grown up in an era where the most violent game was Pac-Man, I have to wonder. Today’s games  are so realistic they are hard to distinguish from a TV program, and desensitize what a gun actually does. That has to affect your way of thinking. But, like guns, they are popular and will likely be around for quite a while.

The list of “cures” goes on and on. I’m amazed that none of them were as simple as what I thought when I stumbled on my lost bumper.

Am I suggesting the answer is a ’57 Chevy? Figuratively, yes. Everyone needs a release and  something to make life enjoyable. It can be a ’57 Chevy, a sport, a hobby, or virtually anything that takes them away from the everyday challenges. 

 If I worked the long hours I do now, I’m not sure I’d have had the time to spend with my children like I did back then, and my parents before me, and wonder if that would have effected how they turned out.

 If we all had some way to set aside all the gloom and doom even for a day, we’d be happier.

Maybe if people were happy, they wouldn’t think about resorting to violence.

To me, it’s worth a try.

I had a wonderful upbringing in a great time period. Cool old cars are but a small part of the things I’ve been pulling from my memory bank.

 I’m still a car guy, but now, rather than wish to have a special car back, I find myself saying  I sure wish I had that time back.

I wonder if the children of today will look back and do the same?

 

 

 

 

 

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So, what does an author look (and act) like anyway?

Now that I have a published book under my belt, I have added author to my long jack of all trades, master of none list, I have to say, it is one of my proudest accomplishments. So much so, that I now have three more books in the works. But I have noticed something that always seems to happen when, either by coincidence or shameless self-promotion, the subject of authoring a book comes up during casual conversations with people. A good number of them will suddenly stop talking, tilt their head like a dog listening to someone slide across a steel floor in tap shoes, and give me a very strange look. What typically follows is the same (word for word) sentence

 “YOU?!  Wrote a book??”

Um, yeah. I got dressed all by myself this morning too. My potty training is going very well…I’m this close to big boy underwear…

That is when the conversation really gets interesting. A few will suddenly realize that what just fell out of their mouth could suggest that, in their mind, I wasn’t capable of coherent thought, or stringing a few sentences together. So, now the comical incomplete sentence back pedaling begins.

“Uhh…I didn’t mean…it’s just that’s a lotta work, and…I just didn’t know you knew h…how ’bout this crazy weather we’re having? Really hot for this time of year, don’tcha think??”

I know they didn’t mean it that way. To be honest,  I’m kind of surprised I was able to finish a whole book (and want to do more), and, for the record, 40 some degrees is about average for early November. But, it sure is fun watching them try to explain what they meant, often times digging themselves into a bigger hole.

But it does make me wonder. Was it something I said? I admit I’m not the most intelligent person out there, but I’m not a window licker either. Are authors supposed to appear somewhat brighter than me? Should I have studied like a potential Jeopardy! contestant for this?

Is it how I look? Looks has never been my strong suit. I’d never be able to pull off that perfect smile, just came from a professional photo shoot look that I’ve noticed some big time authors have. At best, I look rode hard and hung up wet. (and I can’t afford to hire people to keep me in perfect lighting and blow wind through my hair at all times)

Is it how I dress? A renowned local author once told me that sheds his usual and most comfortable biker type attire for something a little more upscale for writing events.

Great. Now I have to buy a tweed sport jacket with leather elbow patches. Do I have to wear it while I write? And to the beach? If I wear it to my pays the bills real job, which requires uniforms, they’d just send me home to get my work coat.

I guess I’ll just keep bein’ me. I yam what I yam.

My author side will be kept brilliantly disguised, where I can seek new and interesting characters for my next book…

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