If it is one thing guys are passionate about, it is cars. Even before they learn to drive them. In school, there was always a group of young dudes sketching cars on the front of their binders. Or they were racing motocross and other things that went, “Rum! Rum!” I suppose it’s a man thing. Hell, I never understood it.
Actually it is a man thing. But it’s not entirely bad. When I was around that school age, my Aunt Diane’s dad, aka Mr. Z remodeled old cars. Whenever we went to their farm, he would take us around in them. One was a Model T he was especially proud of. We would all look forward to the ride, and it usually occurred after we took a swim in the pool. The Model T was fun. Not only because he had restored it, but also because it was a piece of history. Mr. Z was a lively man with a good sense of humor too, which made the ride even more memorable. He passed away several years ago, but every time I see a classic car, I know his spirit is not far away.
I do love classic cars though, not just because of Mr. Z. Also partly because guys who restored them used to have 50’s throwback events where they showed them off. During these get togethers, oldies would play and their redone classics would sit side by side. Occurring in the hot Western Pennsylvania summer, it was a homage to a lost time and to manhood. It was a throwback to an era where it wasn’t perfect, but men weren’t afraid to get cut and scraped on cars. They weren’t afraid to wear oil on themselves after fixing their motor. Now they want to talk about their feelings. YUCK! I can’t take that for the record.
Usually they would meet in the parking lot of Lola’s Ice. They would slurp down their Italian Ices with Elvis or Roy Orbison at full blast. I always would see these gatherings as an employee of Flying Robin Supermarket. You see, there are two kinds of employees at a supermarket. Those who run an errand and return, and those who run and errand and disappear. I always returned. You see, this is more rare than you might think that one would return. Yeah, Go Backs aka taking back merchandise that isn’t bought kills time. However, you are at work. Still, some of my coworkers didn’t understand this.
I did which meant I was sent to do errands. Once I went to get the women in floral pizza, and saw these old car get togethers. Some of the young, car obsessed dudes I went to school with were there with fathers, uncles, and grandpas showing auto obsession went back several generations. We weren’t close or anything. So I didn’t say hi. Another time I got to run into the throw back auto show was when the folks in video sent me to get them to Lola’s on a hot summer day. It took me longer than anticipated. Still, I got the ices and they were nice enough to split one with me. (Better than the women in floral).
Anyway, one of the car obsessed lads, a kid by the name of Wilson McDonald, was with his grandpa. “Hey April.” He said.
“Hi Wilson.” I replied in my awkwardness.
I walked away. Wilson’s older relative asked, “You know her?”
“Yeah, she writes death poems and wears too much makeup. But she’s real smart. She looked better than usual tonight.” Wilson replied. Thanks, I guess.
I didn’t learn to appreciate cars until two summers later, though. At the time, I was working as a lifeguard and always walked home. Pittsburgh is an industrial city, so we have a lot of stretches where to cross the street means to tempt death. The safest cross was a place called Billy’s Hoagies. It was a stoner hang out where all the car obsessed dudes used to chill. They would park their cars that drove low to the ground, eat rainbow meat aka meat on it’s last leg, and smoke their cigarettes. Across the street was a car lot. Usually, the mechanics would be outside smoking. Because I would walk past so frequently, I made friends with many of the stoners and mechanics.
Some of the guys were single. Others had girlfriends. Their gal pals were usually either really skinny or really well endowed. These girls wore heavy makeup, and usually cracked bubble gum. I remember one dude was dating this beautician who used to wear the pants in the relationship. The guys used to tease the hell out of him, too. It was pretty funny, actually.
One day, we were all hanging at the car lot. The mechanics were smoking their cigarettes, and shooting the breeze. All of a sudden, the one dude Mike said, “Man, that woman’s breaks need work. You know, the one driving in the sedan.” Mike had his ex’s name tattooed on his arm. He got it at eighteen and regretted it soon after their six month romance ended.
“Yeah, and she’s driving with two feet. So it’s probably going to hit her hard before she even notices.” Bobby said. Yeah, Bobby, the heart throb of the lot. The one who always had some woman trouble that ended in him nearly being shot or stabbed.
The two continued to smoke their Marlboro Reds as the next few cars drove by. “Man, his tail pipe is going to do him in.” Bobby observed. “How many miles do you think he can go?”
“Maybe five before the thing blows.” Mike said.
I stood silent, just observing this whole thing. The next car came by. Mike observed, “Engine issues.” He remarked.
“How do you guys know all this? I mean, they are just driving by?” I finally asked.
“We work on cars all day every day. We know what’s wrong with someone’s car and driving when they pull into the lot.” Mike explained. “You see, when you do something all the time for a long time, you get kind of good at it.”
“Led foot. Buick. Must have had a bad day at work.” Bobby observed as we were talking. From that moment onward, I had a whole new respect for men who loved cars and mechanics in general. Maybe these guys weren’t going to Brown or NYU like my siblings and myself, but they were bright in a way we would never be. I was getting schooled in a way I never dreamed. If the world only thought of them as simple mechanics who worked on cars, they were gravely mistaken.
Now I live in a city where people don’t really drive let alone own cars. However, in the outer boroughs it is different. I have gone through parts of Brooklyn where I see some of the Italian dudes really do work on their cars. However, nothing compares to the Spanish dudes. They even name their cars. The body work is amazing and the sound system is pimp. Whenever I walk through Brooklyn, Queens, or the Bronx and see this, my heart melts.
It makes me think of Mr. Z and the Model T he redid and the spins we took in it. I also remember the classic cars and the oldies blasting in the parking lot. And then I think of my mechanic friends, rating other people’s driving.
Spring is coming and the weather is getting warm. The dudes and the cars are beginning to emerge from hiding. I want one to take me for a spin in his fancy car that he worked so hard on.
I am not asking for a boyfriend. I am not asking for a husband. I am just asking for a ride in your car, Goddamnit.
I Came, I Saw, I Sang: Memoirs of a Singing Telegram Delivery Girl
Come see my DVD taping
April 22nd @ 7pm
34 W. 22nd Street