That New Car Smell
The voice speaking on the other end of the telephone was a bit on the murky side as if he was talking through a cloth held over the mouth piece. “You take highway 101 to the Redwood exit and then drive 3.2 miles until you see a white picket fence” And then he mumbled a street name that I couldn’t quite catch, so after the third time that he said it I had to ask him to spell it out for me and it still didn’t make much sense. Yet none the less I told the ominous voice that I had indeed understood his directions and that he should be expecting me sometime around 12 noon.
And the reason that I was engaging in this unusual clandestine type behavior? Well, that was due to the fact that unfortunately the loyal but rapidly disintegrating Honda of mine was gasping its last breath and I had to get a replacement soon or I was gonna be not only unemployed, but unemployed and a pedestrian too! However after surveying what was readably available out there in the used car world I had decided that what I really needed was a 30 year old Japanese hotrod, and no I’m not talking about a girlfriend or some sushi chef who’s maki rolls are to die for. What I was obsessing about here was a Datsun 240Z, preferably from the early 1970’s, with a five speed transmission, overly ostentatious mag wheels and those way rad alloy rims.
This of course is not your average car for the likes of my neighborhood and why, you may ask, would I be wanting to get a small sports type car for the local car burglars to dismantle piece by piece and the junkies to get high in? Like didn’t I learn anything with the Honda? And wouldn’t say a nice Chevy Malibu or a BMW sedan be a tad roomier if not cushy with leather upholstery and tinted windows to keep the pesky street lights out of their faces as they cringe down out of sight below the dashboard in a fit of euphoric paranoia?
But we’re not talking logic here and yeah, maybe it’s a case of midlife crisis and all, but a nice moderately priced slightly used Yugo just wasn’t making me salivate with unrepentant desire! And the prospect of owning another drab gray Honda with its sensible cloth upholstery and even less appealing rational functionality seemed like a slight case of just giving up and throwing in the towel on individuality!
So after perusing the internet and various newspaper car ads I’d made up a small list of sellers and that’s how I happened to find myself talking to absolute strangers on the phone and as a result hooking up to meet a certain “Doug” out in the field behind his house in Novato. And now here I was standing there a bit perplexed as he pulled a large canvas tarp stained green with mildew off of a small nondescript mound that turned out to be a car. Well, most of a car anyway. Like there was a body and attached to the front end were some things that looked like a pair of rather well used tires though the back of the vehicle was jacked up and resting on cinderblocks with the exposed end of its axel sticking out all covered in rust and I had to ask Doug “This is the Z? The runs good and in need of a few minor repairs Z that I’d seen on Craig’s List?”
Doug of course answered this by gesturing with both of his hands as if I wasn’t seeing the vast pile of wealth and beauty that he’d laid out exposed in front of me. And what was this? Some kind of mystery I wasn’t getting here? As Doug wasn’t the only guy I’d met up with in the last few days only to go out to their backyards or into their garages to look at what they considered a “classic” vehicle! And sure these might be classics, or collector’s cars or any of the other names and labels that are used to describe cars that are older than most of the women I date. But most of them weren’t exactly what you could really call a car, as they were in pieces or not running and then there were the guys that wanted to throw in an extra front end or another set of rims like I too had unlimited storage space to keep an extra motor and transmission lying around until I happened to need it!
“Check out the dash, not a crack in it!” said Doug with quite a lot of enthusiasm especially when all there was inside of this car of his was a dash. No seats or a steering-wheel mind you, but he was right it did have one hell of a fine dashboard!
And like I said this was not uncommon behavior amongst these car guys; like for instance the Hells Angel in Richmond who’s Datsun had grass growing up through the floorboards. Though his offer of a “parts” car to go with it was a tad overambitious as there wasn’t a hell of a lot of difference between the parts car and the car that he was selling! And then there was the quiet Asian kid that wasn’t tall enough to see over the car’s hood who was dead set on the price that he had posted and not a penny less. Though I’ve got to admit that at least his car was running and he did let me punch it in fifth gear to achieve that g-force appeal that I was looking for. But that was just a teaser and in the end I wanted more! Yet I wasn’t getting it here in this vacant lot hanging out with Doug as we both looked his skeletal relic over for the last time before I made the sign of the cross and he pulled the tarp back across mercifully covering its rusting hulk.
However the day was still young and armed with a long list of potential hot car candidates I was bound and determined to find just what I was looking for. As was Stephan, my upstairs neighbor, who had not only come along for the ride but who was there as moral support in order for me to purchase a new car so that he could gain possession of my old one. Though I have to admit that he was always the first to roll his eyes at some bastardized version of a hotrod that when I was test driving it could barely keep itself on the road as the rear axel was so overloaded with the extra wide tires putting undue pressure on the original differential that it was groaning in protest as I accelerated with wild “hey its not my car” abandon.
“Piece of shit!” Was his usual first and last comment and for some reason I was getting a little annoyed at these assessments of his – even though they were right on the money and I knew it. But I just didn’t get the feeling that he was experiencing the whole 240Z thing like I was and even if the car was running and all he would look at me with that – “you are not going to buy this load of junk” look of his. So that I would have to reconsider my motives for the whole deal and then when he said things like “its not like this car is going to get you laid.” That I would respond by just turning around and driving to the next potential score that was awaiting my perusal.
Yet even my unabashed enthusiasm was getting a tad trashed as I neared the outskirts of Hayward; which if I didn’t see the car that I wanted was to be my last stop of the day before going home dejected, and lo and behold as I turned off the main drag there it was parked under a carport awning; All gun metal grayish blue with mag wheels and chrome rims. A stunning example of a 1970 240Z, if I’d ever seen one, with an all black leather interior and unfortunately only a four speed manual transmission, but as I’d come to find out – beggars can’t be choosers and apparently neither could those of us who were trying to buy cars either. And even though it blows enough exhaust into the cockpit to asphyxiate me into a coma and sometimes when I punch the gas she groans and does that little hesitation dance while in third gear only to screech out and leave bits of expensive rubber tread on the highway, my only thought bouncing around in my brain as I drove my new car home was – I hope the junkies appreciate this car half as much as I do!