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Car World

Craig is an excellent mechanic. He built his first car when he was in high school. When I first met him, he drove a little white 1966 MGB with red leather seats and old-fashioned sideview mirrors on either side that reminded me of spectacles. We called that car the White Rabbit.

Craig en route to TexasThe Rabbit was a reliable car, but I soon bought my own 66 MG, and it was not. In fact, it coughed and crept when I bought it for $200. Craig and a friend of his who worked on foreign cars for a living opened the hood and studied the engine for quite some time. Then they took off the spark plugs and put them back on in a different order. Broom! My little car took off. We called that one the Lightning Bolt.

Me en route to TexasWhen we moved to Texas we left the Lightning Bolt behind, as it was good for nothing but parts by then, and set out with all we owned in the White Rabbit. We were having so much fun driving across the middle of the country that we kept right on going past Texas, then turned south into New Mexico. That's me on the left. By the time we reached El Paso, we were beginning to notice the heat. Did I mention that it was July?

Needless to say, the Rabbit was not air-conditioned. It was a rag-top, which meant that we chose each day between being roasted and being broiled. But our arrival in Austin is another story. The Rabbit delivered us safely to our house in Hyde park and never left the driveway after that. I bought yet another old MG.

This little car was a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I learned all about its simple four-cylinder engine as Craig rebuilt it (at least once), rewired it, replaced its clutch and transmission, and otherwise repaired or replaced every moving part over the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, Craig had gotten a decent job, so he bought a new car, a red and white Mustang. A few years after that, he bought me a new car, also a Mustang. While their warranties lasted, there was peace. But these were American-made cars and this was the Dark Age of American automotive technology. As soon as those warranties ran out, the troubles began.

Car World

I don't know how to estimate the amount of money we would have spent over the years if Craig hadn't done all the work on our cars. I shudder to think what it must be like to deliver yourself into the hands of mechanics and garages. Never mind that some are honest. Some are not. There is also the issue of competence, and none of them are cheap.

By now we had moved to the Pommel house. We kept our cars for eighteen and twenty years respectively, and as they aged, we found ourselves more and more often in what we called Car World. This is not a pretty place. Car World is where one or the other car is out of commission, one of us is without transportation, and Craig is condemned to spend every waking non-working minute in the garage, sweating over a shop manual, cursing with black hands, sometimes throwing tools at the walls in frustration.

At these times I shopped and cleaned, came running when Craig needed a third hand, and dashed to the parts store about once every hour. Pirate hid in the guest room until he heard the patient roar to life, and everyone sighed with relief, and the sun came back out, and Craig cleaned up.

The very worst time of all was the day Craig called me to say his car had broken down about two miles from our house. This was before cell phones, mind you, even before voice mail, so this meant he hiked a ways to find a phone he could use and called until he got hold of me. I drove out to the scene right away.

Craig was thinking we would use my car to tow his car home. He had decided that his car had thrown its timing chain (don't ask, but it's very bad). I lined up my car at his direction, and he beckoned impatiently as I eased my bumper up to his. Then a miracle occurred.

Except this was bad. It was like the picture in the Sistine Chapel where God touches Adam's hand and life sparks between them, only this time it was death. My car touched his and died on the spot. But that was not the miracle. The miracle was that in that instant, my car had thrown its own timing chain.

I did not believe that diagnosis until I saw the chain with my own eyes much later. At the time, I furiously denounced the idea as so wildly improbable as to be evidence that Craig was deranged. We stood there and argued about it even though there wasn't any point. The car was dead. But it was just so peverse.

Anyway, we hiked back to the telephone and called a tow truck. Both cars were towed back to the house in disgrace. Craig tore his apart that night.

The next day found us deep in Car World. Craig roared away like Vulcan, and this time, when he needed parts, I had to ride my bike to the parts store to get them. At the time I had a 40-pound dumpster salvage that we called the Iron Maiden. I had painted it flamingo pink. The seat was the size of a day-bed. I rode it five miles round-trip to the parts store three times that day, then rode once more to the grocery store to get something for dinner.

Back then, we had the nicest grocery store at the corner near our house. It was a Tom Thumb, and it actually had good fresh fish and seafood. Its produce was as good as what you'd find at Whole Foods. It was a wonderful store (now long gone).

That day, I saw something new: a two-pound bag of little black Maine mussels. I got some fresh spinach, a marinara sauce, fresh pasta (spaghetti), and a Spanish red wine. In those days, Spanish red wine was not popular, and it was very cheap. This was a ten-year-old Rioja, and I think I paid six dollars for it.

When I got home, Craig's engine sat in the middle of our sturdy butcherblock diningroom table. It was getting late, but he had the new timing chain on. He was cleaning up. He would reassemble everything in the morning.

While he showered, I set up a table with a tablecloth in front of the fireplace in the livingroom and made Mussels Marinara. It was one of the best meals we ever had. We think of it as Car World Dinner.

A few years later, I bought a new car with an extended warranty and swore an oath that I would throw it out and buy another if it ever broke down. (It hasn't, yet.) Not long after that, we got rid of Craig's car, too, and bought him a new one on the same terms. No more Car World. Those days are gone for good, and good riddance to them. But not to Mussels Marinara! Still a favorite dish.

A Little More about Little Cars...

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