After I dropped you off, I reflected on two things you said not long after I picked you up: “I love cars more than anything else on this planet,” and “I’m compassionate, even if I don’t look like it.”
* * *
You found a muscle car on Craigslist, but it was three hours away, a couple of miles from where you used to go to summer camp as a kid. “For a week, I checked in on that car like it was my child.” Three times a day, your best friend at work asked you, “Is it still there?” Then the night before your day off, “A screw must have turned in my head.” You bought a bus ticket and left early in the morning.
You were picked up at the station. “I could tell it was my ride right away.” It was, “Like in the movies, when someone on the run meets the ride that’s been arranged for some far-out leg of his escape.” We discussed a few mob flicks and a few thrillers in which nature figured prominently in the end. “I just got into some guy’s truck in the mountains like it was part of the script.”
The car you were going to look at belonged to his brother-in-law, who had passed away not too long ago. A few weeks before the anniversary of his death, his sister called him up and asked him to come get the car out of the driveway. He posted it online and immediately there were several inquiries. But he said, “After you emailed me, people stopped asking about it,” and then gave you a look like the one your dad gave you when he asked you for the first time if you wanted to drive his car home from school.
You pulled up to the house, and there it was, “even better than it looked in the pictures.” A 1979, Chevy Camaro, Z28. You had magazine pages of this exact car taped up in your room “at camp, actually, just up the road.” You used to watch cars like it race across the bridge at the end of the lake. “In my bed at night, I could hear them revving their engines, burning rubber, switching gears.”
I asked you what color it was. You looked for the right words, and then said, “Sheet metal. Like the DeLorean, but cleaner. The reflection was blinding.” I asked about the interior. “The interior had to be bolted down.” I thought I knew what that meant, but I was wrong. You said, “No, there was nothing in it.” The interior had been completely stripped and removed, except for the passenger seat. I said, “Wait a second. You knew this?” You said, “Yes, of course.” You spent the afternoon going over every inch of the car, taking notes.
About half an hour later, a woman met you out front, her arms folded in front of her, her hands rubbing her own shoulders. She asked you if you wanted a sandwich. You were all set, though. Then she asked if you needed any help. You hesitated, but sensing she was the owner of the car, you said, “Sure.”
As you inspected the car together, its story slowly emerged. As a kid, her husband used to love sports cars. Having recently been diagnosed with cancer, he made a list of things he wanted to do, and build his own car was one of them. He bought the Camaro and stripped the whole thing down, inside and out, planning to make it exactly like one he “had a crush on” his whole life. He never finished it. As she described the car that he imagined, you found yourself revising the notes you’d been taking about what to do to it. At about sunset, you’d gotten everything you needed and hitched the same ride back to the bus station.
A week later, you had everything arranged. The car had been towed to a nearby garage, and you were headed there for the weekend to work on it. The car was ready to drive on a Sunday evening. “I can’t even tell you how beautiful this thing was.” From there, you drove straight to the lake your old camp was on and “spun the tires” for a couple of hours before pulling into the parking lot near the beach. It was a blue moon. “You almost needed sunglasses to look at it.”
You sat on the sand, the cool air of the forest on your back. “I was thinking about my job.” You didn’t remember when you decided to go into sales. “It just kind of happened.” You thought about your parents, too. You said that your mother was a social worker and that your father “did electric and was union.” He liked to work with wires and cables. She liked to work with people. You said that no matter what our job, we probably end up doing our parents’ work in some way, shape or form. You said that sitting there on the beach, “another screw must have tightened in my head.”
You drove back to the hotel where you’d been staying and booked one more night. The next morning, you completed the script you said you were there to play a role in — putting the finishing touches on your parents’ work, “Mostly my mom’s side of the job.” You drove over to the old owner’s house, parked the car in the driveway, rang the door bell and walked away.
* * *
When we got back to your house from the station, you thanked me for listening to your story, threw your duffel bag around a shoulder, and walked up your driveway. I hollered, “How did you get to the bus station from around their house?” You said, “Thumbed it. Some lady came by in a Camaro.”