In the mid-1970’s, when my pals and I weren’t playing baseball, riding skateboards off of ramps or traversing the ever expanding city of Green Bay on our bikes, hanging out at Lambeau field, trying to figure out the weirdness of girls or even try and kill each other with our BB guns, we’d hang out in one of the ever disappearing empty lots and fields in our neighborhood. Truth be told, with the expansion of residential construction we had to travel further away from our normal haunts, which is where we discovered “the car”.
Now, mind you, we weren’t even teens, obsessed with girls, games, guns, bikes, boards and cars. So, when we stumbled upon a rusted out hulk of mid-1960’s rusted American steel sitting not five feet from the East river, we immediately claimed it as ours. Truth be told, the car was more a tetanus factory than a car. The hood was missing as was the engine, there were no tires or axels, half the trunk hatch was missing, as if it had been ripped off by Godzilla. The front passenger door was gone as was the rear drivers door. Not a single window existed yet evidence of them once being there littered the ground and inside of the car. Lastly, there were no seats in it. Oddly enough, the steering wheel was present and most of the dash, except where the glove box should have been. That part of the dash looked as if a grizzly bear had tried to eat it. Big slashes and holes all over the place and what looked like dried blood. We convinced ourselves it was most likely paint or rust.
My pals and I, Jimmy Finnegan (Fin) and Al Minnow (Fish), drug some logs inside the car so we could take turns sitting behind the wheel pretending to drive. Fin pulled out his transistor radio and turned it on. WIXX the ROCK on the shore of lake Michigan, a local rock and roll station was blasting Aerosmith “Toys in the Attic”, we all sang along as Fish, who was behind the wheel shouted out imaginary destinations. “New York, Times Square, COMING UP! Now headed for sunny Southern California via the Grand Canyon. Make sure the turbo thrusters are ready for firing we don’t want to end up like Evel Kenivel.”
“Aye, aye Cap’n.” I shouted and flipped imaginary switches on the dash. “Turbos charged and ready for firing.”
“Cap’n, we have reports of bad weather, we’re going to have to scrub the jump.” Fin shouts over Steven Tyler’s screams.
“Screw the weather, there are girls in bikini’s on the other side of that overgrown ditch. We’re gonna jump or die trying. Skip…. Ready to fire in 3…2…1… FIRE!!!!”
All three of us pretended as if we were weightless and looked out the empty holes where windows should be. Instead of seeing the overgrown grass and weeds, we saw dust, dirt, desert and the gapping maw of the Grand Canyon. We felt the wind in our hair, the g-force of the thrusters as we sailed over the largest hole on earth.
We landed safely, albeit a bit roughly and we laughed and elbowed each other as we fell off the log and into the back of the car. Reality making it’s ugly presence known in the form of fly’s buzzing around our head and the sloppy sound of the East river in front of us. Still, we were euphoric from our fantasy.
Over the course of a few days, we turned that old Chevy into our fort. We brought in blankets to sit on. Some tools like hammers and pliers to bend sharp points of metal into angles that wouldn’t puncture our skin, fishing gear and comics. Every day we’d use that beat up piece of junk to escape our troubles. The Chevy took us to places like Italy, Florida, California, Alaska, Ireland and even the Moon. No geographical boundaries could stop us. If we thought of it, we could get there.
Then, after two weeks, the car disappeared, leaving only behind a dead grassy area where it had once sat. All around the spot the grass and weeds were waist high. But where the Chevy had been, just dirt and dead grass as if some sort of rectangular foot had stepped out of the sky and left a strange mark on the face of the earth. We were all confused.
I saw our stuff first. It was piled up about three feet from where the front passenger door should have been. That is, if the Chevy had had a front passenger door. Our blankets were folded neatly in a pile. On top of the blankets were our tools, comic books and fishing rods. Next to the blankets was the tackle box.
Our fort had been stolen. Stolen right out from under our noses and the only thing left behind was our personal gear. Left behind like it wasn’t good enough to steal but a rusted out piece of crap car was. We slowly gathered up our stuff and headed home. None of us in the mood to talk because we all felt the same way… like we’d had something important stolen from us and there wasn’t a damn thing we could do about it. We were helpless. It sucked. There was no justice and no peace for us. Only memories, great memories truth be told.
Which is sort of where I am right now, while I remember those days with great fondness and joy, I just don’t connect with who I was back then. I don’t associate with the 12 year old kid I was. No, instead… I feel more of a connection with that beat up, rusty, missing almost everything that’s important piece of crap Chevy. I suppose I identify with it because of all the aches and pains I feel in my body. Of all the missing pieces I feel are readily identifiable in my life and with just how useless I can sometimes feel about my path on this journey.
Yet, you know, thinking about it now… in a way, that old Chevy gave us three some great times in its last days in our lives. Memories and experiences that I hope will last the rest of my lifetime. Even when I’m really old and have swiss cheese for a brain. That useless piece of metal had an impact in my life.
As I sit here, looking at a piece of paper in my hands, a paper that lauds the impact I have had in other people’s lives, people I don’t even remember I feel even more like that inanimate object.
How do we know what impact we are making on others? I mean, certainly not during the act of the impact. Nope, it’s not until much later we realize others have impacted us and we’ve impacted others. For good or bad. That is what happens. Those are the memories we hold onto and those are the influences that help us become who we are. It’s a weird revelation to come to just by thinking about an old car from over thirty years ago. But if one rust bucket can bring a smile to my face, then maybe this old rust bucket can bring a smile or two to others before he disappears forever.
Have a great week.