Monday, November 5, 2007

Driving Big Blue

This past weekend I had the pleasure of driving Big Blue on his inaugural run to go camping. We went to Napa as Elizabeth was in the area and would meet up with us later that night.

Big Blue is not the first "old car" I have owned. I say this not to take away from the Big Blue driving experience, but to emphasize it. Driving an old car, you see, is a much different experience than driving a new car. Take our MINI for example. The MINI (2006 Cooper S) is a six speed that, even while going 65, can accelerate an extra 10 mph with a slight touch of the gas pedal. It is akin to seat-belting yourself into a small rocket and daring the police to see you as you weave through traffic.

Quite the opposite is true of "old cars", like Big Blue. These cars have personalities that mainly result from things not working properly and how they have been fixed through the years. While the MINI's headlines come on every time you flip the switch (in fact, come on automatically for daytime lights), "old cars" don't always follow orders. They get grumpy and upset.

This is commonly talked about and is probably the reason people name their cars. Cars DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE PERSONALITIES - I realize this. They have mechanical failures, quick fixes, rot, bad tires, under-powered motors - not personalities. They are machines and machines do not have souls. But try telling that to the car. Or the driver as he tries to coax the car along.

I had a 1971 Toyota Landcruiser (named Caesar), the original fj-40. It's tail lights worked sometimes, when you opened the air vents, leaves would blow into the car, and, as a female passenger that I was trying to impress once pointed out, you could see the road trough drainage holes drilled into the floor. But I loved Caesar, patted his dashboard when he was able to climb hills and talked him through many a two-track. I'd like to think that Caesar worked past his mechanical issues on his own, giving me a relatively easy time.

My 1972 K5 blazer (Fat Fonda) was grumpy. Some mornings Fat Fonda started up and ran fine. The very next day, with no change in weather, road conditions, or driving style, Fatty might decide to stall on the on-ramp to the freeway. Then he would start up and continue along as if nothing happened. But I tried with that car, showing off the much too big engine, replacing parts even as the rust made the mechanics wonder why I wasted the money.

Like life, not every relationship is a good one. I drove my 1986 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (Edgar) into a snow pile - not by mistake. Edgar had stalled turning into the parking lot so I decided to drive him nose first into the nearest snow pile as a form of punishment. I spent so much time trying to get Edgar along just far enough to make it to the auto parts store, that I'm sure I passed off my share of bad vibes on him. Perhaps for this and other reasons, I never had much affection for Edgar. And he had little love for me.

In Big Blue's case, you could say we were introduced this weekend. If cars do have personalities, then this was our first time hanging out (I was going to use a dating analogy here, but Big Blue is certainly a man, and, well...).

We drove together. WE figured out the best gears and speed and how to handle hills. In the first hour I was growing impatient. Not talking much to Blue, just driving him (and singing out loud as there is no stereo). Hills were killing the poor bus. Getting into Napa Valley required climbing at least three hills that now seem huge (in the MINI, I don't recall them).

After staking out our camping spot, and making a run to Calistoga for beer, chips and campfire wood. Blue was still sluggish, topping out at 50, refusing to rev up any past that. Then, nearing the entrance to the campground again, Big Blue coughed. Sputtered. Lost power for a brief moment. Then took off like a man on a mission. He quickly climbed to 60 mph and would have kept going had I not had to turn into the campground. I was giddy with pride. Blue knew how to go!

Once back at the site I hopped out laughing, talking out loud to Blue, taking off my hat and smiling at him (of course, a biker happened by and watched me as if I was mad! I quickly hid on the other side of the bus).

We were friends going camping, and I really felt like Big Blue was glad to be back in the trees and woods, his tires on dirt, shaded from the California sun. Gone was the days of sitting in a storage lot, punctuated by a month at a shop in the not-so-pretty part of San Rafael. He was back were he belonged, and he worked a little harder for me to prove his appreciation. We were camping together.

I know. Cars are machines. They don't have personalities. But Big Blue will never know that because I will never tell him. He will never hear from me that he doesn't exist, that he is simple metal and fuel lines and electrical current. I'll tell him good job, talk him through hills, and I'll even let him steer once in a while, because I can see us being friends. But I'll never let him think he is just a 1968 vw bus. Because, in reality, he is so much more.



Good stuff! I felt like I was going along for the ride in the back seat. If I could only be so lucky!

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