BLACK ECHO'S LAST BIG ADVENTURE
The best laid plans of ... hell, you know the rest. It wasn't so much "laid" as it was "screwed" as in FUBAR.
The Formula project is officially dead. Verily it is dead, I say. Dead. Dead. Dead. RIP. When I took a long look at what I had and where I wanted to go, the cost to get there was not what I wanted to pay, and neither was the time required to get where I wanted to go. I estimated that it would have taken at least eight thousand dollars (on top of the four thousand that I already had in the car) to just get the car back to factory showroom stock condition. Even then I was still going to be left with a 220,000 plus mile engine and powertrain. Because mommy didn't raise a dummy (or at least not a complete fool), I wisely decided to cut my losses and began to look for a better car to play with. That was about six weeks ago.
You see, at 37 years young, I really am getting old and having to rebuild cars from the ground up with all new parts, even if I buy them cheap as dirt, just isn't as much fun as it once was. With that in mind, I started looking at my options... Find another third gen F-body in far better shape but at a far higher price? Did I really want another Formula? What about a portly, luxurious GTA... that's what fat old people in Florida drive so they must be comfortable. Should I find another '79 SE Trans Am? No. Nix the '79. I'm too old to drive around in a car with a bird that takes up most of the hood, let alone a car that has four hundred feet of pin striping on it. I don't own enough gold jewelry or low cut shirts to be seen in that car. Should I find another C4 Corvette like the 1988 Z51 I used to own? Should I just abandon GM completely and find a nice, used '04 Mach 1 Mustang and go all Ford? Should I go back import with a third generation turbo RX-7 or go '90's retro with a Dodge Stealth RT-TT-AWD? Or maybe I should go fourth gen and find a nice 2000 WS6 Trans Am with T-tops, a LS1 and a six speed stick.
The stuff you see when you have the money to buy it...
All were affordable, hell, my father and I were even looking at several used ZR-1 Corvettes for a few days until we both realized that the yokels who Mr. Goodwrench employed locally had probably never seen a LT5 engine let alone actually worked on one. Now, if my experience with the local Chevy dealer (involving my '88 Z51 Corvette way back in 1992) was any indication, any repairs to something as technologically sophisticated as the LT5 DOHC 32V V8 engine in the ZR1 would be a potential road to rapid bankruptcy given the incompetence shown in Hattiesburg by the GM crew. You see, the people at the H'burg Chevy dealership don't really work on your car as much as they charge you out the ass to practice their lackluster mechanical skills on it and they do take their sweet time. Sometimes, I think they dance a barefoot jig around your car to the accompaniment of banjo and harmonica music while sipping moonshine from a jug or Mason jar. Oh, they'll eventually get it fixed, if you keep taking it back to them long enough (in the same type scenario where a bunch of monkeys type out the complete works of William Shakespeare if you gave them each a typewriter and an amount of time equivalent to, oh, say, infinity and a day).
Since I wanted to keep the 406 Lingenfelter for a little while longer, I felt that I needed something that the motor would plug and play into. Eventually. That meant that whatever I decided on basically had to be compatible with 1985 to 1989 GM tuned port injection wiring harness and ECM / PROM capacity. Talk about limiting your choices, that realization was basically one small step forward and one giant screaming leap back. I also wanted something that I could just ride around in and take a breather for a while from the high performance parts world. I wanted something that I could buy and didn't have to sink a lot of money into right off the bat. This limited my choices to another C4 Corvette (of which I had decided on either a 1990 or a 1991, since I later found out that the 406 LPE would also work pretty well with the speed density setup and the 1990 Corvette dash really is a lot nicer than that Atari Glow-Winky unit found in the 1984 to 1989 models) or a low mileage fourth gen F-body. I seriously thought about going with a LS1 powered fourth gen and even found a nice 2000 Ram Air Trans Am on Ebay; white, grey interior, six speed, LS1, T-tops, all options for $15,000 in Monroe, Georgia but I passed on it because while I had the freedom of buying a $15,000 car (or truck or anything else I wanted), I didn't like spending that much money on what amounted to a vehicle I would drive maybe four days a month, let alone spend that much money initially to purchase anything manufactured by General Motors.
Now, given that I had a budget of $15,000 give or take, that gave me plenty of money to shop a really nice C4 Vette or 4th Gen car (which would, naturally, be a Pontiac). However, having $15,000 and spending $15,000 are two different concepts. So, what did I go and wind up doing? I bought another third gen F-body.
"Holy Mother of Milton Bradley! Dude! WTF is wrong with you?! Are you mentally retarded?!" said the tiny voice of absolute reason in my head after the deed was done.
Well, you see... I like my sports cars a little on the trashy side. Yes, I bought a 1986 Pontiac Trans Am. Why did I stay with the 3rd Gen F-body? My guess is the reason is one part brand loyalty and one part mental retardation, say in a 30 / 70 split. I admit that I kind of like these third gen cars and my teenage years were spent in the '80's, not the '70s (where the 2nd Gens lived) and not in the '90's (where the 4th Gens lived). I'm a Pontiac man at heart, always have been (Camaros are for plebes and trailer park trash). This car will make the 3rd Trans Am that I've owned in my life (1979 SE, 1980 turbo Pace Car and now this 1986 TA), and the fifth Pontiac (all Firebirds, the last two being 1988 and 1990 Formulas). I've owned three Camaros in my life ('78 Rally Sport, '88 IROC-Z, '89 IROC-Z, all 350cid models) and two Corvettes ('79 with a '70 LT1, '88 Z51 with 4+3 speed manual). Out of all of those cars, it was the Pontiacs that really gripped my soul the most. I like the Formulas for their no-nonsense approach to less-frills, more thrills but there is no denying that the Pontiac that really stands in the spotlight is the Trans Am. Born the same year that I was, in 1969, the Pontiac Trans Am soldiered on through oil embargos, several presidents, several wars and finally was put out to pasture, Ole Yeller style, by the ignorant bean counters at GM (who effectively decided that second best was better than first place in the Pony Car Wars which had started with the introduction of the Ford Mustang and the Pontiac GTO back in the 1960's). That kind of thinking is why I don't support GM by buying new cars or trucks from them. The old stuff is okay, the new stuff is junk.
But I digress ...
It was Thursday, March 9, 2006 when a bad storm blew through the area. I was about at the end of my patience on my '89 Formula as Katrina had not been kind to this area. There was so much insurance work being done on cars and trucks that none of the local paint shops wanted to take a cash job. Maybe if I went out and twatted up my Formula against a tree and claimed it on insurance, they'd get around to giving me a paint job but everywhere I went I got the same answer; we don't do cash jobs, you have to be referred by an insurance agency and it has to be insurance work. It's all insurance work now, only, every where you go.
Sure, I could have gotten Bubba to spray my car in his barn for a few hundred dollars and a 24 pack of Old Milwaukee but I doubted if the paint job would have lasted the first good rain, let alone a hand waxing. Maco would have been marginally better but I consider Maco to be the "K-mart" of paint shops. In other words, I wouldn't trust them to paint my push lawnmower.
So, it was with a heavy heart that I bid farewell to the Formula project. I had a lot of fun with the car but now it was definitely the time to move on to something else, something that didn't need to be rebuilt from the ground up, something that hadn't set up in the woods for three years deteriorating season after season while every rodent known to God snacked on the tasty electrical harnesses and wiring or made a nest and got busy up inside the dash. No, I needed something that was pretty much 100% fast at the turn of the key and all I would have to do is wax it, check the tires, keep the fluids changed and put gas in it. Like I said before, I'm getting old and I have many other hobbies besides cars, a few of those hobbies which have been gathering dust for years now and need to be resurrected. The Formula project was about to seriously crimp some of those hobbies and the money it would have taken to restore the Formula I thought would be better spent elsewhere. Less time working on a car meant the quicker I could get to the essential modifications and the more time I could spend doing other things.
Now, with that decision made, I began to look for another car. When the king-hell storm petered out, I found myself on the phone with my father (who lives 30 miles away) discussing the weather and checking on the safety of my parents. We talked for a while, admitted that the super storm that everyone was afraid of forming had gone north of us and that we had nothing to worry about. Hell, it only rained a little at my house while he was still getting a good amount of downfall. Now, it should be known that my father owns a very nice 1955 Oldsmobile sedan, blue with white top, which is his toy car to play with and parade around on the local show circuit. He told me that he was about to get on Ebay and see what they had in the way of cars since his dream car is a '55 Chevy. I hung up and fired up my own computer, though my dial-up connection is a constipated snail compared to his cable modem (living way out in the country does have some small disadvantages...).
I fired up Ebay, logged on, then started looking at Corvettes in the 1988 to 1991 model range, searching for a Z51 car with a six speed stick in it but willing to take a 700R4 car if it was a Z52 model. I don't know why I did it, the subconscious is a strange thing, but suddenly I wasn't looking at Corvettes anymore. No, I was looking at Pontiac Trans Ams. The little voice of reason in my head whispered "This can only end in tears. For the love of all that is holy and Republican, don't do it." I don't think I put a specific model year in under Ebay Motors, I think I simply typed the words "Trans Am" and wanted to see if there were any old 1979 Special Edition "Bandit" TAs on Ebay. Not that I was going to actually buy one of those old TAs and drive around in it but I think I wanted to stroll down memory lane one more time, kind of finding myself in a nostalgia mood and curious as to how proud some people were of their cars (and how desperate others were to buy them).
Somewhere, in all the TAs listed, I found one that intrigued me; the 2000 white Ram Air LS1 six speed TA in Monroe, Georgia. It had 67,000 miles on the clock and had been driven by the seller's wife. The car looked mint, all options including T-tops. The price was $15,000 or right on the amount I was looking to spend. I looked at the pictures of the car and marked the TA to be watched in My Ebay. Since my dad was online, I sent the link to him to take a look at and I backed out of the auction to roll through the other auctions. I know he wanted to go in with me on a Vette but the LS1 would stomp a C4 into the ground then spit on it for spite and I thought he might dig the new styling of the ram air WS6 TA. He's getting old too, about to retire, and our current argument was whether the car would be a manual or automatic. I wanted manual (I'm not that old), he wanted automatic (he is that old). What's the fun of having a LS1 with WS6 if it's got a four speed slush box behind it? Oh, well... I put the bait out to see if he would take the hook.
That particular TA and auction was at the edge of my screen so I rolled the wheel on my mouse to bring up the rest of the page. The ad right below the white TA was for a black 1986 Trans Am. Normally I wouldn't have looked twice but something caught my eye... it was clean. It was listed as low miles. VERY low miles. Unheard of low miles for a 1986. Curiosity got the better of me, God help me, and so I clicked on the ad. The rest is history and a pretty good story.
What I found was a low mileage, pristine, all original (save for the radio) 1986 Trans Am, black, monochromatic paint, with a tan cloth Recaro interior. The radio had been replaced with an aftermarket AM/FM CD player but the original radio was listed as being available with the car at the conclusion of the auction. I'm a stickler for buying cars that are stock, I don't like having to un-fuck-up what some previous moron did in an attempt to go faster. It's been my experience that most people who own these cars didn't know the first thing about them and just threw parts at them in the ridiculous hope that somehow some magic would occur and they would go faster. I've seen too many odd third gens out there to ever want to buy a modified car from someone. This car was perfect, all factory stock (except radio, remember that) and it was a LB9 5.0 liter (305cid) TPI V8 which in 1986 meant you had to order it with the automatic transmission (both extra cost options). Oh, yeah, a 305 TPI in 1986 also meant I got the dreaded "peanut cam."
Did I say that the car was mint?
I thought back to another Trans Am that I had always liked, the 1985 two tone black and gold TA once owned by a childhood friend, James Klem. His car had been purchased brand new in 1985; it had the LG4, automatic, base suspension, aero-wing spoiler, tan cloth interior, a killer factory stereo system and T-tops. No WS-6. No TPI and it had fallen prey to a late night road race against my '78 Camaro Rally Sport (itself sporting a 350cid small block, Rochester Quadrajet and THM350 transmission). Still, his car was nice and the color scheme was beautiful. I have never seen a color scheme like that up for sale again but always kept my eyes out looking. When I saw this monochrome TA, black with the tan Recaro interior, I knew it wouldn't take much to spray the bottom ground effects GM gold, add the "square-dot-fade" factory stripe and suddenly have an exact duplicate of my friend's car from 21 years ago (albeit with the much better suspension and the much more powerful TPI engine). The black and gold paint scheme was beautiful and I never really was a fan of the later years monochromatic paint schemes as I felt that they lost something of the visual appeal of these cars. Maybe the white cars were okay, but anything else ... there was just something missing to the visual appeal of the monochrome TAs, like a '79 Bandit without the pin-stripes. Just something not quite tangible, something you couldn't put your finger on but you knew it was there and that it was missing.
I thought about this car and played it over in my mind.
Did I want a Trans Am?
Did I really want a Trans Am?
Another Trans Am?
A third gen Trans Am?
A non-WS6, "peanut cammed" 5.0 liter TPI Trans Am?
I thought about the price on the car... $7495.00 was the "BUY IT NOW" price but the highest bidder was only up to $1250.00. I also noticed the little "RESERVE NOT MET" logo. Oh, well, there was some interest in this car as evidenced by the 9 bidders all humorously vying for the TA but no one was really putting up any serious cash. I don't know why people bid on cars on Ebay like they do. I laugh when I see someone who posts something like an early fuel injected Stingray or a late model uber-Ferrari with a "BUY IT NOW" price in the tens of thousands and you see some idiot who has posted a bid of something wholly ridiculous like "$5.78 and some pocket lint." The idiots who were currently bidding on this particular TA would have a better chance of finding asbestos underwear for sale in a discount bin at a K-Mart in Hell than they were of winning this TA, at the rate they were going and bidding. I sized up my competition in one word; naive, and left it at that.
I sent the link for the 1986 TA to my father later that night and, since he was working locally, I printed out the entire auction and all pictures, bundled it up in my backpack and decided to stop by his office on the way to work tomorrow. That night I didn't sleep very well and while I dreamed fitfully, I can't remember if I dreamed of the TA or not. I just remember being behind the wheel of a powerful car and eating up some long stretch of road at a good pace. It was a good dream, if a bit vague on details.
The next morning, I dialed up and logged on to Ebay to check on the status of the TA. Not much change so I logged off and rode the CBR600RR to work, stopping at my father's office to hand him the print outs. When I walked into his office with the printouts in my hand, he took one look at the printouts in my hand (without actually taking them and looking at them) and muttered "You've got something in your hand that looks like a lot of your money is going to be spent." My dad, ever the banker, ever the businessman. I quickly explained that he and I could have a low mileage, pristine 1986 Trans Am for about half of what we could have a high mileage C4 Corvette. It was automatic (much to my chagrin but to his delight) and we wouldn't have to put any money into restoring it like we would the Formula (to both of our delight).
He said to give him some time to think about it and we agreed to meet again after work. I gave him the paperwork and left. Needless to say, my dad is like me in some ways, he's hard to steer in one direction or keep him going in that direction but if you do manage to get him pointed where you want him to go, look out! He and I both get very single-minded to a fault and we literally mercilessly smash our way through any obstacle, opponent or problem until we get what we want. We will work a problem from all angles until we make it work for us. I get my "losing is not an option" attitude honest.
The fact that the car had the 15 x 7 inch wheels on it confused me. If the car was all stock, then why would anyone custom order ... or why would the dealer order ... or why would Pontiac build a LB9 car (top of the line EFI engine option), linked to a mandatory extra cost automatic transmission, throw in nearly a thousand dollars worth of interior then forgo the top of the line suspension? The car wasn't a WS6 car which meant it had the smaller wheels, smaller tires, smaller front and rear sway bars, non-posi highway geared rear end, rear drum brakes and a slow ass power steering unit. I don't know what interested me in it but something grabbed me by the short and curlys and threw me at this car full steam. I had to have this car. Something told me that there was far more to this car than met the eye.
Granted, most of that could be fixed by "robbing Peter to pay Paul" and taking parts off of the '89 Formula. I'd just swap in a brand new quick ratio power steering unit and the heavy duty rear end out of the Formula. The smaller sway bars, the special shocks, struts and springs would not be a problem since I was going to replace those anyway on down the road. Still, it would be nice to have a WS6 car, a real one, from the factory. Still unsure why the car would have so many high dollar options and not have the WS6 suspension option, I email the seller and ask them if the car has rear disc brakes. Twelve hours later, the seller emails me back the CarFax report on the car and says he can't answer my question. Hello? Just go and look at the rear wheels... see if there are disc brakes behind the wheels. Get on your hands and knees and count the bolts on the differential cover. Tell me what you see. Duh.
I didn't get a firm answer out of my father until late Sunday afternoon, or about two days after I had already made up my mind to purchase the car, with or without him throwing in with me on the deal. In that time, the TA had gone from $1250 to $3500 or thereabouts in price. The reserve had still not been met and the BUY IT NOW option was still in effect. As this was my first time buying a car on Ebay, though I was long familiar with their other auctions (having been on Ebay since 2000 and then being rated at 75 points or stars or whatever it is that Ebay rates you), I thought that the "BUY IT NOW" option became null and void once a bid was placed. Oh, but no! Apparently, that is not the case with vehicles (and probably other high dollar junk as well). I discovered this by playing with the option on Saturday night and moving all the way through the option up to the point of legally committing to buy the car then backing out.
What is this?
A way to instantly steal the auction and the car away from every other single bidder in the game regardless of whether or not they were the highest bidder?! My. My. My. This little button here on the auction screen had more potential for causing tears and sorrow than being stuck in an elevator listening to a MUSAC version of Metallica's "Enter Sandman." I tapped my brow with my finger as the implication of the power I held in my mouse, at the ability to side step every other single moron in the game and just snatch away what I wanted without even breaking a sweat. It was better than those big red "EASY" buttons you see in the office supply commercials. The implication of the BUY IT NOW option was simple yet staggering. So... I could just waltz in, hit the BUY IT NOW button, and put the nuclear whammy on all these other fools who were hoping that somehow their non-reserve meeting bids were going to be honored by the seller. Hah. Life is rich! I rubbed my hands together like a mad scientist and cackled with the same abandon.
So, Sunday night my dad commits to the '86 TA. Sound the bosun's whistle and "welcome, aboard!" Monday morning he and I email each other about twenty times with questions and answers about the auction and the TA, back and forth. He asks me when I'm going to buy the car. I tell him that I have it queued in my Hammersnipe Ebay sniper for $7500 and that I'll hit the auction automatically five seconds before it closes on Wednesday at noon. Immediately Dad starts to not like that idea... It is times like this where he and I may not see eye to eye in business deals, but we battle each other until common sense and business sense meet somewhere in the comfortable middle. They may be bloodied and battered when they meet, but they do eventually meet. Eventually.
Dad is not familiar with the art of sniping auctions on Ebay so he asks the basic questions. During our discussion, I explain that while the car is worth $7500, I might can pick it up for a few thousand less. Yes it is worth $7500 but it is really worth $6000 and really, really worth $5000. If I could get this car for $4000, I would do unspeakable things that God would surely smite me on the spot for even thinking about doing. The things that I would do if I could get the TA for a price less than four grand don't really bear thinking about in this, our polite conversation.
The reserve has not been met and no one knew what the reserve was. I hate reserves because that is such a Mickey Mouse game to play and is the realm of amateurs. If you want a set price for the car, then start the bidding out at that price. Don't jack my Twinkies, man. Give it to me straight, shoot from the hip and you've got my business. Jerk my chain and you'll find that you're teasing a gorilla in the monkey house. My simple, if not fully thought out, plan was to wait until about ten minutes before the end of the auction then start war-bidding on the TA, trying to find the heretofore unknown reserve through "recon by fire" tactics, that is, I would put in a new bid in $200 increments until I found the reserve then plateau out there, set up camp and wait, nay, dare anyone else to usurp my posted claim to this particular Trans Am. As the current price was $3550.00, I felt that the reserve should be somewhere near $4000 or $5000, if I was lucky. If I was lucky, I could get this car for a few thousand less than what the BUY IT NOW price was. I realized, sadly, that that particular miracle had about as much likelihood of happening as waking up tomorrow morning and discovering that rap music had been found to cause terminal brain cancer in even short term exposure and thus the vile aural refuse had subsequently been banned by the U.S. Surgeon General.
Yes, if someone else wanted to try to outbid me once I found the reserve and camped out there, they still had to outbid my sniper which was set for five dollars over the BUY IT NOW price. I felt that I could afford to wait for two days on this car and watch the other buyers sweat it out. In the end, I would simply ride away, victorious in my newly acquired Pontiac chariot of fire(bird), laughing as I tipped my cowboy hat to those who had failed to make the grade and smiling as I rumbled off with that throaty TPI V8 sound into the setting sun.
There's an instant replay on my line of reasoning. Everything seemed solid and well thought out, at least to me. My dad didn't think so and decided to play devil's advocate as he nearly always does. He asked me that if I felt so confident that the car was worth $7500, then why was I risking having someone else buy the car out from under me? Surely I wasn't the only one interested in the car nor was I the only one likely to have the money to buy it outright. His questions rapidly turned my game of waiting into a game of second guessing my own self with a strong undercurrent of buyer's stark raving paranoia. I was playing a game with this car, that much was true, but what if someone was playing a game with the car as well? Then they would be playing the game against me. What if we were all playing the same game? Oh, what a tangled web we weave on Ebay...
Could I be out-gamed at my own game?
Could what had worked consistently for five years before on Ebay suddenly fail and leave me stranded, empty handed, and crying tears of deep regret? What a thought! What a concept! Someone outbid me? It wasn't possible! I was used to bringing such funds to my auction bids that the other buyers were simply smashed flatter than an ant under a ten pound sledgehammer. I bid to win, not to pussy-foot around. If I want something, I'm going to get it, regardless of the price, and I'm going to bring more money to the auction than you are, guaranteed. I was serious about this car and I suddenly realized that out there, somewhere, sight unseen, there was probably at least one other person who was also equally if not more serious about this Trans Am than I was. There might even be more than one person as serious as I was.
It was a sobering thought.
It was a scary thought.
It was scarier than wasting seven hard earned dollars to see "The Blair Witch Project" and that, folks, is a pretty damn scary thought, in hindsight and what I generally base all my other scary thoughts on to this day.
So, what had started out strong on Monday morning as a "wait and see if we can get this Trans Am any cheaper" quickly became a mad rush of watching the clock tick by slowly until the lunch hour when dad and I could run to the palatial family estate (10 miles away), hop on the cable modem and use the BUY IT NOW option to secure the Trans Am. Each second of the clock tick went by like an eternity at a time. Being at work, with no way to check on the progress of the auction and no way to counter-bid, I felt like a hunted animal, never knowing if someone was drawing a bead on me or if I was safe and would make it. Time eventually came and found me seated in front of my parents' super mega-computer system (they spared no expense in getting their system), logged into Ebay and looking at the auction.
Nothing had changed.
There were still two days and a few hours left to go and the highest bidder, someone named PAWLICA, had placed a bid of $3500.00 for the car. I noticed that PAWLICA was showing up twice in the bids, at the very top, which meant that he had a buffer set, a cushion to absorb bids by other bidders. I was about to use the BUY IT NOW option when my dad suggested that I start war-bidding, like I had originally wanted to, in order to see where we stood, to discover where the reserve was, and to find out what we could about the other bidders and how serious they might be. He said we could always use the BUY IT NOW option but he was curious where the other bidders stood. I wasn't sure. I felt that if I started war-bidding that perhaps the other bidders who were serious might take notice and we'd have a fight on our hands. Dad's insistence was more out of curiosity so, I went to enter a bid and entered $4000.
I instantly discovered that I was automatically outbid by PAWLICA who matched my bid and raised the stakes $100 to $4100. The gauntlet had been thrown down and the race was on. I had $7500 in my pocket and I was not going to be disrespected by another bidder. I kept entering sequential bids, a little bit at a time and found that each time that I entered a bid, I was apparently running smack into a rather large buffer that the other bidder, PAWLICA, had already entered. There I was, throwing money into the auction and trying to find the top of PAWLICA's maximum bid and each time I raised the bar, I hit his buffer and was outbid. Bid after bid, I was always matched and one-upped by PAWLICA. When I got to $6500, apparently I had plateau'ed out because PAWLICA didn't match that bid automatically. $6500.00 for the car, as it stood. PAWLICA was still the highest bidder since his bid had been put in before mine and earlier bids of the same amount take precedence. So there we stood, the two super serious bidders on this car, like some gunfighters in an old west movie. High noon.
My dad, in his wisdom, then said that if PAWLICA was watching this auction online now (just as we were), then he was probably aware that someone was playing the same game that he was and he might hit the BUY IT NOW button rather than lose the car over a few hundred dollars. I was also sure that Ebay or some other companies might offer instant notification of auction activity and counter bids being placed. If PAWLICA wasn't watching the auction, it wouldn't be long before he knew what was going on and if he was at a computer with a high speed connection, he might have instant access to this auction. We had to beat him to the punch if we were going to get this car.
I saw the wisdom what my dad was saying and hit the BUY IT NOW button, confirmed my legal binding to buy the car, and was rewarded with the end of the auction in my favor.
The Trans Am was mine. Like that, I reached in and stole the TA away from all the other people in the auction. Just like that.
Good game, PAWLICA, but not good or quick enough.
Suddenly, I was the owner of one mint, all stock, 1986 Pontiac Trans Am with the rare Recaro interior, T-tops, and just 48,000 original miles on the clock. I sighed and leaned back in the chair, reclining. That was a heady experience, the rush was fun and intense but short lived. I needed a cigarette and a nap (and I don't smoke). I had just bought my first car on Ebay. I didn't know if I was going to be in for a dream come true or the worst nightmare of my life. Dad chuckled. When I asked him what was so funny, he pointed to the screen and the list of bids for the auction.
"That guy you were bidding against, that PAWLICA, he's going to be physically sick when he logs in and finds out that you took that car right out from under him."
I laughed at that as I hadn't even thought of that possibility. Yep. If he wanted the car bad enough to match me to $6500, he should have just gone ahead and bought the car for $7450. Then I thought about what had happened and it gave me a sobering thought. PAWLICA had been playing the same game that I had. I wondered if he had the TA queued up in his own sniper program and if he was going to wait until the last minute to try to war-bid on it to find the lowest reserve and ride out the auction hoping to get the car for a lot less, just like I had intended to do. I had beaten another camper at their own game. It was kind of like that Tom Beringer movie "Sniper" where one sniper hunts another. I don't know what the reserve for the car was, but it wasn't much less than the BUY IT NOW option price so the few hundred I might have saved simply was not worth the risk of losing a car of this quality. Again, auctions with reserves really piss me off because nothing says "I am an Ebay virgin" than having an auction with a reserve attached to it. If you want a minimum amount of money for whatever it is that you are selling, then put that amount as the price that bidding starts at. Don't jerk everyone's chain around by putting some hidden reserve then letting people try to guess what it is or find it by bidding. Ebay virgins, the lot of them.
The next day, dad and I contacted the seller, transferred funds and set up a travel schedule for me. I had to work that weekend in the ER but since I couldn't find anyone to swap even with me, I gave away my two shifts and lost those 24 hours completely. Oh, well. It was worth it. This was going to be a grand adventure, probably my last big adventure so I wanted to do it up right. I'd always wanted to find a good, rare, low mileage car, fly somewhere far away and drive it back over a period of days. Call it the "Route 66" complex. Looks like my wish came true though I had always thought it would be somewhere in the Rockies or perhaps California, not North Carolina. Going West just seems more romantic... Route 66, the Grand Canyon, Vegas, you name it... it's all out West. Going East? Nah. There's not much on the Atlantic seaboard that I really want to see that I haven't already seen. Out West, it's sunny and beautiful. Out East, you just have dirty water, dark skies and people who talk like they're holding their nose pinched shut.
Dad surprised me when he told me that he had a bonus airline ticket just gathering dust so he arranged for me to fly over to North Carolina to pick up the TA and drive it back to Columbia, Mississippi. That was 750 plus miles give or take of actual physical driving let alone flying. All I had to do was to catch a plane or two early Saturday morning and drive the TA back from the Greensboro over the coming weekend. Not a problem.
I made a checklist of items I would need for the trip and because it was just going to be overnight (and because I didn't want to carry on more than two bags), I packed light. The first thing to go into my carry on bag was my pair of leather driving gloves. By the time I was packed, the ink on the paperwork for the title was already drying in North Carolina and all I had to do was fly there and "fly" back in a pristine, black 1986 tuned port injected Trans Am. I checked the weather and found that it was going to be pretty miserable for most of the trip. Damn. I was looking forward to taking the tops off and doing some open-air cruising. I guess that will just have to wait.
750 plus miles. Four states. 40 hours. Interstate all the way. No problem. I'd drive it all at once but I'm not as young as I used to be and going 24 hours without sleep just isn't something I enjoy doing very much anymore.
Everything was set up for my last big adventure. All that was left to do was wait until the weekend and to be thankful that I wasn't the one sitting on the other end of PAWLICA's connection because I could hear the tears of sorrow even this far away. Grown men shouldn't cry, it's just disturbing and ugly. There is an old saying, "you snooze, you lose." Better luck next time, brother, but then again, cars like this come along only once in a lifetime. The trick is to recognize them when they happen by and to be fast enough (and smart enough) to not let them get away.
Goodbye, black 1989 Formula.
Hello, black 1986 Trans Am.
And so, Black Echo's Last Big Adventure begins...
March 9, 2006- While surfing Ebay, I don't know what gets into
me but I find myself looking at third gen Pontiacs again. How I got from
C4 Corvettes to F-bodies is a mystery to me but there I am, looking at Trans Ams. I
hit upon the motherlode with a 1986 low mileage all original Pontiac Trans Am, black with tan Recaro
interior. The asking price was kind of steep but for a low mileage,
meticulously maintained LB9 / auto TA with Recaro interior and T-tops, sporting
just 48,000 original miles and flawless mechanical operation of every option, it
wasn't that hard a choice. The car is located in North Carolina, a fair
piece to drive but it should be an adventure if this works out.
I print out the entire auction from Ebay and send the link to my father. We are looking for a car we can campaign at local car shows and work on together and it is our mutual opinion that the '89 Formula is simply too far gone for anything other than parts or salvage. Or, to put it another way, I could spend the same amount of money that I intend to spend on purchasing the '86 Recaro TA in restoring the '89 Formula and I still wouldn't have the same grade of car as the '86 TA appears to be. The 1986 TA does not appear to be a WS6 car which concerns me somewhat but that's not a problem since I have access to a 3.27 geared 9 bolt Borg Warner posi rear end and 16x8 inch aluminum wheels with almost brand new tires on them. I might have to swap in a quick ratio steering box but since I plan on ripping out the entire factory suspension and replacing all the parts with heavy duty aftermarket parts, what size sway bars it has now makes little difference to me.
Currently, the car is selling for $7495.00 instant buy and there are 8 bids on the car totally just shy of $1100.00. The reserve has not been met.
March 10, 2006- I discuss the purchase of the '86 TA with my father.
We come to basic terms with the idea and begin to work out the details.
Checking on the TA that night, I notice that the number of bidders is up to 10
and that the price has risen to $2600 with the reserve still not being met.
Saturday, March 11, 2006- The bidding is up to $3550 now. My father says he is in on the deal so I queue up the TA in my Ebay sniper and plan to war-bid on the TA a few minutes before the auction ends to see how cheap I can get this TA. Knowing in my heart of hearts that this was the TA for me and that I was going to win this TA come hell or high water, I went ahead and bid on a set of factory 16x8 inch high tech turbo wheels, a 1986 owners manual for this car, and a model of the 1985 black and gold Trans Am. I won the wheels and the model later that day. The wheels might need to be stripped and repainted and I think I'm going to have them powder coated black to match the car.
Here are the wheels as they were presented on Ebay.
Here is the 1/32 scale Monogram model of an '85 TRANS AM which I won, in the color scheme I may paint my '86 TA and with the wheels displayed above.
March 13, 2006- I tell my dad that I am going to "war-bid" on the TA.
A lightly heated discussion ensues via email at which point he convinces me to
go ahead and just "BUY IT NOW." During lunch, he and I go back to the
family home and acquire the TA. We wait
for the seller to contact us.
March 14, 2006- The seller contacts us. We exchange information and
wire him the funds for the car, bank to bank. I tell Dad that I'm going to
hop over there on a Greyhound bus but Dad travels so much, he has a bonus ticket
just gathering dust and no time or reason to use it. He arranges the bonus plane ticket on Delta
airlines for Saturday in my name and the seller says he will meet me at the Greensboro, NC
airport to complete the paperwork. As it stands, I now have a pristine
1986 Pontiac Trans Am waiting on me several states away, a plane ticket to get
there and all I'm doing is killing time between now and then.
March 15, 2006- I call my insurance agent (State Farm) and tell them I have
purchased a new car. I plan on dropping everything but liability on the
Formula until I can swap parts and sell it and to transfer full insurance to the
TA. My agent tells me to drop by tomorrow and I can pick up a packet that
will include all the information required to cover the new TA under my existing
March 16, 2006- I acquire the insurance packet from my State Farm
agent. I begin to assemble a checklist for my trip and pack. It's
going to be a quick trip so I carry light. I don't look forward to going
through the TSA checkpoints so I purposely take out everything metal or
suspicious I can from my list. A fellow officer I serve with also works
for the TSA. I ask him what I can expect. He asks me when I
purchased my ticket (just a few days prior to the flight) and if it is one way
or not (it is one way). He says prepare to be pulled out of line and body
cavity searched with a rubber glove on a guy who has really big hands.
Great. Thanks for setting up my nightmares for the evening, brother.
He suggests that I store my bags but I tell him I'm only going to carry a backpack with some reading material, my digital camera and a tripod for the camera as well as a leather overnight bag with a change of clothes and my shaving kit (minus any sharp objects, not even my electric razor which would be a funny thing to try to hijack an airplane with...). Besides, I'm flying from Jackson to Cincinnati and the last time I flew into Cincinnati, they lost my luggage and it was three days before my stuff caught up with me. Not this time. I'm carrying my stuff with me so I know right where it is. Later in the day, I decide just to carry a single leather carry on / overnight bag.
The final travel item checklist looks something like this:
Carry on leather bag
17, 2006- I spend most of the day getting my
bag packed and all the details of the trip finalized. Cindy and I let my
parents keep our daughter for the night because it's going to be hard to get her
up early Saturday morning, carry her to the airport and deal with her for the
short time required. After we drop my daughter off at my parents, Cindy
and I go out for a nice dinner. We argue about where to eat (like most
married couples) and finally I manage to second guess her and figure out her
preference. Hey, I've got 12 years experience with the same woman, you
kind of learn how she operates. We eat at Copeland's, a restaurant known
for its New Orleans cuisine. I'm glad we're going to have some time
together, sans daughter. I get a steak and potato, well done and extra
butter. I'm easy to please, especially when I get my way. During
dinner, we joke about the meal. I tell her that steak is better than
Krystal's ("White Kastle" to you yankees). If I'm going to die tomorrow in
a plane crash, the last thing I want to have as a last meal is a sack full of
square Krystal's. This bit of logic will come back to haunt me soon.
March 18, 2006- I can't sleep. I'm supposed
to get up at 2 AM and get a shower, shave one last time (not carrying a razor on
the plane or any other type of blades) and review my packing list. I get
up at 1AM instead and get ready early. Cindy gets up about half an hour
later. We leave the house at 2:15 AM, taking the Grand Marquis up Highway
13 North from Columbia. We hit Highway 59 at Prentiss and then it's about
30 minutes to Jackson. Once we pull into the outskirts of Jackson, I stop
to fill up her car and pick up a pack of gum for the trip. The local
combination station is also a Krystal's so getting close to being hungry again,
I buy us six Krystal's, a large Coke and a large order of fries. As we are
heading towards the airport, I eat my three Krystal's and realize how hungry I
am. Cindy looks at me and mentions what I said the night before, about how
I didn't want my last meal to be Krystal's. I just get this look on my
face as I realize that I have doomed myself.
We park the car at the temporary airport parking area and head on into the terminal. I'm flying out on Delta, from Jackson, MS to Cincinnati, OH and from Cincinnati to Greensboro, North Carolina. I say goodbye to my wife at the TSA security checkpoint and breeze on through. The blue gloved TSA personnel remind me, in a disturbing way, of the Blue Sun suit wearing corporate mercenaries from the TV series "FIREFLY." I arrive at my departure gate. Cindy is on her way back home. I'm the only person at my terminal. Everyone else is walking on by on their way to other gates. I am alone. I strip out of my leather jacket and set it on top of my leather carry on bag. I put my cowboy hat on top of that, brim up to keep it from being bent, and sit back to watch the clock. It is 5:00 AM. My plane leaves at 6:50 AM. I have almost two hours to kill and nothing to do but read the few books I brought with me. I don't feel like that so I stand up and watch the terminal next to me board. 45 people, who knew who they were? Where were they going? I had seen a small blonde girl go running by with a Dora the Explorer backpack and it reminded me of my own daughter. So young and flying... I watch the other plane, a CRJ50, board then taxi away into the night. A few minutes later, it roars away, gaining speed and climbing into the dark morning sky. I look around, see my reflection in the window and feel the cold from outside. It looks like it is going to be bad weather. The shadows on the terminal walls are reflected on the window and if you use just a little bit of imagination, it looks like dark funnel clouds on the horizon, several, moving ala Damnation Alley style. I think of the Stephen King story "The Langoliers" and then realize that I really shouldn't have just started watching the TV series "LOST." I get a piece of gum and wait. I'd like a drink but I'm too lazy to put my jacket, cowboy hat and sling my carry on bag over my shoulder for the long hike up the concourse to the coffee shop.
I wait. Around 6 AM, other passengers begin arriving. Some are pleasantly quiet, others are annoyingly loud. One girl starts calling everyone she knows on her cell phone to tell them that she is about to board a plane in Jackson, MS. I'm sure she would be equally amazed if I showed her that I could produce fire using a match and not by magic. She's not a prize by any stretch of the definition and apparently she's dumb enough to be dazzled by common place technology. Thankfully, there are no screaming children. The scariest passenger (besides me) is some hippy looking poser with blonde hair, a pony tail (real), small round eye glasses (like mine), a cowboy hat (like mine), boots and a full length Columbine-esque leather duster (black). He pulls out a book of some esoteric poetry, sits down across from me, and starts to read. I peg him as a pseudo-intellectual and delete any further interest in him until our paths part ways at which point I will dance a jig of delight in my skull.
About 6:30 AM, one of the Delta attendants arrives to start the check in process. I don't have as much luggage as the rest of these people so I get up, put my leather jacket on, put my cowboy hat on, then sling my leather carry bag over my shoulder. I make it to the third in line while everyone else is trying to shoulder and lift all of their luggage. What are these people doing? Moving? It's a trip, not a displacement! I stand in line and wait my turn which comes fairly quickly.
This plane can seat 50.
I think I count 32 including myself.
We're going to have extra space.
I let my ticket get validated and I walk on out of the terminal. The CRJ50 is a small plane, very fast, twin engine but it's a ground level plane meaning no fancy extending gantry ways to board. I walk down some steps and into the brisk, cool Mississippi morning, follow the herd up to the plane and board. An overweight stewardess greets me at the top and I do my best to keep my disdain from showing. Her hairstyle went out with the last of the '80's Pat Benatar look-alikes and her weight does nothing to support her choice of hair styles. I pass on down the rows, find my seat, open the overhead compartment and shove my carry on bag in.
It doesn't fit.
I redouble my efforts, apply more physical force and wedge it in by sliding it left and right. It fits finally. I remove my cowboy hat, duck under the storage bin, and take the window seat. Outside, there is nothing but a dark land of lights and flashing red and blue strobes. The seat back in front of me has a pair of barf bags hanging out. I note their location "just in case." A younger black woman sits beside me to my right. She doesn't greet me and I don't expect her to. We keep up the mutual silence through the whole flight. I'm never going to see any of these people again, the misanthrope in me whispers, why bother with knowing who they are, what they do, where they are from or where they are going? Sounds reasonable.
I look out the window of the CRJ50 and make a mental note to slap the engineer who designed it, if I should ever meet them. I have to dip my head down to look out. I'm sure the view is geared towards seeing the ground below you, but it makes it uncomfortable to look either left, right, or up. I look left by leaning forward in my seat. I've already fastened my seatbelt and don't intend to take it off during the flight (despite what the captain says I can do) so leaning forward is a little awkward but I manage it. I see the wing behind me. Good. There are no gremlins sitting on the wing and William Shatner is not traveling with us today. Some of my silly fears abate, unlike the dark clouds that surround the airport. Dark clouds mean one thing; turbulence. Turbulence means several things; bouncing around, pitching, sliding the wings from side to side, sudden drops, all not very congruent to my continued good mood, be that as it may.
At 6:50 AM, the Pat Benatar wannabe goes through her tired old speech that every stewardess knows by heart and although she has to give it, you can tell she could probably recite it in her sleep. I've heard it a dozen times before and it was old the second time I heard it. This is how you operate your seat belt (and she uses the display model). Now, if you can't figure out how to put part A into part B, you probably don't need to be flying in the first place. She talks about the emergency exits on the plane (fat lot of good those will do at 31,000 feet with us and no parachutes). The seat cushion can be used as a flotation device (which I find strange since there are no major standing bodies of water between Jackson and Cincinnati). She then demonstrates the use of the emergency oxygen mask and in doing so, pops her face with the rubber band. I suppress a need to laugh and instead turn to look out the window again to do a second Gremlin check. Still no gremlins. The clouds look nearer and darker though by now the sun has come up enough to cast its glare on the clouds and make them even more ominous. Well, at least I can see the runway now.
I feel more than see the cabin door close. The cabin begins to pressurize as the crew switches over to internal power and brings the twin engines up to speed. I swallow a few times to clear my ears as the pressure builds. I reach up and twist the overhead vent knob to full, a steady stream of cool air starts to blow on my head, which is how I like to fly. I don't know why but that's just how I like it. I've got to have air moving on me, over me, around me. I can't stand still air. I could stand in front of an air conditioning vent for hours and just smell the cold air and the wet rust. That's just me. I like air and I like it cold and I like it humming and I like it moving.
We taxi down the runway as the pilot greets us over the intercom. The CRJ50 aligns itself, the engines scream up to power and we are suddenly moving with an authority I have not felt since I last fired up the 406cid Lingenfelter. I can feel the runway roll by under us then we are airborne, climbing away from Jackson in the early morning light. As we climb over North Jackson, I see many familiar landmarks; the curious black triangular office building I had computer / network security classes in last year in May of 2005. I see the highway, the interstate, North Park mall, familiar haunts and places from long ago and times now past. So strange to see them from this altitude.
We climb through the dark clouds and the turbulence sets in. I lose my orientation as we dip and drop and climb and shake and wiggle and waggle. The clouds get so thick that I can't even see the wing outside the window. In fact, everything outside the window is nothing but a white haze. Every now and then, I can see one patch or ribbon of white that is a different shade moving along, or I think I can. With nothing to see, I settle back in my seat, lean back as far as I can, and say a prayer. It's not that I'm scared of flying, it's just that I prefer not to, if it can be helped. Still, I try to make the best of it and enjoy it. I wish the pudgy Pat Benatar would hurry up and bring out the snack cart. I'm getting hungry again and dry roasted peanuts and a plastic cup of Coke would just about hit the spot. The turbulence increases some, I close my eyes and think of the movie ALIENS where they Colonial Marines drop from the Sulaco to the colony below.
"One express elevator to Hell, going ... up." I hope.
Or, at least I hope it is going up. Ten minutes later, we are above the clouds and the turbulence and it is smooth flying at 31,000 feet and 500 miles per hour. I tune out the rest of the bewildered herd on the plane and close my eyes. No sooner than I have closed my eyes than I find that Pat Benatar is pushing a woven basket in front of me asking me if I want a snack. I take the Fisher's dry roasted peanuts over the cheese crackers and something else that I don't remember as an option. I open the peanuts and have them devoured (I mean, we're not talking more than a palm full at the most) by the time she asks me for my drink choice and I receive the much anticipated Coke on the rocks, full strength not that diet crap.
Since there are not as many people onboard as there normally would, she passes around the snack basket again. Bless her heart. I guess that Delta has to use up the stock between flights. I wouldn't want those peanuts and snack crackers to go bad. I take another bag of peanuts and finish them off, drinking down the last of my Coke. I'm not offered any more Coke so I just wad my trash up and deposit it in the plastic bag as she offers it when she walks down the isle.
We make good time to Cincinnati and land without delay. As we are approaching, we pass over some kind of huge race track, which I assume is part of the NASCAR circuit. It looks huge and once again I am amazed that modern engineering is capable of building a stockade large enough to hold tens of thousands of heads of human cattle. I'm not a NASCAR fan and I poke fun at people who are. I've never understood NASCAR. It isn't racing. Going really fast counter clockwise in a circle isn't racing, it's indecision at best and being lost at worst. The fact that NASCAR at one time was a competitive sport in no way relegates the blow that commercialism has turned the "sport" into today. If I want to go watch a bunch of rednecks go fast in circle while advertising for big corporations, I'm not going to go sit out in the hot sun for five hours at a race track, I'm going to sit on my couch and tape the remote control "back" button down and watch TV as it flips through the local channels repeatedly.
The pilot tells us that the temperature at the terminal is in the low 30's. I'm glad I packed warmly. Several passengers groan and make excuses for the weather. Come on, people! Haven't you ever heard of weather dot com? Check the weather conditions of where you are going! It isn't that hard to use modern technology.
All of this yay-yaying by the bewildered herd that surrounds me once again reaffirms my sincere belief that air travel (or travel in general at all) should be relegated only to the more erudite members of the human race. Bees spread pollen with alacrity, humans should not spread their own seed with such abandon and the ease of travel allows the gene pool to become contaminated all the more easily.
This is my fervent belief.
I'm constantly amazed at how the bewildered herd manages to migrate to so many different places when the laws of Murphy and the law of averages would normally suggest otherwise. I guess that stupid people are just far luckier, on average that smart people. Scientifically, they'd have to be just in order to survive. I'm glad that they outlawed smoking on all commercial flights. I can't wait until they outlaw stupidity on commercial flights. Think about it. In amusement parks, the more intense rides usually have some height chart that says "you must be this tall in order to ride this ride." I think we need something like that for when people travel, only we'll have a number representing IQ and the sign will say "You must be at least this smart in order to travel." Let's set it really high the first few decades and see if we can bring the gene pool back into some kind of working order. Bees pollinate indiscriminately, humans should not.
The Delta Connection CRJ50 lands and taxis to the terminal. It looks like I have another hour to kill before my connecting flight to Greensboro. The stewardess calls out the other flights and I hear mine, "Gate C that's Charlie 50 for Greensboro, North Carolina." Perfect. We leave the plane and I run into another fashion reject employed by Delta. This woman looks like she could have a stunt double in any of the Russ Meyer movies of the 1970's and she would look just as at ease in combat boots and a Nazi uniform with a riding crop as she would in the Delta garb. She's so manly that I'm almost afraid to ask her confirmation on my flight, but I must brave the jaws of Grendel's mother to get where I am going. We were instructed to check with the attendant inside the terminal to determine if any of the flights had been changed or the gates had changed. When I ask about the Greeensboro flight, it is still on schedule. I receive brisk instructions on how to find the gate and proceed with my usual gait of indifference and the slight limp that I am known for from time to time. Old injuries never go away, they just give you character in your later years. I take another look at the chiseled female attendant and think that Delta really isn't known for "fly the pretty skies."
Welcome to Cincinnati and the Greater Kentucky Airport, be that as it may, or, as Obi Wan Kenobi once told a young Luke Skywalker, in regard to a similar transportation nexus displayed on the silver screen way back in 1977 ... "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious." Words more true could not be spoken of this installation.
I pass along the concourse, merging with the human traffic and the endless sea of warm bodies. My internal GPS is pinging me towards my gate. I follow the signs, passing by several fast food joints and gift shops, knowing that they will be overpriced and lackluster (as past experience has shown me). There will be more peanuts and Coke on the next flight. I'll pick up the TA in Greensboro then grab a burger for lunch and a nice big steak for dinner. That's the plan.
Not all plans work out.
So, I've been told to go to "Gate C as in Charlie 50." That sounds easy enough. I follow the signs on the concourse only when I arrive at "Gate C as in Charlie 50" there is no Gate C.
What the ...
Only North of the Mason Dixon Line will you find this kind of silly retardation in effect.
Apparently, in Cincinnati, the traditional English alphabet begins with "E" (not "A") and moves all the way to "Z." Normally this would not be a problem, unless, of course, you are trying to find a gate that is identified by one of the missing letters of the alphabet. I stand there, laughing on the inside, as I look for where I might have made a wrong turn. Me? A wrong turn? Perish the thought. However, just to satisfy the nagging little voice of doubt in the back of my mind, I back track to the big sign which clearly shows that Gate C was located in the dead end where I had just come from. I return and do a slow pan and scan of the surroundings.
Nope, no Gates A through D, just Gates E through Z.
I wonder if this particular gate is so important that it has its own cloaking device. Perhaps it has a camouflage field generator that makes Gates A through D look like a Starbucks store front. Well, I had a need to find out (and feeling confident that I was not in some impromptu Twilight Zone episode / really bad Stephen King novelette where I wander around an infinitely big airport for eternity with no way out), I step up to an attendant seated behind a desk and ask her about my apparent predicament. She points to the next desk over and says that "Gate C is really Gate E."
Well, then. That explains that.
Silly me. I'll be so glad when I cross back over the Mason Dixon Line and back into some kind of spatial / reality normality. What's next? Do I find out that the flight to Greensboro is labeled "5050" which is either the plane number or your chances of getting there, take your pick?
I step over to Gate E (BIG "E" that is) and notice that is says "GATE C: Greensboro." in small letters. It must be fun to work at this airport, the powers that be must pass out lithium as a fringe benefit. And there it is, Gate E is really Gate C. Without saying another word, I find a seat at the crowded terminal, in easy view of the gate through which I will be boarding. I don't want to lose the gate since someone apparently already did that before I arrived.
I open my carry on bag and pull out my copy of "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell" by Tucker Max, a rather loathsome human being of which I have some minor misanthropic respect for (emphasis on "some"). I pick up where I stopped reading, about 4/5ths of the way through the book. Parts make me smile, especially the ones with his friend "Slingblade" who I feel a kinship for more so than Mr. Max. Tucker Max insults people when he gets drunk, something that I do when I'm sober, and if the line was drawn in the sand, it would be one king hell of a pissing contest to see which of us came out the winner in belittling another member of our species in the quickest, most devastating way possible. A few of his more dire circumstances cause me to chuckle out loud simply because it goes to show you just how bad getting drunk and horny around complete strangers can be. Reading this book passes the time and time is all I have to pass right now, that is, until the Coke hits bottom and I need to find the squirtatorium.
Now, I don't know why but for some reason, I just decided to put my book down and look around at the bewildered herd that was moving around me and that's when I began to notice two very disturbing things.
TWO VERY DISTURBING THINGS IN CINCINNATI
The first thing that I noticed is that there are a hell of a lot of injured or crippled people in the terminal. Now I don't know what you consider "fun" or "sports" in Cincinnati, but apparently whatever it was happened to be physically punishing. That and apparently, there were a lot of people who just basically sucked at whatever it was that they did for fun, judging by the amount and range of injuries present. The Cincinnati terminal was the biggest collection of wheelchairs, walkers, braces, prosthetics, crutches and limb casts that one may peruse this side of a Shriner's Parade.
The second thing that I noticed was that there were no good looking women in the Cincinnati terminal. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Most of them you could have accidentally put a feed bag on their face and not felt bad about it afterwards. What was more expensive? A bag of oats or a steak dinner? I wouldn't have given a steak to any of the women I saw at the Cincinnati terminal, I'd have wormed them and checked them for hoof and mouth disease. I mean, come on! If a guy was going to get a prom date in Cincinnati, it would probably have to involve shearing her at some point before the evening festivities. Yes, it was so bad that I stopped looking for wedding bands and started looking for burned on farm brands or vaccination tags. This fact of life is common once you go North of the Mason Dixon Line, the women start to grow steadily more ugly the farther North you travel. Facial hair (above the lip), unshaved legs, varicose veins that Rand McNally would be proud of ... you name a category of ugly and the Cincinnati terminal had it on display, in plenty and with no waiting.
Now, some of you may say: "Hey! You're happily married! What are you doing looking at other women?"
The simple truth is that I am Man. I am ALL that is Man. There is a big difference between looking and actually wanting. I look. I look at other women because I don't like looking at other men. There are just two choices as I see it in life, you can either look at women or you can look at men (because there are only two sexes in the species and the world is full of people). You've got to look because people are a hell of a lot more interesting than staring at your shoes or the texture of the carpet all your life. Now, mommy didn't raise an ankle grabber so ... yes, I like women and I like to look at women.
I love women. Absolutely love women, they are the most perfect things that God ever put on this Earth short of rock and roll and the V8 engine. I like to look at women just like I like to look at cars. I have a car. I have a woman. Just because I look at another woman or I look at your car doesn't mean I'm going to hop in it and wear it out. I just like to look. I find several things in life fascinating and I could watch them all day; two of these are cars and women. There were no cars in the Cincinnati / Greater Kentucky Airport so I was left with what few pleasures I could find.
A long time ago, my wife and I had this very same discussion and I explained it to her thusly; I consider women to be an art form, hand made by God (though He apparently put all of His rejects and the stuff He couldn't sell in Cincinnati). As such, women are like fine art: you may look, you may admire, you may take notes of why one particular woman caught your eye or captured your interest but you simply cannot touch. Ever.
Especially if you have a piece of art at home that you're attached to and rather fond of. You're entitled to one good woman / piece of art at the time in your life and you better take care of her / it while you share company, that's my philosophy. Some guys don't understand women or art, they swap one piece out for another, they pick it up cheap and expect it to last, they use it and throw it away because to them, there's always another piece of art just down the corner, probably that someone else threw out and no longer wants. Not me. I look for that special woman / piece of art then build my life around her / it. That is how my marriage is. One woman, all the time, same woman.
Do I mind if she looks at other men?
Not at all.
I'm comfortable enough in my relationship with her, in my sexuality and my masculinity that I can afford to give her some room to run on her own if she needs to. She's not going far, she's like me. It's not her scene to cat around and I trust her. After all, if she hasn't strayed yet in over a decade of being together, then she's not going to and neither am I. It's just not part of my core programming.
Yes, women are a lot like art. It is perfectly okay to look at other pieces of art, even one that belongs to someone else, as long as you don't try to touch the art, copy it, or, heaven forbid, take it off the wall and carry it back home with you. You also should never compare one piece of art to another. That's when you really get in a whole lot of trouble. You can look, you can admire, but please don't touch the art, especially if you have a piece in your life and the other art belongs to someone else. So, with that reasoning and logic behind us, let me say firmly that the Cincinnati terminal was in no way able to be considered an "art museum" in any stretch of the definition, if you get my meaning. If women are art, then the Cincinnati terminal was a collection of works done by a Special Ed class and not one of them was suitable for display even on your refrigerator, hung with magnets. It was that bad, folks, yes it was.
And so, with nothing interesting to look at other than ugly women and serious injuries (both of which made me feel like I was backstage at a taping of MTV's "Jackass" show), I decided that if I wasn't going to lose my mind in Cincinnati then I had better find a way to entertain myself and quick. That's when I decided to start having fun at other people's expense, as I usually do, and what should appear in my immediate vicinity but ...
THE TREMENDOUSLY FAT GIRL
Finding myself refreshed with a few of Tucker Max's short adventures and feeling my old misanthropic self again, I felt it was time to have a little fun, if I could manage it in a sea of cripples and pasture grazing queens. So I looked for anything to relieve the tedious boredom that I was locked into, my own little personal hell with a penalty-box type timer. The penalty box was the Cincinnati / Greater Kentucky airport terminal and the timer was my flight. When the buzzer sounded, I would be off faster than a rented dress on prom night.
Opportunity, never a stranger to me, provided just the impetus for fun when a terribly obese and rather fugly girl sat down directly across from me, two seats to the right. Now, I love long hair. Thick, long hair that I can run my fingers through. I could twist and play with a set of bangs and locks for hours and never get bored. I like hair. Women should have long hair, or as Hank Hill said in the Fox comedy series "There's just something not right about that, you know, like a pretty girl with short hair." I don't like short hair. I especially don't like short hair on fat women as it exaggerates their size.
This poor girl looked like a pink version of the Michelin Man, only about 30psi under inflated and saggy. Her hair was a crude imitation of a Prince Valiant template probably done at Fantastic Sams and then through the new drive up window.
Her arrival was accompanied almost simultaneously by a dark raven haired woman in a business suit and skirt sitting down beside me. Her perfume made her smell older than she appeared to be. Now, why she wanted to sit beside me when there were four seats to each side of me I'll never know but she sealed her own fate for that day by doing so. Sat right beside me. Maybe it was the Axe effect. Maybe she's attracted to strangers in black cowboy hats and black leather jackets who make it a habit of sitting as far away from other people as they can.
I don't know.
We didn't speak.
My attention turned from the underfed Jersey Cow in a business suit to the overly fed piglet across from me. I mean, I find fat people disgusting, but when they are so fat that it looks like they are carrying a watermelon in their groin, when their pants have their stomach hanging down not only past their goodies but also down into each leg of their pants, it just really disgusts me. How anyone could ever get that way boggles my mind. What makes me even angrier is that this person has not only decided to sit across from me but that she's purchased a king hell combo meal from a McDonald's somewhere and is going to now put on a display of feeding herself in front of me.
Like I needed that kind of visual!
I kid you not when I say that she must have really enjoyed eating because she tilted her head back, opened her mouth and was slowly lowering each French fry into her gaping maw. After seeing the first two French fries vanish in such a disgusting manner, I started making comments in a hushed, sports commentator voice that only I and the woman beside me could hear.
"She's showing good form and near perfect poise. Her paunch draping down between her legs and over the lip of her chair provides both support and stability for her upper body in the same way that a Weeble is designed. She may wobble but she won't fall down."
The woman in the business suit next to me is at first shocked at what she is hearing then she looks from me to the fat girl and her shock becomes dismay at how the girl is eating her food right there in front of us. I can tell that the business woman next to me has been brought up in a very conservative, reserved lifestyle and isn't used to open commentary about other people like this. It is both appalling and fascinating to her and she doesn't know whether to love or hate me so she settles on a happy median and trusts her feelings.
"The French fry is chosen for its length and texture. She has it poised for a straight shot at her gullet and there she goes, lowering the French fry into the gaping maw of culinary doom. The last thing this French fry will ever see is a pink swollen tongue bashing it to wet pulp against the yellowing rotted stones that pass as teeth in this gargantuan and slovenly excuse for a basic human being."
Business woman's shock and dismay soon turns to quiet, stifled giggles at my running commentary. I have an audience and I play it for all it is worth.
"Ahhh. That was fantastic. Normally I'd smoke a cigarette and rub my belly like a satiated Buddha but I've still got forty six more French fries to go and I just can't stop myself."
The business woman is giggling now and turning to look from the fat girl to me. I never make eye contact with either as they are unimportant in my life and meaningless for anything other than my own entertainment.
"No! Please! Don't eat me! No! Noooooo! Arrggghhhhh!" I say softly with a perfectly straight poker face as fat girl manages to slowly demolish an extraordinarily long French fry with all the grace of a ten foot Python being slowly lowered into an industrial wood chipper.
More stifled laughter from the business woman next to me. The Fat Girl continues to enjoy her French fries with a gleeful type abandon normally only reserved for really mind boggling oral sex. The business woman next to me is ripe for the plucking and I make my move to seal the fate of both of them.
"Whew. She really can eat. Now, I don't know where she came from but apparently once she left, all the billy goats got to cross the bridge safely that day." I say flatly, using the hand and finger that I have kept my cheek and chin propped up with to motion towards the Fat Girl.
At this point, the business woman next to me can't contain the mirth inside her anymore and she busts out laughing, throwing her hand up to her mouth to try to stifle the outburst but it is too late. Everyone notices her cackle, the first being the Fat Girl who immediately stares at her with a killing view. The business woman is so embarrassed, she doesn't know what to say. Everyone is suddenly looking at the business woman for her loud cackle and not wanting to miss the end of this performance, I slowly turn my head to look at her from under the brim of my cowboy hat, immediately passing the blame from me to her effortlessly. She is as embarrassed as the Fat Girl. Fat Girl pouts, smashes her food bag closed, grabs her luggage and moves to get up out of her chair. She is so fat that it takes her two good rocks forward and backward to get up enough momentum to rise shakingly to her feet.
"Weebles wobble but they don't fall down." I say flatly in a voice that doesn't carry further than a seat in either direction.
Fat Girl clutches her bag of fast food to her chest and waddles off with everyone staring after her. I notice that her white panties, which would be big enough to shammie-wash a good sized luxury car with, are poking out back because Fat Girl has, sadly, tucked her shirt down into her panties and bunched them up very visibly. This causes more laughter at her expense, laughter which seems to start softly and grow into a discombobulated life of its own. The business woman gets up, stares hard at me but I can't see her face which is above the brim of my hat. She pauses, like she's going to say something, then leaves without saying a word, taking her baggage with her when she goes.
Current score; Misanthrope: 2, Human Race: 0.
Good game and its not even half-time.
THE HUMAN SEE-SAW
Now that I am alone again with seats on each side of me, I continue reading my book, occasionally glancing up after what seems to be long periods of time and much to my dismay discovering that only a few minutes have passed since the last time I looked. Apparently, even time is crippled in Cincinnati. As I am reading, an ominous dark shadow slowly covers me. Is it an eclipse? Is it a plane about to crash through the terminal window like that scene from "AIRPLANE"? No, it is just another overweight (though not obese) mouth-breathing shaved hill ape with odious personal habits come to invade my personal space.
This guy sits down two seats to my right and promptly reclines the entire bench of seats back a good forty-five degrees. One second I'm reclining slightly with my leg crossed and reading my book, the next instant I'm almost staring at the ceiling. WTF is wrong with you people?
I slowly turn to stare at him from under the brow of my cowboy hat and he is busy wiping his nose with a stained handkerchief. I watch in silent disgust as he loudly blows his nose, wipes aggressively, then inspects the contents of the handkerchief. Mercifully, I manage to avert my eyes before I also see the contents of what he has just produced. He then hacks up a deep clot of mucous and spits it, I kid you not, spits it into his handkerchief before wadding up the piece of cloth and sticking it back into his shirt pocket. Deep inside me, the jaded soul of mine frosts over just a little bit more.
I go back to reading my book. The human mucous factory sitting on my right continues to gurgle and percolate, wheezing and coughing. I ignore him for the most part though his constant rocking back and forth in his seat is causing me to experience more turbulence in my seat here on the ground than I ever did outside of Jackson. A few more violent coughs and more rough back and forth see-saw action on the part of that section of the seating bench made me finally sigh and put my book down. I rub my cheek in agitation, wipe my goatee and rest my chin and cheek in my right hand, propped up with my arm. I tap the area behind my right ear impatiently as I stare at this retard, plotting my revenge.
I would soon need to take a leak so I waited patiently for an opportunity to have some fun. A few more see-saw motions and the human mucous factory to my right settled into some kind of easy respiratory idle, a happy median between choking to death on his own secretions and being able to breathe just freely enough to continue living, be that as it may. I picked up my book again and read another chapter, waiting until I heard the sound of troubled breathing again on my right. I glanced over and saw that the human mucous factory was apparently either asleep and snoring, or just resting his eyes. Anyway, he was in a state of total relaxation which is what I had been waiting on. I slid my book into my leather jacket, grabbed the armrests of my seat and with all the energy I could muster, I forced myself forward in my seat, rocking the entire bench forward from it's aft settled position that the human mucous factory had forced upon me with his ponderous weight when he sat down. The action looked perfectly normal, not a grunt or change of facial expression, I simply quickly rocked forward in my seat, grabbed my carry on bag and proceeded to the bathroom.
Newton would have been proud because my action had the desired equal but opposite reaction. As I pitched forward, the human mucous factory did so as well and since he wasn't expecting it, he tumbled right out of his seat, face forward to land on his hands and knees. I guess that was a rude awakening because he immediately became confused. People started laughing as he struggled to compose himself and wonder why he had fallen out of his chair.
I never looked back.
Misanthrope: 3, Human Race: 0.
Now, if you have never been in an airport restroom, let me tell you that taking a leak can be something akin to an Olympic sport. There were no privacy walls at the stand up urinals and since I had a leather carry on bag and a leather portfolio, I had no place to stand and put my gear without setting it on top of the urinal or beside it (thereby having the risk of someone else stepping up and dribbling all over my leather bag because they were either spastic or because God just hadn't given them enough pipe to aim with).
I marched past the urinals and ducked into a vacant stall. The heavy security containers for the toilet paper make excellent impromptu shelves for books and portfolios. I set my portfolio on the top of the toilet paper holder, set my leather bag down in what appeared to be the only dry spot on the floor and I proceeded to take care of business. As I was taking care of business, I heard someone enter the stall next to me, unbuckle their pants and sit down on the toilet. Great. Air pollution inbound. I finished up, stored my own man gear, zipped up my fly and turned to get my bag. That's when I saw a hand reaching from under the stall towards my carry on bag. It looked like Thing from the Adams Family, just this human hand moving under the stall divider and the fingers opening to get the handles of my carry on bag. In seconds, my bag and all my belongings, plus a great amount of personal gear that I had dared bring with me, would be gone forever, passed along through a set of hands at the airport, never to be seen again. The shock of what was happening was about equal to the loathing in my jaded old soul. Here I was, about to get robbed in an airport restroom. Of all the things that I hate the most in life, it is a thief.
Now, I don't know what kind of manners they teach North of the Mason Dixon Line but one thing I do know is that no one tries to steal my stuff, especially in a restroom stall. I watched and waited as the hand started to close around the carry strap on the side of my bag. The intent was obvious and I brought my right leg up, cocked it and then brought the heel of my ra-ra shoe down hard on the trespassing hand, hopefully hard enough to leave a good bruise / indian burn if not break the skin and perchance some of the smaller bones. There was a satisfying pained cry combined with a choked retching sound coming from the stall next to me as I pinned the hand all the way to the floor with all 200 plus pounds of my weight. The hand squirmed under my heel as I stood on it with one leg and bounced as the fingers were curled underneath the hand, driven there by my sudden downward stomp. I bounced once more on the hand with all of my weight for good measure then stepped off as the injured hand was quickly retracted back under the stall divider. This was followed by the sound of someone thrashing around in the stall next to me and more crying and retching.
I scooped up the shoulder strap of my carry on bag, grabbed my portfolio, used the portfolio to loudly slap open the simple courtesy slide on the stall door and then used the portfolio over my head in a downwards swing to open the door into the stall. One man had already gathered at the door to the stall beside me, wondering if he should intervene. I guess that the guy I stomped let out a pretty good cry because everyone at the urinals was looking my way, towards the stall where the crying was still going on. Two men were hurriedly zipping up as I walked briskly out of the bathroom and never looked back. When I got back to the terminal, I sat in a different area and returned to reading my book.
If you touch my stuff, you're going to get hurt.
Lesson one from day one.
After ten minutes had passed and no airport security or blue gloved TSA Nazis had come to snatch me up and cart me away, I felt confident that nothing was going to develop from the incident. I almost felt sorry for the guy whose hand I had stomped. Almost. It wasn't the fact that he hurt his hand, it was probably the fact that the pain had driven him to the floor of the stall and he had thrashed around where other people had dribbled urine, spit and who knew what else. Poor guy but then you had a choice to make and you made it, brother.
I was not bothered after that. By anyone. No one sat next to me. It was wonderful.
Misanthrope: 4, Human Race: 0.
It had been a great half-time show and it looked like with no competition in the last half, I was going to be declared the winner in the Cincinnati / Greater Kentucky Area terminal by default.
Fifteen minutes later, the attendant at my gate called for my flight to start boarding. The first call was for anyone holding a Golden Ticket or something like that. It sounded dumb and I halfway expected to hear that song break out and start playing.
"I've got a Gooooolden Ticket. A Gooooolden Ticket and I'm going to get to board the plane before youuuuuuu."
Three old people moved to the gate (one with those stupid clip on "Terminator" visor shades that old people wear) along with two children, much to the disappointment of the attendant who was obviously expecting a mad rush of Golden Ticket holders. I mean, come on people. The seats are assigned on your ticket. You're going to get on board eventually, sooner or later. It's not like it's first come first serve and whoever gets on board first gets the best seats or the windows. Not thirty seconds after he called for the special people to board the plane, with the look of supreme disappointment, he decided that everyone else who held a ticket for that particular flight could just go ahead and board as well. The timer on the penalty box sounded and I was free!
I passed through the gate, immediately walked down the gantry way, and back out into 32 degrees of cold. I was happy to be leaving the Cincinnati / Greater Kentucky Area airport. Hell. The only thing that had been missing from this place had been the banjo and harmonica music played by barefoot, overall wearing, straw hat sporting, gap-toothed hillbillies.
THE FINAL FLIGHT TO GREENSBORO, NC
So, I board another CRJ50, identical in every aspect to the one I just got off a little over an hour ago. My stomach rumbles and I'm wanting more roasted peanuts and Coke. It's a culinary bandaid to be sure but anything to stop the rumbling until I can get some real food. I walk up the flight stairs and am greeted by my stewardess for this flight. Stewardess is the wrong word because it's not a woman but rather a man. The fact that this man is dressed in Delta uniform with a nice little sweater does nothing to take away from his demeanor which, apparently, is in direct competition with mine. This guy's name is "Jerry" and he looks like Jean Rene from "The Professional." I find my seat, fortunately it is another window seat. Thank you, Dad! Unfortunately, I share the two seat row with a man who is twice my mass. And the window shade doesn't work so I spend the rest of the nearly hour long flight doing two things:
A) I use the middle finger of my right hand to stick under the lip of the window shade and hold it up because I think that Jean Rene might become angry with me if I do something like pull out an ink pen and use it as an impromptu wedge to jam the window shade open. I also am concerned about the rather obvious cracks around the plastic of the window. The memory of how Goldfinger met his fate in that old James Bond film rush back from childhood but I bat them away, mentally. The flight is a little over an hour long. My middle finger hasn't hurt from that much use since that time I was 16 years old, out with the 19 year old blonde, way back in 1986 after the Loverboy Concert and in the back of my '78 Camaro. Ah, the memories of youth.
B) I spend the flight in a posture that can only be described as follows. I want you to go find a wall. Sit down in a chair next to that wall, now raise yourself up on your right buttock and stay that way, leaning against the wall using your right hip / ass bone to support you. Oh yeah, hug yourself. Tight. Now balance a dictionary on your right fore and middle finger, that is the weight of the window shade you have to hold up. Keep that position for over 60 minutes and you'll know how I felt sitting in my window seat next to the man mountain who was content to hold his two beefy arms up at his sides and do Sodoku puzzles all through the flight.
I got my peanuts and my drink but Jean Rene wasn't very attentive and so instead of coming around to collect the garbage like Pat Benatar had done on the previous flight, I had to sit in the above described position with a cup of melting ice and an empty roasted peanut bag stuck down in the cup, held there by a now wet and soaked napkin. Negative comfort defined.
While this flight was not as rough as the last flight, the pilot of this flight obviously lacked experience. The take off was rougher even though the weather was calm. He turned the plane onto new headings like he was preparing to go barnstorming. Sudden, brisk turns that caused the man mountain next to me to shift somewhat in my direction. My groans at his encumbrance on my person were lost amid the general noise of the cabin. On landing in Greensboro, the pilot would just apparently cut thrust to the engines, causing the plane to "coast" forward on what felt almost like zero gravity. As the engines throttled back and the plane fell to its rate of descent, we began to land. More wide, sharp turns with long banks. Then we were falling, fast, I could see the shadow of the airplane on the ground. I think it should be a guideline that when the pilot lowers the landing gear that he gives you a verbal notification of the deed. When the landing gear lowered on that particular CRJ50, it sounded like God had ripped the wing of the plane off, a long, rumbling, torturous sound of straining metal and hydraulics. It was the sound of a sarcophagus lid slamming shut in hell. Then the runway came up. Then we were down. Bump. Heavy on the brakes, pitch forward. The guy at the flight stick may have been a certified pilot but the next time I fly, I want my pilot certified in something other than Microsoft Flight Simulator.
I waited until everyone else was off the plane before I peeled myself off of the wall / window, collected my carry on bag from the overhead compartment and exited the plane. It was warmer in Greensboro than Cincinnati but that was to be expected due to the geographical location and climate. I went into the terminal, looked around and half expected to see some kind of welcoming committee. I don' t know, I guess I expected to see someone holding a sign that said "SNAPPY AUCTIONS" or "MR. SHIELDS" or something like that, you know, the kind of service you see in bad Hollywood movies. I stood in the terminal, did a quick pan and scan and could not identify anyone who even remotely looked like they were there for me. I pulled out my cell phone and called the number to SNAPPY AUCTIONS. A young girl answered and when prompted if she could help me, I identified myself and asked for the owner. She informed me that he was at the airport waiting on me. I thanked her and dialed his personal cell phone number. He was just outside the security area waiting on me. I thanked him, hung up, slid my phone back into the belt clip, shouldered my carry-on bag and proceeded to walk on down the concourse. It was a much shorter path than at Cincinnati though this airport looked bigger.
I meet Joe, the owner of SNAPPY AUCTIONS, just outside the security area of the airport and it isn't much of a security area. I swear, doing a pan and scan, I don't see how anyone couldn't just walk through the front doors and all the way up to the gates. Oh, well. We shake hands and make introductions then head out to the parking lot. I load my bag and portfolio into the trunk of his Acura and we leave the airport, hit the highway, and after a bit of small talk, we find ourselves at a small strip mall where his business is located. As we pull in, he tells me that the TA is on the other side of a Suburban. We get out, walk around the Suburban and lo and behold, there is the 1986 black Pontiac Trans Am and it is even better than the pictures could ever describe. I am in awe at the condition of this car. Joe mentions that, per my request, the current owner has removed the aftermarket CD player / stereo and reinstalled the original factory stereo. The aftermarket stereo is no where to be found but I'm not worried about it. I'd rather have the original stereo in it to begin with.
Joe and I step into his office where he shows me around his business. He doesn't sell many cars but he is wanting to move in that direction. This may not be the first car he has sold through his Ebay business but it is the first car which I have bought from Ebay and I'm well pleased so far. Everything is going according to plan. We make more small talk while he fills out the bill of sale (the car was paid for days ago via wire transfer from bank to bank) and finishes with the title to the car. He hands me a file folder with some paperwork from the previous owner documenting a new heater core being installed and the work which netted the car with a K&N filter and a Flowmaster cat-back system. I get the keys to the car, a spare set of keys and we go outside. Joe wants to hear the car one last time and I unlock the car, sit in the driver's seat, insert the keys into the ignition and with a turn of the switch, the 305 TPI V8 lights off with a dull rumble. I was worried that the Flowmaster exhaust would have been obnoxiously loud but it is quite mellow and authoritative, not aggressive. I rap the throttle a few times and the exhaust burbles. I get back out, leave the car running and shake Joe's hand again. I thank him for an excellent business experience and we part ways. I step back to the TA, load my gear and start to build my nest; digital camera ready, driving gloves, and the required paper work to show any law enforcement officer if I am pulled over. I open the center console and voila! I find the factory RPO build sheet. My mind instantly goes blank as I look over the codes but a few I recognize. The G80 strikes me as a limited slip differential... no way!!, I think. This car is a plain jane Y99 suspension, it has the base model wheels on it. My eyes dart down to the last of the RPO codes and right there, in front of my eyes, are the three magic letters and numbers that I love to see... WS6.
Holy Mother of Milton Bradley! This is a WS6 optioned TA!
It can't be!
It has the wrong wheels! That's why I was confused by looking at the pictures of the car in the auction! If it has the WS6 suspension and the wrong wheels, it might just have all the other WS6 components in stock. Oh thank you sweet Jesus! I was right all along! It isn't a Y99 suspension car! No one, not a customer in the know, not a dealer, and not Pontiac would build such a fully optioned Trans Am and leave it with the base dork suspension. WS6 cars came with the convex aluminum high tech turbo wheels in 16 x 8 inch sizes. This car has the 15 x 7 inch wheels and tires on it. Not really believing my eyes and wondering what is going on, I hop out of the car and stare between the spokes of the rear 15 x 7 inch wheels and what do I see? Rear disc brakes! Oh, there is a God and He likes me because I make Him laugh! I try to look under the rear end to count the bolts on the differential cover or to see if it has the "posi" tag hanging off but the ground clearance won't let me.
What the ...?
If this is a WS6 car, then where are the bigger factory aluminum wheels and tires? That's a mystery for later and I decide that when I stop for the night, somewhere near Atlanta, I'm going to go through the RPO codes of this car with a fine tooth comb and decipher what she has and why she has it.
Since the car didn't come with any floor mats and there is rain in the next few hours, I buy a pair of temporary rubber floor mats, the kind designed to trap water, mud and grease, and put them in the front of the car. I grab some food at the local Subway, a Route 44oz sweet tea from a SONIC and try to find a gas station to fill up the TA (which is sitting on fumes ... for $7500, you would think that a tank of gas would have been thrown in as a courtesy, especially to someone who traveled four states to pick up the car but NO!). This is where I almost get into a fight... a really good fight.
Now, I find a gas station. I probably couldn't find it again if you asked me to but I found a station combo inconvenience store and pulled in. I slid my debit card through the gas pump and filled up the TA with high test, then entered the information into a fuel / mileage tracking program I have on my PDA in order to see what kind of mileage the TA is going to get on the highway. I finish up fueling, crank up the TA and ease it up to in front of the doors of the inconvenience store. I shut the car down and step into the inconvenience store to use the restroom. Let me again describe how I am dressed; black rah-rah shoes, dark socks, cream colored Dockers pants, gloss black dress belt, charcoal colored shirt, black leather jacket and a black cowboy hat. I step into the store and am immediately greeted by the multi-colored knit Kwanza power dome wearing smart ass attendant behind the counter:
"Whoo! Now if that ain't a stereotype! A white cowboy driving a black Trans Am!"
I don't like being provoked, especially with no reason for such provocation, especially by ignorant people so I immediately fired off my return salvo without even having to think hard about it. Some people say that I've practiced my banter. I tell them what I do is spontaneous and it's called "wit." I look the minimum wage earning Kwanza ruffian down from under the brow of my cowboy hat and say in a hard mocking voice:
"Whoo! Now if that ain't a stereotype! A member of a minority working in a convenience store!"
His face melted into something akin to surprise and barely controlled rage. I don't think he had expected me to say anything back to him let alone to throw his own ignorant logic right back in his face like a bucket of ice cold water. It's not my fault he was having a bad day and decided to take it out on his customers. I would have been totally happy if he had never spoken to me. I let reality play with his mind and didn't wait for his reply. Getting into an argument let alone a fight with a convenience store employee just wasn't high on the list of "these are a few of my favorite things." I don't pay extra for abuse at these establishments so I simply slowly turned and left, without another word, ignoring him completely. If he said something to my back, I didn't hear it.
I'd find a restroom where open hostility towards the customer wasn't part of the ambience.
I sat down into the Trans Am, reset the odometer to zero and fired her up. Ten minutes later, I pulled into a Chevron just down the road with the intent on using the restroom. The attendant informs me that the restroom is occupied. I wait. I wait. Three minutes I wait. The women's room door opens and this scraggly looking refugee from the unwashed street people ambles out, hangs the key and key tag / weight back up on the wall, grabs his crotch and walks slowly out singing some unknown song. I look up slowly at the attendant. My facial expression asks "why did a drunk guy just come out of the women's restroom?" but my mouth says nothing. The attendant silently nods towards the now vacant restroom, looks at me expectantly, like I'm going to take the key to the women's restroom and violate that sanctity.
Now I don't know what the basic scruples they teach in North Carolina are, but in Mississippi, we're taught that men don't go in the women's restroom. Ever.
A woman and her daughter come in behind me and I can tell that they need to use the restroom so I remain motionless in place, just the attendant and I. The mother looks at the restroom door, tries it. It is locked. She looks around, moves to the corner of the wall near the restroom, sees the key with the big blue tag that reads "WOMANS RM" (I kid you not), takes it and unlocks the ladies room. She is about to step in when she stops, panics and back steps three times, putting her hand to her nose and mouth and saying "OH MY GAWD!" The attendant looks up at this and realizes that he's probably about to be piloting a mop and bucket for an unsavory chore of cleaning up the "look what some drunk homeless person just did in the ladies restroom" type duty. He looks at me, his unspoken expression seems to be a pleading one but I have no pity.
"Never mind, brother." I tell him as I turn and leave.
I mean, I just saw some drunk guy amble out of the ladies room and obviously he left something behind that made a woman and her daughter physically ill. The men's room door still hasn't opened and if the drunk's buddy is in there, I probably don't want to go in right after him. I figure I'd just find some rendition of Jackson Polack with human feces or something equally disturbing covering the walls, floor and maybe ceiling. I climb into the Trans Am and leave the parking lot. North Carolina is one messed up state, and that is the opinion that I am rapidly forming in my mind. One seriously messed up state.
A few miles down the road, I stop at another inconvenience store and, yes, this one has two restrooms that are clean. I step into the men's room, relieve myself, flush and wash my hands. I open the door just as the door to the ladies room is opening beside me and Bubba walks out. Yes, it is another guy using the ladies room to relieve their self. A big bearded, multi-chinned, multi-stomached cut off jeans wearing, NASCAR t-shirt sporting #3 black hat topped hill scoggin. What is it with you North Carolina people?! The guy shouts something to the clerk at the front of the store and then heads back to the coolers to buy some beer, opening the cooler door and getting out a huge case of the cheap stuff. I leave and get back on the road, hoping that I've seen the last man come out of the ladies room for a long, long time.
Fifteen minutes later finds me on Interstate 85 leaving Greensboro and heading for Atlanta and, hopefully, a better set of public manners on display.
I am very pleased with the Pontiac. It is like driving an object which was snatched 20 years out of the past by some strange, powerful wormhole in time. The cruise control works. The air conditioning will drive you out of the car. The factory ETR stereo works and works well but since the owner switched out the aftermarket CD player for the stock factory ETR stereo with cassette player, my CDs which I burned and brought along are about as useless as lugnuts on a birthday cake.
Radio stations (ahem, good radio stations) are hard to find in North Carolina where they play a weird fusion of music. One minute I'm listening to Ozzie Osbourne, the next I'm listening to Donnie and Marie Osmond, on the same radio station. I hear some music that I've never heard before and I pray that I don't again. If the stuff that audibly raped my ears without so much as the God-given courtesy of a reach around is what they call "urban" or "hip-hop" then I know why Van Gogh cut off his ear. The stuff that the factory radio was tuning in wasn't music, it was the equivalent of a crackhead trying to read one of Dr. Seus' works to the beat of some retard with a Casio keyboard. Emphasis on the word "trying." The radio works fine, the tuner is picking up radio station after radio station, but none of them are good radio stations and, even more important, none of them are interesting for longer than it takes my finger to hit the SEEK button again. So many stations, so little good music. No wonder people act like they do in North Carolina.
I think I'll stop at a Walmart or someplace and get a few cassette tapes to break the monotony of the trip. Then I think about what I just thought about and the bitter truth of constantly advancing technology hits me upside the head like a two-by-four in a common law domestic dispute at a double-wide. The year is 2006 A.D., does Walmart or any other place like Walmart still stock cassette tapes? Does any artist today still sell their product on cassette tapes? I think the world has finally gone totally to compact disc. I'm saddened at this fact as it apparently sneaked up on me. I have seen the demise of the 8-track. I have seen the demise of the 33 and a third RPM vinyl record as well as the 45RPM record format. I am witnessing the final death throes of the cassette tape, that is, if I'm not already too late for the funeral. Using the vast powers of my memory, I fail to remember having seen cassette tapes for sale at Walmart in a very long time. Great. I have my MP3 player and can use that but if I'm going to get a cassette or two for the road, I had better be searching the inconvenience stores again and that means a severely limited offering where you'll find David Alan Coe right next to Tina Marie and any "heavy metal" collections that are offered will invariably include Loverboy on the selections (like Loverboy was ever any where near the ball park of heavy metal music). Yes, about the only place you can still buy cassette tapes is a truck stop or inconvenience store which services the big trucks.
The thought of having to go into one of those institutionalized brothels of decadent commercialism and NASCAR trinketry, all catering to the lowest common denominator in society seriously depresses me.
I am truly a stranger in a strange land, a man lost out of time.
LIFE IN THE (REALLY) FAST LANE
I head down highway I-85, playing radio tag and trying to keep up with traffic. Traffic is passing me and I am in cruise at 70mph. The speed limit is 70mph and I am getting passed like I was standing still. Do people drive like maniacs in North Carolina? Apparently so. Curiosity asks me what gears are in the rear end of the Trans Am. Normally, the 9 bolt Borg Warner rear ends came with 2.77, 3.08, 3.27 or 3.42 gears. Using an old hot rodder's trick, I set the cruise at 70mph and drop the transmission from 4th (OD) to straight third. The RPMs displayed on the tachometer should tell me what gear ratio I have. The RPMs jump up to a little over 2400 RPM. 2.44 gears? That's extremely high and I don't remember hearing of a Formula / TA / GTA ever coming with 2.44 gears in the rear. 2.77s were about the highest (lowest) that the factory went. What gives?
As I'm trying to reconcile this new bit of data, I keep getting passed by people going a lot faster than I am. Now, if this is actually a WS6 TA (as the RPO code says it is) and somewhere down the line, the original 16x8 wheels were replaced with these smaller 15 x 7 inch doughnuts fitted with smaller rubber, then logically the speedometer is going to be way off, assuming, of course, that the previous owner didn't recalibrate the speedometer for the smaller wheels and tires (not likely but at this point after having seen a whole lot of dumb in a very short time, I wasn't ruling out anything). I start to edge on up in speed. 80mph. 85mph. 90mph. I'm now keeping up with the rest of traffic with the cruise control set at 90mph. A big rig blows past me on the left lane. If my speedometer is correct, then he's doing well over 100mph. If my speedometer is off, he's doing about 80mph. The TA shakes in his wash and I tap the cruise on up to 100mph.
100mph, folks. Cruise control. Rock steady.
Thinking about my predicament, that I may be in a car with a speedometer calibrated for 16 x 8 inch wheels and tires and thus it is now off by a good margin, then I need to find out what 70mph is in this car since that is the speed limit. I use a little bit of reverse logic and ascertain that if the speedometer is incorrect, then the tachometer will have to tell me what 70mph is. I back the TA down to 90mph, tap the cruise control and let the car settle into the gait. Once we are on a straight away, I simply ease the shifter again from 4th (OD) to straight third and the tachometer jumps up a good thousand RPM. I glance at the needle; 3500RPM. A bit high. I tap the cruise control and the needles on the speedometer and the tachometer each fall a couple of tick marks. When the tachometer is reading around 3200 RPM, I see that the speedometer is reading 85mph, so if I have 3.27 gears in the rear end (as the RPO build sheet says I do) and if this rear end has not been switched out, then the speedometer is off by a good 15mph, at least at 70mph.
That's helpful to know, especially on a trip lasting several hundred miles and with the possibility of law enforcement entanglement via speed traps.
Several times during the late afternoon trip, the SES Service Engine Soon light will illuminate itself on the dash. Since the engine and the rest of the car behaves itself, I bet against myself that the check engine code that is being thrown is somehow related to the speedometer being off and the difference in tire and wheel size. This car shows that it has a VSS or Vehicle Speed Sensor. I could be wrong, but given the care and maintenance that this TA has received, that would be my first guess on what the as yet unknown engine error code is. Since the TA performs flawlessly in all aspects and indicates no signs of distress, I give the SES light far less caution than I normally would. This proves to be a safe course of action as I am not punished at an inopportune time by the gods of high performance for ignoring so blatant a warning sign.
The rest of the afternoon is spent uneventfully just getting a feel for the TA and cruising along at 85mph indicated (70mph true) speed and enjoying heading into the setting sun. I tip my cowboy hat lower to shield my eyes and think how lucky I am to have this one last adventure... and what an adventure it has been so far. I adjust the Recaro seat and enjoy the fact that the lower front of the seat extends much like a recliner, supporting the back of my legs behind my knees and really making the drive comfortable. The side bolsters of the Recaros are very nice as well, hugging and gripping my body and making me feel like I'm reclined in something like a giant cloth spoon rather than a seat.
I tell myself that I can make it to Atlanta but my body says different. By 8:15 PM that night, I am running on nearly 20 hours without rest having two flights under my belt and nearly 400 miles on the odometer. I give up on trying to get on the West side of Atlanta and just stop in Jefferson, Georgia at a local (dis)Comfort Inn. I check in and get a room on the second floor, 259, on the very back.
The poor girl behind the front desk is a refugee from a fashion disaster and obviously doesn't want to be there on the night shift. She looks at me several times and glances at the black TA parked right outside the front.
"I get off in a few hours ..." she ventures, leaving it hanging out in the open like that.
Catting around just isn't my scene. I take it the only way I can at that time of the night and in the condition of mental fatigue that I am experiencing. I'm surprised I still have enough wit and brevity to throw my answer back at her.
"Good for you. Drive safe on your way home." I say firmly as I take the offered room lock card key and walk back out to the waiting TA.
I don't look back to see if she is disappointed or not. Not my problem. I pull the TA back into a parking spot near the indoor pool, grab my gear and head up to my room. I set up my laptop, lay out my books, put out my clothes for the 2nd day of the trip (jeans, a black T-shirt, a khaki button up long sleeve that converts to a short sleeve through the use of buttoned flaps on the sleeves, ankle socks and a comfortable pair of nearly brand new sneakers). I set out what few toiletries I brought with me and realized that the Subway sandwich was waving the white flag and calling in reinforcements against the dreaded Hungries. I really wanted a nice, thick steak and a baked potato smothered in butter with an endless flow of sweet tea but I don't remember seeing anything on the way in to the disComfort Inn other than a McDonald's (not what I wanted), a couple of inconvenience stores, a Zaxby's (chicken fingers, strangely closed but that was okay since it wasn't what I wanted either). I settled on Waffle House across the street from the motel. It wasn't a thick steak and baked potato by any dream but it was filling which I guess is one battle won. I walked in, ordered a regular waffle with sausage and iced tea. The waitress didn't make small talk and kept the tea flowing, which earned her a 50% tip for her effort.
During my meal, I had brought along the RPO code sheet from the center console and John Gunnell's book; "STANDARD CATALOG OF(tm) FIREIRD 1967 to 2002."
As I was eating my
breakfast-turned-dinner, I started going through the more well known codes that
I could identify and made notes on the letter sized pad in my portfolio.
This Trans Am was loaded like a runaway freight train. About the only option she
didn't have was a remote release rear deck lid and a passenger side vanity
mirror. I noted that she came from
the factory with the WS6 package which included the G80 limited slip
differential, GW6 3.27 gear ratio, J65 four wheel disc brakes and the G92
performance axle ratio. The LB9 5.0 liter tuned port injected small block
was evident as was the 700R4 (MXO) and the T-tops (CC1). What was
interesting was that this Trans Am apparently came with the correct, 16 x 8 inch
wheels 20 years ago. The RPO code N96 listed above clearly indicates that
she was shod with the high performance deep dish high tech turbo style aluminum
wheels from the factory.
So, the mystery here is ... if this car is in this good of a condition, if it has been this well maintained and babied over the last 20 years, if it has all of its factory options intact and everything works, then what the hell happened to the original 16x8 inch factory wheels? Somewhere, in the two decades between 1986 and 2006, this Trans Am fell into a Hasslein Curve and arrived in the same space / time continuum that I occupied. During its strange trip through a defect in time and space, it somehow managed to survive perfectly intact, save for its original wheels and tires. So, what happened to the original 16 x 8 inch wheels? Who knows... one interesting clue is the locking lug nut set from the factory (PB4) and the sticker under the hood warning you that losing the special 'key' to unlock your wheels will require you to go to hell and back in order to replace it. The TA has no lug nut key and no sign of the original wheels. It's definitely a mystery, a WS6 car with 15x7 inch base model Firebird wheels on it, a car that came from the factory with 16 x 8 inch wheels and tires and no one has a clue what happened.
I head back to the disComfort Inn, forgo any mindless television, look up as many RPO codes as I can in Gunnell's book, key them in to my RPO page about this car on my website, and then crawl into bed for some shut eye. There is a free continental breakfast (which means Tupperware containers full of stale Froot Loops and little bottles of Sunny-D that are luke warm...). I think I'll just get a sausage biscuit, hash brown and the biggest sweet tea that McDonald's can scrounge up for me tomorrow morning.
Normally, I would set my PDA's alarm clock function for about 5 AM (when I generally awaken each day) but I decide that this is an adventure so I'm just going to live outside the normal boundaries that I set for myself and that includes any temporal boundaries. I am in no real hurry and if I sleep late tomorrow, so be it. I try to read a book I brought along with me, a collection of road tests on various models of Firebirds during the 1982 to 1992 production run but I find that I nod off and the book falls out of my hands. I pick up the book, close it and set it on the floor. I turn out the light and close my eyes. My last conscious thought, after I say my prayers and my thanks to God, is that the bed I am sleeping in is harder than Fred Flinstone's. Oh, well. Any port in a storm and that night, it did storm.
Besides, I thought, if I lay flat on my back, it should realign all of my vertebrae.
19, 2006- I wake up at a quarter to
seven AM. There is still the free continental breakfast being served (it
started at six) but that's not really what I'm wanting. There is a window
on the room I occupy. Light is behind the curtains. I turn off the
air conditioning system and open the curtains to see what kind of view I have.
I am rewarded with the muddy, gray side of a thinly planted hill that goes up
beyond my room, a chain link fence, various pieces of trash and an old tire on
the other side of the fence. I look around and the mystery of how the old
tire got there deepens but isn't worth anything more than a cursory examination.
It is just another traveler on a long, strange journey, much like myself.
I take a long shower hot enough to turn most of my back and buttocks bright red then I slap some deodorant on, run a few Q-tips around my ears, dress, pack up my books and laptop, and do one last look around the room before I leave. I throw my leather jacket on, my cowboy hat, shoulder my carry on bag and my portfolio. I head down stairs hoping that the Trans Am will still be parked outside and that some cretins didn't come along in the middle of the night and abscond with what can arguably be one of the nicest Trans Ams of this model year left in this region.
The Trans Am is right where I left her last night. I do a cursory walk around to check for any damage and find none. I open the rear hatch, drop my carry on bag inside the trunk well then shut the hatch, watching and listening to the automatic pull down feature operate. Sometime during the night, a dark blue 4.6 liter SN95 Mustang GT has parked beside me. I've always been a Pontiac man, and Firebirds in particular. Even though I once thought about buying a newer Mustang, now that I have the TA, seeing both side by side there in the early morning light, it is clear that I would have never have been happy with the Mustang.
I fire up the TA, drive slowly around to the front office, turn in my room card key to a different (and more attractive) woman behind the front desk, get a print out of my bill and catch a little bit of traffic and weather information on the TV in the lobby. Apparently, there is going to be some kind of big race, NASCAR, something like the TAMPAX 500 or something equally silly. Traffic is predicted to increase steadily before the race and present major slow downs.
"Great." I mutter as I look at what roads are going to be affected. "I've got to get on the road and get out of here before all of the hill scoggins can start choking up the highways."
If the woman behind the front desk hears me, she doesn't say anything. I turn and leave.
The TA fires up instantly and I drive across the street to a Shell station (located next to the Waffle House where I had dinner the night before) where I begin to fill up with high test. As I am filling up the TA, I notice a woman trying to talk on a cell phone while this guy in a ball cap is following her around. She keeps telling him to stay on the sidewalk while she makes a call. He doesn't listen and just follows her into the parking lot. She tells him that she isn't going to leave him and to stand on the sidewalk. He ignores her and follows her around. That's when I realize that he is some kind of special person or a mental patient and that she is his escort. I finishing filling up and return the nozzle to the pump, the woman approaches me with the man behind her.
"Excuse me, sir." she asks.
Uh oh, I think. Red warning lights and flags go up inside my mind. The automatic evasive procedures program is loading in the super computer I keep tucked inside my skull.
"Yes, maam?" I ask.
The mental patient is about to dry hump this poor woman's leg but fortunately, he's well trained enough not to come around from behind her.
"We're stranded and we need a ride to (someplace which sounds like "conn-years") Georgia. Are you going that way?"
Now, I'm a pretty understanding soul but a long time ago, I made a promise to myself never, ever, ever pick up hitchhikers. Ever. Ever. Ever. I mean, I just bought this car. I don't know these people. I feel sorry for this woman but I can't tell if she's a medical professional (she's dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, not some medical uniform) or a hooker. If she is a medical professional, then she should be able to get some kind of transport from whatever institution she is traveling from or to. I mean, I just picked this car up. The last thing I want to do is go hauling ass down the road with these two strangers in my car and the guy redefines the term strange. There is no way I'm going to let him sit beside me let alone sit in the back seat where he could wrap his hands or arms around me while I'm driving. In today's age of barbarism on the road, there is no effing way I'm going to give these two a ride, especially not in my new TA. The idea of the guy soiling himself on my pristine seats really sends cats up my spine.
"Maam, I'm going to Mississippi." I tell her. "Way down South. I'm carrying this car back there for a gentlemen who purchased it on the Internet and I don't think he would take too kindly to me giving rides in it, picking up hitchhikers or going out of my way and putting extra miles on it that I don't need to. I truly am sorry, really I am, but I just don't think I can help you."
Which, as spoken, is all true. I didn't lie, other than maybe to refer to myself in the third person perspective which I am sometimes known to do.
"Thank you, sir." she said flatly with a tint of bitterness.
I tipped my hat to her, got in the TA, put my mileage and fuel information into my PDA and was amazed to discover that she had averaged 24 and some change miles per gallon. That's when I knew that the speedometer was off. There is no way I could have made most of the trip in cruise at 90 to 100mph and still managed 24 miles per gallon. I threw the seat belt on, put on my driving gloves, looked one last time at the woman and the mental patient, shook my head, cranked the TA and drove off down the road.
That had been close. Too close for comfort.
Sometime after nine in the morning, I make it into Atlanta, follow I-85 until it meets I-20 and then head South West. God starts to drain his bathtub and I discover that not only is the wax job on the car incredible, but also that while the wipers could use replacing, the windshield has been treated to Rain-X. It is just easier to leave the wipers off, the Rain-X does a much better job.
Along the way, I try to find an auto parts store. I can't find one AutoZone, Pep Boys or anything. When I stop at a Walgreens pharmacy to use the restroom, I ask the guy behind the counter if he knows where an auto parts store is? I would like to buy a new set of wipers. He doesn't know. No one in either of the Carolinas or Georgia knows anything about where anything is? No wonder there is such a market for GPS guided personal navigation units for vehicles. You can't ask directions anymore from anybody and expect to get an answer.
I pull on down the road and stop off at a Shell station for a drink. I select a Dr. Pepper and go to pay for it. The cashier is of Arabic descent and talks like the Quickie Mart guy in The Simpsons. Not kidding. Weird Sitar music is playing from a CD player behind the counter. As I walk out, I notice that the car wash has been converted into some kind of ad-hoc emissions testing chamber. The advertised price is $20 for a state mandated emissions test and I guess an inspection sticker. I am so glad that Mississippi hasn't picked up on that environmental BS yet. We still have far more trees than people and we intend to keep it that way. In fact, there are more people that live in the city of New York than live in the entire state of Mississippi. Shudder. The road beckons and I heed the siren call of tires on wet asphalt.
I want to pause to tell you that while I have been on many, many rough roads before, I have never been on such an ill-maintained piece of Interstate as that which exists south of Talladega, AL. I-20 South of Talladega is almost no road at all. The bumps come so closely spaced together that even in the left lane, the lane that hasn't been chewed to hell by the big trucks, my ears were still vibrating so hard from the pummeling that they were on the verge of going numb. The roar of the road drowned out the Flowmaster exhaust. For all the hard knocks and bad roads that this beautiful TA had missed in its 20 year life, that one stretch of I-20 South of Talladega more than made up for. The TA had been squeak-less and noiseless since I picked her up. Now I thought that I detected a rattle that wasn't there before. Everyone makes fun of Mississippi (and wrongly so) but I swear that Alabama needs to come over to the West and learn how to maintain roads. I-20 South of Talladega, AL almost beat my teeth out of my skull and if you've ever owned a WS6 suspension car, you know what I mean. Man. I would have hated to have driven that stretch in my old '88 Z-51 suspension optioned Corvette, I'd have been beaten into a coma by the third mile for sure in that car.
Sometime after 11 AM, I manage to hit Birmingham, AL and miss my turn to skirt the inner city via the belt way. It is raining, traffic is heavy and we have an accident on the Interstate which stalls everyone. I wait patiently, listening to the radio as Golden Earring's "Radar Love" plays on a local station, and then I realize that I really have to take a leak. I wait. I wait. I wait. No one is moving. My need becomes more urgent and I entertain thoughts of how much trouble I would get into if I reused my now empty Dr. Pepper bottle right there in the middle of traffic. Just as I'm about to get really desperate (and creative), traffic once again starts to move. Slowly at first, then finally the flow builds and keeps building until it is fully restored. No pun intended given my current circumstance.
A few miles down the road, I see an exit advertising inconvenience stores and fuel. I pull off with the intention to top off the tank and use the restroom. I instead find a Burger King and since it is now a quarter to noon, I realize how hungry I am (breakfast having been over four hours ago with no snack in between). I pull into the Burger King parking lot and through rather obvious signs, realize that I have taken an exit that has put me on "the wrong side of the tracks." No problem. I'm a big boy and I can take care of myself, otherwise, I wouldn't be a police officer, now would I?
I grab my leather portfolio and a book on old road tests of the 1982 to 1992 Firebirds, lock the TA and walk across the wet parking lot, hearing the patter of rain on my hat and my leather jacket. I use the restroom, wash my hands, and then walk up to the counter and order a Whopper value meal, though the value in the title is hardly relative if anything. Much to my surprise, I manage to get a Whopper that is plain, just meat and bun. Perfect. I go and find a table, take off my cowboy hat, arrange my meal in front of me and say a long prayer of thanks and grace. I am interrupted in my prayer by a couple who comes in and orders their meals only to find that the restaurant has no onion rings. The woman is adamant that she loves BK onion rings and goes on and on about them. Please just shut up. They don't have any onion rings and they probably are sick of hearing about how you gush and pine over them. Just please, will you shut up already about the onion rings...?!
I sigh, open my portfolio and draw out my Firebird book, flip it open then begin to read as I eat. I always read when I eat, it's a quirk but I'd go crazy if I didn't have something to read while I was eating alone. I mean, what else are you going to do? Stare at the table or the four walls? The meal is pleasant enough and I look at my watch. I've spent thirty minutes here at the Martin Luther Burger King Jr. and it is about time to get on the road. I see movement out of the corner of my eye and am drawn to it. A black male, dressed in dirty jeans, old ratty sneakers, some kind of T-shirt with a graphic on the front, a blue windbreaker and a white cap spun around backwards is walking across the parking lot. He looks nervous, his head is darting back and forth, looking this way and that like he is being followed or expecting someone to be following him. He almost walks into my Trans Am, stops, looks at it from three steps back front to rear then leans up and looks in the passenger side tinted window. Bad move, brother. I'm surprised he didn't try the door handle to see if it was open. The guy quickly looks up, looks at the BK and heads that way.
Oh, well, I was finished and needed to get on the road anyway. I slide my Firebird book back into my portfolio and latch the portfolio closed, all behind the small partition that prevents this guy from seeing what I'm doing. I start to clean up my mess and take a sip of tea. The manager of the restaurant comes over to wipe off some tables with a rag as this guy comes in, nods hurriedly to her then looks around the restaurant. There are three customers in the whole eating area and no one in line. There is the couple (the woman who really wanted onion rings and was quite adamant about it) and myself, the only white guy in the whole place (and probably for several blocks around me).
In other words, it isn't going to take George Washington Carver and a scientific grant from the Dow Corporation to figure out who the black Pontiac Trans Am parked outside belongs to.
The guy sits down at a table directly at my three O'clock position, with only another small table to my left and the partition separating us. I pick up my cowboy hat from the chair next to me, placed top down to keep from bending the brim, and put it back on my head. I hope to avoid a confrontation but I don't have any say in the matter.
"Psssst." the guy to my right says.
Showtime, I think. Here we go. He's going to want to buy my TA for a couple of hundred dollars, he's going to want a ride somewhere, he's going to try to sell me something he just stole or he's going to ask for money. Four options. The way he's acting, I'm betting he's got something to sell to support his habit.
"Do you want an ash tray?" the manager asks this guy. He waves her off like he can't be bothered with her. She just leans up against the trash can by the door and watches him, I guess she knows him and knows his habits. He seems agitated that she is standing there but he otherwise ignores her and concentrates on me.
"Pssssst. Excuse me, sir." he says.
I turn to face him, staring at him from under the brim of my hat, straight faced as I can. He is holding between his hands a long gold chain, held cats cradle style, wrapped around his thumb and forefinger. He wipes his mouth with his free hand then motions with his head towards the chain. I guess he expects me to be impressed. I disappoint him greatly.
"I'm not interested." I say flatly.
"This is real nice. Real nice. I'll make you a good deal on it." he tells me in a hushed whisper. "A real good deal."
"I'm not interested in stolen jewelry." I tell him flatly.
The BK manager busts out laughing at my remark.
"Fool!" the man shouts at me.
I stand up and take my portfolio. If he tries anything, I'll just slap him across the open throat with the spine of the portfolio then walk away while he's gagging for air. I start to leave, hand on my portfolio. He wipes his mouth again, gears spin in his head, and he tries a new ploy to get my hard earned money.
"Please, sir. This ain't stolen!" he says loudly, looks around nervously, sees the manager and I looking at him.
I turn to stare him down and meet his eyes.
"If it isn't stolen, then why are you whispering and trying to sell it to me under a table at a Burger King? Fool." I say loud enough that the manager can hear.
She cackles like mad and the man is taken back by my logic and my straight forwardness. Before he can make up his mind on whether he wants to cut me or just leave me alone, I have gathered up my portfolio and my tray, stepped to the garbage and emptied the tray into the trash. I place the tray on top of the garbage receptacle, turn to the manager and tip my hat.
"Have a good day, maam." I tell her.
"You too, child. You be careful out in that rain with that nice car."
I thank her and leave, walking across the parking lot to the TA. As I unlock the TA and sit down inside, I see the man come out of Burger King. He stares at me and the TA, throws his head this way and that, pats his chest three times in either a gang gesture or an attempt to relieve indigestion and then starts walking off down the sidewalk in the rain. I hate crackheads. I pull out of the parking lot as he is approaching someone else on the street, probably to try to sell his stolen goods to them as well. Five minutes later finds me on the Interstate and once again on my way home.
Sweet home, Alabama my ass.
The rest of the trip is pretty uneventful, just monotonous droning of the highway under the WS6 suspended TA and me left with my thoughts. I am happy. In about three hours, I will be home with my new TA. It has been a most wonderful adventure and everything that I could have ever imagined, both my time spent traveling and my time spent with this car. I've met a lot of interesting people along the way and had some truly entertaining times.
However, the story just doesn't end there. Oh, no. The continuing adventures of the 1986 Trans Am and myself can be found in The Trans Am Diary. I'm not promising it will be as entertaining as getting her, but it should be noteworthy.