"Drive it on up and let's cruise a while
Leave your troubles far behind
You can hedge your bet on a clean Corvette
To get you there right on time
Now if you're ready to dive into overdrive
Baby, the green lights are on
It's like you're running your brain on some high octane
Every time she reaches fully blown"
- Don Felder - "Heavy Metal (Take A Ride)" -
February 17, 1992
sat there in the driveway, my black leather jacket keeping me warm, my
back against the front bumper of my old black and gold ’79 Pontiac
Trans Am. It wasn’t the most comfortable that I’d ever been in my
life but then I wasn’t looking for comfort; I was looking for
solace. I had been sitting in the driveway like this for a while
now, long enough to have watched the sun come up and turn darkness into
early light ... bright enough to see by.
I was tired.
I was completely exhausted both physically and mentally. I hadn’t
been able to get any sleep last night, there had been too much on my
mind and rather than toss and turn in bed until the sheets had been
rolled off I had decided to just get up, get dressed, go outside and
sit in the cool, quiet darkness of a pre-dawn south Mississippi
suburban morning. I had sat there head lowered, right leg pulled
up and held tight in both my arms, with my chin resting on that knee
and boots on concrete.
Sometimes regretting … maybe more often than not.
kept staring at the covered ’89 Chevy IROC-Z parked further down the
driveway. Despite being a Pontiac man I had fallen in love with
the IROC-Z; white, with black and gold detailing, a two tone tan cloth
interior, all power and T-tops. The IROC-Z just had a bad boy
persona about it that the third generation Pontiac Trans Am
didn’t. While the second generation Trans Am had been all about
tough, the follow up series of cars had tried to become more refined
and in doing so they had lost a lot of their macho image, becoming more
sedate in the process. It had seemed like Pontiac wanted to
sterilize the Trans Am, to turn it from a jeans and T-shirt crowd
favorite and try to sell it to the suit and tie crowd, the same crowd
that preferred Volvos and BMWs at the time and it just wasn’t working.
so with the IROC-Z which wasn’t afraid to shout out its lineage in
large tacky decals and a name that was repeated no less than ten times
on the car, from inside out, as it rolled off the assembly line at the
factory. The new Trans Ams were refined to the point of being
subdued. The IROC-Zs were flamboyant and in-your-face, the pride
and joy of the muscle-shirt, head banging crowd.
I liked that.
personalized tag read BADRNU … “Badder Than You” … a taunt to anyone
who pulled up beside me at a stop light and thought they had something
more than I did. The tag bracket was black with white script
letters which read “NO SUBSTITUTE FOR CUBIC INCHES”, a hint that this
was no ordinary IROC-Z. That much could be easily be ascertained
from looking at her bumper mounted engine callout which proudly read
“5.7 TUNED PORT INJECTION” in black and gold script denoting the fact
that she came from the factory with the optional, larger 230 horsepower
V8 port fuelie engine rather than the standard 5.0 liter TBI V8 or the
optional 5.0 liter TPI V8.
had the dual catalytic converter factory performance setup, engine oil
cooler, heavy duty radiator, dual electric cooling fans, a heavy duty
3.27 geared 9 bolt Borg Warner limited slip differential, four wheel
power disc brakes, large front and rear sway bars, a tight suspension,
quick ratio power steering, 16 x 8 inch aluminum wheels, and sticky
P245/50VR16 Goodyear Eagle rubber all around. She also had the
perfect aggressive stance with just the right amount of rake out front
and tail lift out back however the real joy was when you stomped the
accelerator to the floor and that big two hundred and thirty horsepower
High Output 5.7 liter TPI V8 under the hood got down to business real
quick with no hesitation. For sheer masculine immaturity, there
was nothing quite like lighting up the rear hides at a stop light and
leaving a long strip of rubber and tire smoke behind you and the 5.7
liter TPI motor did that easily. I ran my hand over the hood of
the ’89 IROC-Z, letting my fingers trace and bounce over one of the
black “xylophones” that Chevy had added to the hood design more out of
aesthetics than any real functional need.
years ago, I had gotten my driver’s license and my first car; a red and
black 1978 Chevrolet Camaro Rally Sport. Now, eight years later,
the ’78 Rally Sport was gone and the ’89 IROC-Z was here instead.
The ’78 Rally Sport had been a fast car and I had made her faster by
throwing parts at her but I had ultimately sold her when I found the
’79 Pontiac Trans Am …
I had traded up.
was always trading up, it seemed, in just about everything in my life,
always trading up from something good to something that was
better. I had traded up from the ’78 Rally Sport to the ’79 Trans
Am, and got a much better car in the deal.
’78 Rally Sport had been powered by a 5.7 liter V8 as well … only back
then the engine size was listed in cubic inches rather than cubic
liters … three hundred and fifty cubic inches, one hundred and
eighty-five horsepower, topped with a four barrel Rochester Quadrajet
carburetor and slaved to a TurboHydraMatic THM350 three speed automatic
transmission. Stock power front disc brakes and power rear drums
had worked to stop her from speed but a year after I got her I had
upgraded her to a ten bolt posi rear end with disc brakes, the whole
rear axle salvaged from a wrecked WS6 optioned ’80 Turbo Trans Am that
I had found at Johnson’s salvage across the new bridge in Petal.
eight years of my life separated the time frames between the two
Camaros that I had owned, eleven actual years of technology and an
entire different generation change separated the two Camaros as
well. Compared to what was parked in front of me right now, my
’78 Rally Sport had been a dinosaur, a relic from another era … the
disco / pollution / emissions era when stripes and decal packages were
considered direct substitutes for performance. While they shared
the same size engine, the IROC-Z’s high tech port fuel injection system
was loads better than the Rochester Q-Jet had ever been and while we
were adding up the years and differences in the number game, you could
throw in the fact that, stock for stock, the engine in the IROC-Z was
forty-five horses healthier than the engine under the hood of the ’78
while having twenty more foot-pounds of torque than even the mighty 6.6
liter, four hundred and three cubic inch V8 under the hood of my ’79
Time marched on … for all things.
Technology changed with time.
People changed with time.
Memories were what you were left with when everything and everyone else had long ago moved on.
Memories and dust.
IROC-Z had been a good car, something comfortable to take long road
trips on, something bad ass to cruise around Hattiesburg in on the
weekends and a sledge hammer to pound down Mustangs and uppity imports
with on the street. The heater worked in the winter, the air
conditioning blew ice cold in the summer, she kept me dry on rainy days
and with the windows down and the T-tops off she really was a joy to
make roar across long stretches of Mississippi interstate or two lane
curvy county roads. On a Friday or Saturday night, the big TPI
motored IROC-Z was usually a regular at the local stoplight to
stoplight free-for-alls, hanging out in the parking lot of Cloverleaf
Mall with all the other local gear heads and at some of the chance
meets carried out beyond the city limits; from Oak Grove to Tylertown,
from Hattiesburg to Wiggins, from Petal to Richton, I’d won a fair bit
of money with her, off and on ... money that I had put back into her to
make her faster and stronger.
the hood, I had added dual K&N air filters to the stock air intake
setup, an airfoil in the throttle body, TPIS Fast Pack, adjustable fuel
pressure regulator, March underdrive pulleys, a Hypertech
“Thermomaster” PROM chip, a Hypertech cooler thermostat, a custom
ported intake plenum, AS&M larger intake runners, a TPIS “Big
Mouth” aluminum intake manifold, a B&M street shift kit in the
700R4, B&M torque converter, heavy duty transmission cooler, and a
Flowmaster cat-back system that gave the IROC-Z an authoritative rumble
without being overly loud … until you punched it and stood on the long
skinny pedal for all it was worth.
wasn’t the fastest thing in Hattiesburg but she was as fast or faster
than anything I took her up against on the street. Half of any
race was making sure that when you pulled up to the line that what you
were up against wasn’t more than you could handle.
I had started out with any one gripe with the IROC-Z then it would have
been that the big detuned Corvette L98 engine under the hood was slaved
to a four speed automatic overdrive transmission. If given a
choice, I’d always take a stick over an automatic but GM wasn’t going
to put a stick behind the L98 in an F-body … emissions was the cause
listed in that argument but the real reason was that the Borg Warner
five speed transmission found behind the smaller LB9 5.0 liter High
Output TPI engine just wasn’t strong enough to handle the torque of the
larger 5.7 liter High Output TPI engine and it would have been too
expensive to offer the Doug Nash 4+3 speed manual found in the Corvette
in the F-body line as well. The end result was that if you
ordered the larger TPI engine you were stuck with slaving it to the
optional TurboHydraMatic 700R4 four speed automatic overdrive
transmission (though the irony was that even though the 700R4 was
listed as an “option” for the IROC-Z it was required if you took the
optional 5.7 liter TPI engine therefore you had to both purchase the
larger motor and the optional transmission to go with it. Extra
cost all around. Go, GM!).
to manually power shift the bigger motored IROC-Z through each gear was
an exercise in futility … Whenever you wanted to race the IROC-Z, it
was simply best to leave the transmission in OD or slip it back into
third gear and let the transmission shift by itself. This was
because whoever had designed the shifter for the third gen F-body had
either been an idiot or an ex-garbage truck driver. The stock
console mounted shifter assembly for the third generation F-body issued
700R4 automatic overdrive transmission was the biggest, most
ineffective piece of factory junk ever put in a contemporary sports car
and passed off as a “shifter” to the faithful performance minded
followers of the breed. The factory installed Hurst slap-stick
based automatic shifter found in my 1979 Trans Am had been by and far a
lot better design that I wish had made the jump from second to third
generation of F-body. I could have gotten a B&M “Megashifter”
for it and even though I liked the looks of the “Megashifter” I thought
it gave up too much of the sleeper effect of the IROC-Z in the process
of replacing the stock shifter assembly.
detuned L98 was itself packaged under the RPO code B2L and because GM
didn’t want any other car to be as powerful as the Chevrolet Corvette,
the L98 came with cast iron heads (as opposed to the Corvette’s
aluminum D-port heads) which added to the weight of the engine (and the
IROC-Z). The detuned L98 also came with cast iron exhaust
manifolds that were less efficient than the tubular exhaust manifolds
found on the Corvette. The way that the engines were mounted in
the F-body prevented someone from swapping out the exhaust manifolds
since the Corvette’s more efficient design simply wouldn’t fit.
owned the white IROC-Z for about a year now, since the early spring of
’91 when I first saw it sitting on the same used car lot that I had
bought my ’79 black and gold Pontiac Trans Am from nearly six years
earlier. The ’89 IROC-Z had been a beautiful car, full of power
and performance … top of the line in options and a real looker on the
street. I had bought it because my ’79 Trans Am was starting to
go downhill, fast, and would need to be restored before it reached the
glory that it had once held five years ago. Katrice and I had
become a serious couple and I wanted something nice to take her around
in … nice being more modern but with enough power and looks to get the
job done. The IROC-Z seemed to fit the bill and Katrice had liked
the ’89 IROC-Z … she had liked it much better than my ’79 Trans Am.
kept staring at the covered ’89 Chevy IROC-Z parked further down the
driveway. At one time the machine had stirred my soul but now not
even it could make me feel anything other than the strange emptiness
that I felt inside right now.
reached into my leather jacket, the inside pocket and took out the
carefully folded piece of once cherished paper. It was a personal
letter written to me by the one woman that I had pledged my love and
utter devotion to. I carefully unfolded the letter and looked at
her cursive words in blue ink on regular lined, three hole notebook
paper stock. She had left it for me, folded, on the windshield of
my ’89 IROC-Z two weeks ago while I was at work and I had kept it with
me ever since. I had folded the letter into a small square, four
folds, so that it could be carried in my wallet where ever I
went. While all of her letters had been full of life-long
promises of her devotion and undying love to me, this one was the most
special to me, it was by and far my favorite letter that she had ever
written to me. It wasn’t so much a letter as I considered it more
of a promise of things to come, of her saying “yes” before I even asked
her to spend the rest of our lives together, of her begging me to ask
her for what we knew that we both wanted, for what we were both looking
forward to with waiting breath.
My throat was dry as dust.
held the letter out in front of me as I took a long drink from my 32
ounce Junior Food Mart “Mega Mug”, home brewed sweet tea on ice … as
cold as the early morning air. I had read the letter again and
again, like if I read it a certain number of times that everything that
she had said would come true, that time would reverse itself or that a
wormhole would open leading back into the normal universe where
everything would again make sense in my life.
I read the letter again for the …
lost track of how many times in the past week that I’d read this one
particular letter over and over again, trying to figure out what had
gone wrong, when it had gone wrong, and why it had gone wrong but try
as I might, I just couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t figure out
what had happened. I couldn’t make sense of it all because none
of it made any sense. I took another swallow of sweet tea and
read the letter silently, carefully, looking at each word and trying to
see if I had missed something. I looked at the underlined words
because she had wanted to show that they should be emphasized in
I love you more than anything in the world. You are my everything!
I am so happy with you and I hope we spend the rest of our lives together.
Don’t be scared of growing old – we’ll be together and we’ll always be young when we’re with each other.
you has been the most fun that I’ve ever had. No one has ever
made me feel like such a lady. I’ve always wanted a gentleman, my
Kappa Alpha Southern gentleman. And you love cats, too! I
can’t ask for more.
you has opened doorways in my mind that I never knew existed. I
hope that in our life together we will have many exciting pathways to
explore. I can say from experience that life with you will be the
most exciting and thrilling relationship any woman could ever hope and
Christopher Todd Shields … you are the man of my dreams. I love you, I love you, I love you … forever and ever.
at the end of the letter, was a big heart with a smiley face drawn
inside of it. An arrow pointed to the heart and the caption read
“My happy heart: bursting with LOVE.” She was like that, a
girlish outlook on love because romance had been scarce in her life and
everything that she wrote to me always had some kind of doodle or
drawing on it, an outpouring of her happiness at the lavish attention
which I poured over her.
took another drink of sweet tea and looked at the letter, turning it
back and forth in front of me; this was getting me nowhere. I was
spinning my wheels, no traction, and if I didn’t get out of the hole
soon the day was going to be wasted … and after having wasted eighteen
months of my life I really didn’t feel like wasting another day.
It was so easy to sit here, lost in my memories of her but self-pity
was a trap that I recognized and wisely chose to avoid. I put the
Mega Mug down on the driveway next to me hard enough to slosh the ice
and tea inside, folded the letter back up, four folds, and stuck the
letter back inside my jacket’s inner pocket … next to my heart.
was no magic left in the letter. Her handwriting was just useless
scribbles on an old piece of torn out spiral bound notebook paper … the
words weren’t worth the time it had taken to think them up let alone
the ink it had taken to write them down. Love was never a
contract between two people, no matter how many promises were made by
one person to the other. Love was only as strong as the weakest
person in the relationship and I guess in our relationship Katrice
hadn’t been as strong as she had always promised me that she would
be. In the end, she hadn’t been able to live up to the promises
that she had made so often, she hadn’t been able to keep all those
pledges of devotion that she had conscribed to paper and left behind
for me to find in her wake through my life.
… I better get this over with. Sitting here isn't going to
accomplish anything.” I said to myself, trying to stand and having to
use the front bumper of the ’79 Trans Am to help me up. My legs
felt weak under me; I don’t know if it was the situation I was facing
or the fact that I had sat on them for so long. The old Pontiac
groaned with worn out front springs, tired shocks and hard age as I put
my full weight on it, pushed myself up and stood, working the soreness
out of my legs from having sat there in that one position for almost …
I looked at my Timex Diver to compare the amount of time that had passed and did some simple math. 4:18 AM to 7:12 AM.
Almost three hours. I had wasted three hours lost in thought and
memories but then what was three hours time compared to losing eighteen
months of your life.
A drop in the bucket.
walked over to the white ’89 IROC-Z and pulled the dew dampened cover
off the Chevy, wadding it up and dropping it in a heap beside me.
once I had loved the IROC-Z but now I couldn’t stand the IROC-Z
anymore. Now I just wanted it gone and the sooner the
better. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the IROC-Z
itself. There wasn’t any fault at all with the top of the line
Camaro or its outstanding all aspect performance. No. There
were just too many memories associated with the IROC-Z … too many good
memories that had now turned suddenly, forever bitter and painful. The
truth was that I didn’t enjoy the IROC-Z anymore because every time
that I drove the car I couldn’t stop thinking about Katrice. Her
lingering memory was tainting everything special that I had ever chosen
to share with her.
Quit beating yourself up, I told myself.
She’s gone and it’s over.
need to get on with your life because I promise you that she’s getting
on with her life right now. Hell, she didn’t think twice about
you when she called it quits so you shouldn’t be thinking twice about
her now. You gave her one chance; you told her up front starting
out that she had only one chance with you and that if she ever blew it
there wouldn’t be a second chance because that was it. Well, she
blew it. That’s not your problem or your fault … it was her
choice; forget her and move on with your life. Life’s too short
to ever give anyone more than one chance.
don’t know how long I stood there staring at the IROC-Z but it was long
enough to realize that there was no way to avoid the trip I was about
to start out on. With a stoic’s resolve, I accepted what had to
be done and resigned myself to doing it, picking up the damp car cover
wadded up at my feet and taking it back to my ’79 Trans Am where I
unceremoniously left it on the hood of the Pontiac. I took a long
drink of sweet tea from my Mega-Mug, tossed the IROC’s keys
nonchalantly in the air and caught them again in my hand.
It was time to get on the road.
It was time to get on with my life.
was 7:28 AM according to my Timex Diver but that meant nothing to me
other than the fact that I needed to be where I was going soon and I
had only a little over an hour and a half to get there. I went
through the motions of removing the T-tops from the IROC-Z, storing
them in their protective zippered bag in the rear cargo well and
lowering the rear hatch, dropping it gently, letting the power assist
grab and lock it.
was going to be a long drive down to Gulfport … a damn long drive and
stalling wasn’t going to accomplish anything. Fate and Chance
both detested people who dragged their feet, of that I was thoroughly
convinced. I pulled my leather driving gloves on and turned the
key in the ignition. The big port fuel injected V8 under the hood
rumbled to computer controlled life and I shifted the 700R4 into
Reverse, backing the open IROC-Z out of the driveway before slowly
driving away. I watched my house, the driveway and my old Pontiac
recede in the rear view mirror.
How many times had I made this trip before?
as a commodity, as a point of reference, had pretty much become
meaningless to me in the past eight days … time had simply stopped
having any significance at all in my life. What difference did an
hour and a half or three hours make when eighteen months of your life
had just been wasted? Oh, there were points in time when I ate or
slept or worked or went to class but between those points, those still
defined and definable points, the rest of my time, the rest of my life
had all merged and flowed together like runoff storm water in a
My life was in fugue.
7:39 AM my Timex Diver read. It was matched in display by the digital clock of the Delco Bose AM/FM stereo in the dash.
time should have meant something to me but it didn’t. It was
Monday morning. It should have been a Monday morning like any
other but it wasn’t. No, it should have been a Monday morning
like no other in my life only this Monday should have been the happiest
Monday in my life. I should be happy but I wasn’t. No, I
should be ecstatic, walking on air, the happiest, luckiest guy in the
world but I wasn’t and I still didn’t know how it had all
happened. Blindsided … a TKO … a cheap shot in the dark, a knee
to the groin and a sucker punch from behind, all rolled into one;
that’s what she had given me and she hadn’t even had the courage to do
it in person …
should be riding my ’84 Honda VF500F V-four Interceptor to my first
morning class, my first class of the busy school week at the University
of Southern Mississippi. I should be looking forward to spring
break in Florida, the last one of my college days, spent with the woman
that I was going to spend the rest of my life with after
graduation. I should be happy that I had just the remainder of
this semester and then the short summer semester before graduation from
college; my right of passage into the real world and a far better
income than I was making at the two part-time jobs that I currently
held down between classes and what I could make on the streets hustling
losers and retards for all that they were worth.
should be bragging right now to all my classmates, my head should be
swelled up so big with pride and happiness that my Bell motorcycle
helmet wouldn’t fit at all. I should be helping to start planning
a beautiful early fall wedding to Katrice. I should be helping
Katrice plan the most special day of her entire life, a day that she
had been waiting all her life on, a wedding that she would have just
found out about three days ago on Valentine’s Day when I had planned on
dropping to bent knee and proposing to her ...
and I would be graduating together in August; me with a BS degree in
Business Administration and her with a Masters in Library
Science. She was going to be a children’s librarian … she was
always good with children, a fact that had endeared me to her in the
hopes that the children we would have one day would have one hell of a
neat mother to help them grow up. Katrice and I should be
graduating together in August, starting our new jobs and starting to
spend our lives together, the rest of our lives together … but that
wasn’t going to happen now.
should be doing a lot of things today … I should be doing a lot of
things other than having to drive down to Gulfport and do what I was
having to drive down there to do.
I hit Highway 49 south and brought the big motored IROC-Z rumbling up
to speed I kept playing the past couple of months of my life over and
over in my mind … the last few weeks even more so. My mind was a
whirlwind of thoughts mixed with what-ifs and how-dids. How did
an eighteen month long relationship with no problems suddenly end
without warning, without any indication that anything was going
wrong? How did someone who promised their undying devotion and
endless love suddenly decide that it was over? How did you go
from “I love you with all my heart and soul” on Friday night to “It’s
over” on Sunday afternoon?
Hell if I knew.
pushed the temperature slide all the way over into the red, set the
output discharge for the dash vents and kicked the blower speed to
max. The rumble of the fan in the dash added to the rumble of the
motor under the hood and merged with the howl of the wind around
me. It took some of the bite out of the wind whipping at me from
all sides and from above. So far, it was the start of what would
be one hell of a long drive from Hattiesburg down to Gulfport; a long
silent, moody, early morning drive if ever there was one and probably
one of the longest and hardest drives that I had ever made in my
life. It was going to be a moody drive because I would be lost in
my own troubled thoughts most of the way; it would be a mostly silent
drive because I didn’t really feel like listening to the radio or the
tape player … too many songs to usher forth now painful memories.
It was going to be a hard drive because part of my life, a very
important part of my life, was ending, officially ending, this very
morning and it would be me who would be doing the ending of that
particular part of my life.
The passenger side seat belt was drawn and buckled.
and cassingles, both packaged and loose, were scattered across the
passenger side seat, within easy reach but undisturbed. The only
music that had played for me at all so far this trip had been the roar
of the cool morning air through the open T-tops, the lowered windows
and the constant throaty rumble of the big port fuel injected small
block V8 under the hood. My left gloved hand gripped the steering
wheel while my right gloved hand gripped the console mounted gear
shifter like it was the joystick of an F-15 fighter. My thumb
kept pushing down the gear selector button then sliding off the side to
let the button’s return spring snap it back to position … click … click
… click. If this bothered the four speed 700R4 automatic
overdrive transmission, it didn’t complain.
needle on the speedometer hovered just a tick over the seventy miles an
hour mark, a little less than halfway across the full spread of the
gage and held there rock steady in cruise. The larger TPI engine
powered IROC-Z was good for a little over 150 plus miles an hour on the
top end and I had personally been witness to the act of burying this
particular’s IROC-Z’s 145 mile per hour speedometer needle to the far
right of the gage on several occasions on the lonely two lane back
roads of Madison county, with the help of the accelerator being pushed
flat to the floor and held there for all it was worth. The last
time that I had done that, the last time that I had buried the needle
on the speedometer all the way up and to the right of the gage it had
been racing the IROC-Z on a two lane backwoods blacktop, speeding into
a beautiful Mississippi late fall sunset, the landscape spread out over
seamless farm land flat as far as you could see. No fences.
No cows. Nothing. I had been trying to make up for getting
a late start from Hattiesburg … I had been on my way to see ...
her … at her parents’ house where she had been staying during the
I took another long drink of tea.
was only a little over an hour away from Hattiesburg and I was making
good time. However, unlike my many past trips to Gulfport, this
trip wasn’t for pleasure nor would there be anything at all pleasurable
about it. There would be nobody that I loved waiting on me with
open arms and wet, anxious lips when I got to her apartment.
There would be no catching up of lives, no endless hours of talking and
snuggling, no sharing of bodies or exploring the endless points of
interest on the Gulf Coast at our leisure. There would be no lazy
afternoon, no nap with her asleep in my arms, her head resting on my
chest. There was a heavy pressure on me, a foreboding weight
which I couldn’t shake, a feeling which pushed me down, wore my
normally indomitable spirit away, and tried to crush me, smothering me
under its constant blanket of grim reality. I felt squashed,
confined, like the condemned being led to their fate … a fate not of
their choosing but one forced upon them suddenly, unfairly and unjustly.
memory rode shotgun with me on that trip, just as real and tangible as
any ghost, despite all the ways I tried to exercise her away and cast
out her lingering presence. There were just too many memories of
her, memories with her, which were associated with this car. The
passenger seat where the cassettes lay scattered, that had been her
Her now empty seat.
buckled seat belt was a mute testimony to the empty space that her warm
body had once happily occupied. Katrice and I had gone on so many
trips in this IROC-Z together … long trips … overnight trips to
Mississippi State’s campus in Starkville where she had graduated two
years ago with her BS degree, down to New Orleans where we had
breakfast at Café Du Monde on the river walk; fresh beignets and
steaming hot coffee with milk. We had parked the IROC-Z and
roamed the French Quarter, Jackson Square, the World Trade Center and
the river front shops along the River Walk beside the mighty
Mississippi River and its churning, fowl smelling green waters.
She and I had walked, hand in hand, through the shops as the setting
sun through the glass panels in the roof had stretched our shadows.
remember that after dinner at a river front restaurant, Katrice had
purchased a bunch of sexy black lingerie at Victoria’s Secret in the
river front mall and modeled it for me there in the dressing room …
prancing and posing for me like she was my own personal magazine
centerfold … cutting her eyes and getting catty. I remember that,
on the way back home that night, on the long drive from New Orleans
back to Hattiesburg, Katrice had taken her clothes off and changed into
her new black lacy stockings, black panties and black bra, right there
in the passenger seat of the IROC-Z. It had been everything that
I could do to keep my eyes on the road while she did that and she knew
it. She had worn the lingerie most of the way home that night
while I drove … she had teased me from the passenger seat, rubbing her
silky stocking clad feet up and down against my arm, my chest, the side
of my face … softly rubbing, taunting me with the promise of what was
to come later that night when we finally got back to her place.
She nibbled my ear, whispered things to me that drove me wild, all the
while laughing when I didn’t keep the IROC-Z going in a straight line
or chastising me with a quick retreat and a slow wag of her finger when
I reached for her to bring her closer.
sat in that seat, next to me, our hands held and our fingers
interlaced, across the center console as we had cruised the beach along
the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the placid lake at Paul B. Johnson state
park with the tops off and the windows down … the smells of spring, of
honeysuckle blooming, and of summer rains freshly fallen. Her
laughter had once filled the interior of this IROC-Z … her constant
promises of her boundless love for me, of her never wavering
faithfulness, of her endless willingness to be with me for the rest of
our lives and how happy she was to be here with me … just as the
memories of her now haunted that same quiet, empty volume of space.
only Katrice’s memory remained to remind me of a future that would
never be, of a past that was as broken as her many promises. Even
though I couldn’t see it, I could feel Katrice’s presence … over there,
in the passenger seat, smiling, her long brown hair blowing in the
wind, the sunlight reflecting gold off of the metal rim of her
eyeglasses. Katrice’s presence wasn’t smiling because we were
together, no, Katrice’s presence was smiling because she was somewhere
else, with someone else, moving on with her life and here I was,
roaring down Highway 49 south in the IROC-Z, taking a day off from my
college classes to try to pick up some of the bigger pieces of my life
that she had so callously smashed and discarded at whim.
took a sip of home brewed sweet tea to soothe my raw feeling
throat. I felt like imploding but I couldn’t find a release; you
get that way when you’re knee deep in bad memories and drowning
yourself in the past, dashing yourself against the sharp rocks of “what
might have been.” I slid the mug back into the space between the
power cloth driver’s seat and the door then stared at the seemingly
endless road ahead. It was a road that had taken me to Katrice on
many times, now it was taking me to the final act of our failed
relationship. Pine trees flashed by on each side and the smell of
dew burning off in the morning sun was strong. The cold air
whipped at my leather jacket, buffeting around my head in its own
“Dust.” I said to myself, flatly.
months of my life and every single thing in it had instantly been
turned to dust. Everything was dust now; my hopes, my dreams, my
expectations … my belief in Katrice, my respect for Katrice, and my
trust in Katrice. All of her words …. All of her promises …
The sincerity of her devotion.
won’t hurt you.” She had told me when I had dragged my feet warming to
her advances all those many months ago. “I know you’ve been hurt
before but I’m not like those other girls. You can trust
me. I won’t hurt you, ever.”
just like all the other girls that I had dated with the only exception
being that she had hurt me a great deal more than anyone else ever
had. She had betrayed my trust in ways I could never have
imagined her doing.
“I’m not like all the others.” She had told me and she had been correct.
It was all dust now and I was left with nothing to do but shake that dust off and move on with my life.
Marina Auto Sales
was squatting on my boot heels at the front door of Marina Auto Sales
in Gulfport at 9am when Sam, the business owner, arrived and opened the
used car dealership for business. Sam was ex-merchant marine,
tough as convenience store beef jerky, had a fondness for classic
American cars from the 1950’s and could drink his own weight in
coffee. His voice sounded like granite rocks sliding together
with only thick mucus to lubricate them.
knew Sam through Flynn and both of them went back a long time, well
into the early 1970’s and the sunset of the real muscle cars. But
Sam was older than even Flynn, by several years maybe even a decade (or
two), and when Sam had gotten tired of swinging wrenches and hoarding
parts, when Sam had bought the old service station turned beach front
night club now turned premier used car dealership, he had sold his
parts to Flynn, hustled a few old muscle cars off on him as well and
called it quits. After that, the friendship had waned over the
years, never dying but with the two old friends not seeing each other
except a few times a year when their paths crossed as they occasionally
did the friendship remained tepid at best.
I had mentioned to Flynn that I had wanted to buy Katrice a used Mazda
Miata as an engagement present, to buy her a car that was far nicer
than the POS white four door 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that she
had been driving for the last five years of her life, to show her how
serious I was that I loved her, to show her how committed I was to our
relationship and to show her how serious I was when I asked her to be
my wife for the rest of my life, it had been Flynn who had sent me to
Sam. Flynn had been on the coast scrounging for parts and had
stopped by Sam’s for a visit when he saw the little red Mazda Miata in
the front show room. Knowing that I was looking for a red Miata
for Katrice, Flynn told me about the Miata and suggested that I give
Sam a visit.
That was two weeks ago …
wondered where you were. When you didn’t show to pick up the
Miata last week, I kind of got worried about you, son … and your
“I’m here.” I said flatly.
“You sure?” Sam asked me, looking me up and down. “You don’t sound so sure.”
“Yeah. I’m sure.”
Sam looked out at the IROC-Z.
sure is a pretty car you keep bringing down here. I like the
white on tan and the gold and black stripes. That’s just
classy. I bet she’ll run! .” Sam asked, looking over where
I had parked in front of his business.
A monosyllabic grunt matched to a shrug of my shoulders was my reply.
“Woo-wee! That fast, huh?” Sam asked, not phased at all by my gloomy disposition.
“What’s Chuckles up to today?” he asked.
was Sam’s nickname for Flynn. The first time I heard Sam call
Flynn that I had laughed, out loud, but I knew it was a private
nickname and Flynn would kill me if I ever tried to call him
that. Sam, on the other hand, being bigger and older than Flynn,
could get away with it no problem.
“Not sure. Haven’t talked to him today. Might see him tomorrow.”
grunted. I followed him quietly into the dark show room where the
shiny, red 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata five speed convertible was parked on
the black and white checkered tile showroom floor. My heart
skipped a beat when I saw the Miata … I remembered what it stood for …
or what it had stood for just one short, hectic week ago and I had to
remind myself to breathe.
hell. I’ve seen that look a hundred times before, maybe
more.” Sam said, pausing only shortly to look me over as he went
through the small dealership, opening doors, starting the coffee pot
brewing and turning on lights for the day’s business.
when you didn’t show up last week I figured something like this had
happened. You don’t want the Miata anymore, do you?” Sam asked
me, seeing how I was staring at the little convertible Mazda.
I didn’t answer, Sam looked up at me. I shook my head slowly from
side to side and Sam nodded in an understanding manner.
“I figured as much. You got a good reason for backing out of our deal or is it any of my damn business?” he asked.
I sighed, chose my words for brevity.
“A surprise is no good if you don’t have anyone left to give it to.” I said flatly.
nodded quietly as I walked around the Miata, looking at it, running my
hand over the flanks of the little Mazda as I passed.
“Reckon that’s more so than not.” The old man replied.
little convertible was supposed to be an engagement surprise for
Katrice. I had bought Katrice an engagement ring and I had
arranged to buy the red Mazda MX-5 Miata for her as a one-two knockout
way to ask her to marry me … and I was going to propose to her on
bended knee, Friday, February 14th, Valentine’s Day 1992. Now, I
was three days past Valentine’s Day and instead of coming off of a
euphoric rush of emotions and happiness, instead of knowing that I was
going to marry the woman I loved I was instead picking up the pieces of
a shattered dream and plowing ahead with my life … on my own.
see, the way I had it planned, the Miata would have been something that
would have brought tears to her naturally romantic heart, it would have
been something that took her breath away for the moment and it would
have been something remained a memory that she would have treasured for
the rest of her natural life. It certainly would have been a step
up from that old piece of crap four door late 1970’s white Oldsmobile
that she had been driving since she was a teenager and her slight build
would have fit right inside the compact Miata. I had often
imagined her long brunette hair flying in the wind as she drove along
the Gulf coast with the top down and the sun bathing her in its
warmth. She had always wanted a convertible with a manual
transmission and this was going to be her dream car.
had talked about it enough. Every time we saw a Miata on campus
or in traffic, she had stared at it and made some comment or other
about how she liked the little convertible and really wish that she had
But Katrice wasn’t with me anymore … and now the Miata was as useless to me as lugnuts on a waffle.
February 9th, after eighteen months together, instead of driving up
from Long Beach to Hattiesburg to see me, she had instead called me up
to tell me “It’s over.”
only two words to me … her last two words to me and then she had hung
up on me. She had taken the coward’s way out, keeping distance
between us. After eighteen months of endless now empty promises
she couldn’t even look me in the face and tell me that what we had was
gone and that it was by her choice.
months of my life … wasted. Eighteen months of putting Katrice on
a pedestal and worshipping her … wasted with just a phone call, two
simple words from her lips, “It’s over”, followed by a dial tone.
Eight days later ...
days later, I was refunding and erasing all of my commitments to
Katrice, one at a time, and finding that the road that I had worked so
hard to pave with gold, a road that I had hoped would lead towards
Katrice and I being happy together for the rest of our lives was just
another dead end. Katrice, contrary to her promise to me, really
had turned out to be just like all the others before her.
I had thought that she was special; she wasn’t.
I had thought that she was different than all the other women that had come before her; she hadn’t been.
I had thought that I could trust her; I couldn’t.
had thought that what she had told me was the truth, straight from her
heart and that she had meant every word of it; all of her promises were
really had thought that Katrice was special; I really had thought that
she was different, that she was the one that I would finally settle
down with and spend the rest of my life loving and taking care
of. I thought she was the one that I would start a family with
and share the wonders and mysteries of life with throughout the years
that we could call our own. I thought that she would be the one
that I would have beside me through all the adventures that I felt were
surely to come my way.
But she wasn’t and she wouldn’t be.
had really wanted to believe that Katrice was different and I had to
admit that she had fooled me for over a year and a half now. In
hindsight, I wasn’t really mad at her for being what she was … even
now. She couldn’t help being who and what she was. No, I
was mad at myself for ever having been fool enough to believe her silly
lies in the first place. I was mad at myself for letting down my
guard, for trusting something that inherently could never be, should
never be trusted. I was mad at myself for wanting something so
simple yet so far out of reach for someone like me that I actually
thought I might be close to getting what I had always hoped and prayed
In the end, the only person that had been fooled was me.
again, I vowed to myself, closing my eyes and squeezing my hands at my
sides into fists hard enough to make the leather of my driving gloves
strain, creaking and protesting against the act. I squeezed so
hard that I thought the stitching might pop at the seams.
again would I be standing here in a situation like this, taking
valuable time out from my life, from my busy schedule to pick up all
the pieces of the dreams that I had once cherished and hoped for,
dreams that I had shared and dreams that someone else had decided to
grind into dust with two simple words.
don’t know how long I stood there, staring at the Miata, wallowing in
the empty promise of what would never be, rewinding my memories,
playing “what-if”, imagining the look of joy on her face when I handed
Katrice an engagement ring and she found a set of keys to the little
red Mazda attached to the key chain …
It was all dust now.
the dry stuff you find on old things that have been abandoned, old
things that aren’t loved any more, that aren’t remembered any more,
aren’t appreciated any more, and are abandoned.
All my hopes and dreams had turned to memories and those memories were rapidly decaying into nothing more than … dust.
thought back to this past Saturday when I had driven down to pick up my
stuff at her apartment. It the last time that Katrice and I had
spoken. It didn’t take long for me to get my stuff, she had
it all boxed up and ready to go. I didn’t stay around, talking
was pointless and useless at this stage of the failed
relationship. Actions spoke louder than words and no matter how
many times she told me that she would love me forever, that she would
never leave me here I now stood, without her beside me … a choice that
she had willingly made without even so much as talking it over between
us. In the end, she hadn’t even had the guts to tell me in person
… she had hidden behind a phone and long distance to deliver the end of
our relationship … just five short days before I was going to ask her
to be with me forever, to live up to all the promises that she had made
wasted her one chance with me and that was all I was giving her … that
was all I was ever going to give anyone. Ever. I wished
Katrice well and hoped she would have a good life because I knew, deep
in my heart, that I would not be a part of her life and with that
knowledge came a certain kind of easy peace.
Layer upon layer.
Undisturbed and forgotten.
Sam cleared his throat and arched an eyebrow at me, yanking me back to the present.
“A Miata ain’t no kind of car for a man, son.” Sam said.
I looked up at him, coming out of my own thoughts, shaking away the dust that had settled there.
probably going to ask me to give you a refund on your deposit and to
tear up the loan application on the Mazda … which got approved last
week, I might add. That Miata is yours … that is if you still
want that silly little pregnant roller skate.”
took one last look at the red compact Miata and closed my eyes
again. Even the Miata was dust now … Buying the little
convertible import wouldn’t bring Katrice back, that part of my life
was gone now, closed off forever by her own choice and there was no
room for reconciliation. When we had first started dating,
eighteen months ago, when I had agreed to get serious with Katrice
against my better judgment, when I had finally given in to her constant
advances, I had told her up front that she only had one chance and that
if she ever blew that chance … if she ever cheated on me, lied to me or
left me for someone else that there would be no second chance.
was too short to give second chances to people that you had first given
your heart and soul to. Life was too short to make someone a
priority in your life when they, in turn, thought of you as little more
than an option in their own life.
Katrice was gone for good, forever, even if she wanted to come back,
even if she came back knee walking with hands clasped in pleading and
the tear fountains going full gush. I wasn’t going through all of
this trouble and emotional misery just to have her waltz back into my
life in a few weeks and say “Oops! I’m sorry! I made a
mistake! Please take me back because I realize now that you’re
much better for me than the guy I left you for!”
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
“No.” I said out loud. “No, I’ve got no real use for it anymore.”
think so.” Sam said. “Tell you what. Normally I don’t like
to give back money when I’ve got a car sold … It’s just business, you
understand? But your situation isn’t something that’s
normal. You’re good for it, you put your heart into it, no fault
of yours that the girl you had eyes for turned out the way she
did. She with someone else?”
“Yeah.” I muttered.
got some pain there, plain to see, but that will go away with time and
in less time than you think if I read the kind of soul you have.
If she’s with someone else then they deserve each other.” Sam said.
walked into his office and rummaged around in his desk drawer. I
waited as he searched through his collection of keys, found the set he
was looking for, and walked back over to where I was standing.
dangled the keys in front of me. Late model GM, square and round
design, with the black plastic protective coating. Factory
originals. My eyes caught the small black and silver electronic
diode in the shank of the ignition key. PASSKEY. Anti-theft
system on GM’s various sports cars … the high end models … just like my
IROC-Z. I dug my own set of keys out of my pocket, held them up
next to the set he was holding. They were almost identical.
“No thanks.” I said. “I’ve already got a set just like that.”
“Oh no, son. You don’t have a set of speed sticks like this.”
looked at the two sets of keys that we were holding up against each
other. Except for the teeth on the keys, they were identical but
Sam might just be holding the keys to something … interesting. If
nothing else, he definitely had my attention. I put my own set of
keys back in my pocket.
“Show me.” I said.
I was saying … a Miata just isn’t any kind of car for a man. No
kind of car for a man at all. Hell, you’re … how tall?”
“Five twelve.” I said.
gave me a smart ass look and continued on without missing a beat.
“You’re six foot tall. I doubt you’d even fit that thing and it’s got a
motor that pulls like there’s three gerbils under the hood and two of
them gerbils are too busy jacking each other off to take up the extra
slack. And what the hell does Miata stand for anyway? I
mean, what does it really stand for? Tell me that.”
I thought for a moment, came up with an acronym and threw it out at Sam.
“I think it stands for Moron In A Tiny Automobile.” I said.
Sam busted out laughing.
“Moron in a tiny automobile! M. I. A. T. A. Moron in a tiny automobile! Haw! I love it!”
It took about a minute for Sam to compose himself.
that silly little half top soda can. Come with me. I got
something in last Monday that I think you’re going to really like.” Sam
said, dangling the set of GM keys again for emphasis.
Sam stopped, put his finger to his lip and thought, furrowing his brow.
You’re not going to really like what I’m about to show you …
nope. You’re going to love what I’m about to show you.”
took one last, stoic look at the Miata and followed Sam to the door
that lead to another indoor showroom, an old service bay that Sam had
tiled, paneled, and decorated with classic car, garage and dealership
memorabilia from the 1950’s and 1960’s. The room was dark and I
waited by the door as Sam fumbled around for the light switch,
cursing. I heard him knock over a display of something and emit a
stream of rather basic but still heartfelt profanity. I turned
around, my back to the show room, looking at all of the old car ads
framed and mounted on the wall … most from before I had even been born.
heard the soft snap of a light switch behind me and I slowly turned as
the shop fluorescent panels hummed to life, flickering, pulsing and
finally casting their light.
And there she was …
Red with tan leather interior … a fourth generation Chevrolet Corvette.
smoke colored targa roof, was stored in the rear locks under the
massive rear glass hatch window. I squatted down on my boot heels
again and stared at her, only fifteen feet, more or less, separated us
but I could tell that she was special … oh, so special. No run of
the mill diva, no showy princess, this Corvette was loaded and serious …
She had an almost visible aura to her, a glow, there under the fluorescent lights.
parents owned a highly modified 1979 Corvette and had since 1987 so I
was more than a little familiar with the Corvette lineage especially
the current generation. I had followed the development of the
fourth generation Corvette since its introduction in 1984. I had turned
15 years old and my driver’s license was brand new … so was the fourth
generation Corvette. The fourth generation Corvette was an
amazing thing and the changes it had gone through since 1984 were
nothing short of the kind of mouth watering mechanical evolution that
any gear head could be proud of.
had even thought of buying a nice used fourth gen Corvette myself,
something like a 1986 or 1987, to replace the ’89 IROC-Z. I
wanted a powerful, two seater, two door coupe to spend time with
Katrice in. Katrice and I had test driven a few used fourth gen
Vettes in the last six months and she knew that I wanted a contemporary
Corvette, wanted one bad and not just any old fourth gen Vette … I
wanted a Z51 with a stick in it. I was so tired of crappy GM
automatics … I wanted to row through the gears with my foot flat to the
floor and the engine screaming. I wanted three pedals at my feet,
not just two.
I couldn’t afford a fourth generation Corvette … not even a used one …
not if I wanted to have the money to buy Katrice an engagement ring and
the Mazda Miata of her dreams. Her happiness came before mine; it
always had. It was one of the hardest secrets I had ever tried to
keep from her … me driving the used Corvettes that we looked at and
wanting one more than anything but knowing that the only way I could
afford a Corvette was to dip so deep into my personal savings that I
would have nothing left to buy Katrice a new car or an engagement ring.
Katrice was gone and here I was, staring at a beautiful fourth
generation Corvette. Sam, always a master businessman, turned on
the full sized jukebox set against the wall, put his finger to his
lips, looked over the selections, then used the same finger to stab in
an entry and after a slight pause, some classic rock and roll music
started playing. I immediately recognized the opening notes of
“Just once in my life” by The Righteous Brothers. Sam stood
against the jukebox as the first part of the song played and when the
chorus started, he slowly danced across the tiled showroom floor, hands
outstretched, pointing at the red Corvette and singing in his gravely
baby, baby just once in my life let me get what I want … Girl, don’t
let me down. Just once in my life let me hold on to the good
thing I’ve found, don’t let me down … baby, say that you’ll be stayin’
ended his little song and dance review at the side of the red Corvette,
arms extended to present the car to me like a hand model on some
television shopping network. I rubbed three days worth of rough
stubble and stared at her. I stood stared at her and she stared
right back … eye to eye. Sam walked over and stood next to me,
putting a huge arm around me in a fatherly embrace and hugging me a
at first sight.” He said softly. “Now that’s a real car for a
man. Sex on wheels … Lipstick at speed. She. She is
the American dream. She is electric red lightning.”
held out my hand and without another word he dropped the keys into my
gloved palm. His smile was contagious despite my ill mood and,
God help me, I smiled as well … for the first time in I don’t know how
“Go on! She’s waiting!” Sam ordered, laughing, letting me go and then shooing me over towards the parked Corvette.
opened the driver’s side door of the Vette, fell down into her, pulled
my legs over inside and leaned back in the leather wrapped form fitting
seats. The thick side bolsters immediately felt like the Vette
was hugging me.
She smelled new.
She smelled like oiled leather and endless possibilities.
She smelled like the rest of my life starting now.
I looked around the interior of the Corvette … the lines, the curves.
never sat in here, had never sat in the passenger seat … had never sat
in this Corvette … ever. It was free of any memories of
her. She and I had never held hands in this Corvette as the road
sang its familiar siren song to us. Katrice had never slept
peacefully in the passenger seat while I drove her safely on a long
trip. She had never sat in my lap, her arms wrapped tight around
me, while I drove this Corvette on a slow cruise through sunlit or
moonlit two lane country roads with the top off and the windows
down. We had never groped in fevered, desperate passion in the
dark, our bodies lit only by the dashboard lights, our movements
choreographed to whatever popular song was playing on the radio at the
ran my hand around the various lines of the interior, around the rim of
the thickly padded telescopic tilt steering wheel. I was feeling
something … new. I was feeling something … unfamiliar yet
familiar. I was feeling something that I hadn’t felt in over a
year and a half … Something that I thought I had lost
but in reality it was something that I had foolishly, willingly given
I was feeling freedom; the kind of unbound freedom that only the truly single could understand and appreciate.
were no memories of Katrice associated with this car, with this
Corvette, and right now that was what was important to me probably more
Katrice had never sat in here.
Katrice would never sit in here.
of the dust that she left behind, none of the broken promises and
smashed dreams, none of her lies would taint this car, would diminish
my appreciation of it or tarnish my enjoyment of it. Whenever I
sat down inside this car and fired the engine up, there would be no
memory of Katrice to associate with it … at all. The interior was
a clean slate, a new start, and a blank page on which to write new
memories … with other people … without Katrice.
looked at the odometer; it read 37,463 miles, no roll over. I
stuck the diode chip equipped square key in the ignition, turned the
switch to the “on” position and watched as the entire digital dash lit
up in front of me, green, yellow and red, then went through its busy
startup dance. I heard the whine of the fuel pump behind me
energizing and then pressurizing the entire port fuel injection
system. Like blood in the veins, I could almost feel the path of
the cold fuel flowing from the rear mounted gas tank, under the Vette,
and up to the ever thirsty high performance fuel injected small block
that was lurked under the hood.
I had to do was push the clutch pedal in, turn that key in the ignition
and bring that powerful engine to life, obedient to my every command
and whim. I checked the parking brake to make sure that she was
locked proper then I gripped the fat leather wrapped steering wheel and
the transmission shifter. The steering wheel wasn’t to my liking
so I unlocked the telescopic lever and freed the wheel. I pushed
and pulled, moving the telescopic steering wheel in and out, backwards
and forwards until I found a distance from the dash that I liked and
locked the telescopic release once again. My left foot
worked the clutch as I rowed through the four gears of the Doug Nash
4+3 speed transmission. Not exactly smooth but not exactly rough
either. Different and different right now was what I was looking
for. The shift pattern would take some getting used to but I
didn’t anticipate it taking long to get accustomed to it.
most important thing was that this Corvette had a manual
transmission. Row, row, row your Vette, swiftly through the
gears. Merrily, merrily, merrily that Porsche owner is in tears.
looked on with no attempt to hide his amusement. In fact, he was
almost rocking up and down on the balls of his feet, smiling and
nodding, motioning for me to explore the car with exaggerated hand
gestures that conveyed both confidence and permission.
reached down under the left side of the dash, found the recessed hood
release, and pulled the lever, hearing the massive clamshell hood
pop. I stepped out of the driver’s seat, raised the heavy
clamshell hood and locked the gas charged support prop. There, in
front of me, was an engineer’s playground. Nestled in among all
the tubing, hoses, and wiring harnesses was Regular Production Order
(RPO) L98; the modern high tech power plant that had returned the
Corvette to the realm of an honest to God 150 plus miles an hour right
off the show room floor and had been responsible for turning America’s
One True Sports Car back into a world class competitor to face off with
the likes of Europe’s finest GT offerings. Three hundred and
fifty cubic inches, five point seven liters of displacement, of classic
small block Chevrolet V8.
TPI Tuned Port Injection.
Light weight aluminum D-port heads from the factory.
Full hydraulic roller camshaft.
Hydraulic roller lifters.
Ten to one compression ratio.
Premium gas recommended.
Two hundred and forty-five horsepower.
Three hundred and forty foot - pounds of neck snapping torque.
One hundred and fifty-five plus miles per hour on the top end.
duty Doug Nash 4+3 four speed manual transmission with an automatic
overdrive unit behind that giving eight different on-demand gear ratios
through a low and high set of ranges.
wheels were huge, seventeen inches tall by nine inches wide, satin
aluminum alloy, all factory, with sixteen cooling slots per
wheel. I traced my finger over the tire size of the black wall
Goodyear Gatorbacks, P275/40ZR17. That was a lot of rubber being
put on the ground and this girl knew how to use every bit of it.
I said softly, whistling at the discovery, rubbing my hand over the fat
rubber that she was shod with. “Point nine five gee on the skid
pad with zero body roll.”
Sam nodded, smiled even bigger.
“But what year?”
I started to open the driver’s side door to look at the production data stuck there.
“Uh-uh. No cheating! You’ve got to earn this one.”
thought back to what I knew of the contemporary Corvettes. The
TPI engine made her a 1985 to 1991 model because this year the 300
horse Gen 2 LT1 engine had appeared under the hood. The aluminum
heads being on a coupe made her a 1987 to 1991 model. The large
size wheels and the sixteen cooling slots made her a 1988 to 1990
because Chevy went with a new style double slotted wheel in 1988 and
with an even newer “sawblade” style wheel in 1991. The body style
made her a 1984 to 1990 because in 1991 Chevy gave the Corvette a
rounder, smoother face and tail lift taken from the infamous 1990 ZR1
Corvette … a design that was repeated this year on the brand new 1992
Corvettes as well. The interior design made her a 1984 to 1989
because in 1990 the Corvette came with a supplemental restraint system
(SRS) airbag that had required the engineers to redesign, totally, the
interior dash and switch from the all digital layout to a combination
digital and analog design. The inclusion of a driver’s side
airbag also had done away with the telescopic steering wheel feature
through necessity of the design. The Doug Nash 4+3 speed
transmission made her a 1984 to 1988 model because Chevy switched to a
more capable German built ZF six speed manual transmission in 1989 and
continued with that transmission as the manual option even during this
mulled over the clues that were before me and weighed the options that
she came with. All the signs pointed to her being …
“1988. She’s a 1988 Z51.”
Sam whistled with approval.
know your Corvettes. That is a 1988, by the way. Just four
years old. She’s got thirty-seven thousand miles on her,
pampered. Everything is heavy duty and you’ve got …” Sam started.
I interrupted him.
duty, competition grade thirteen inch rotors and two piston calipers on
the front, twelve inch rotors on the rear. Four channel Bosch
anti-lock brake system. Heavy duty engine oil cooler.
You’ve got twin electric radiator cooling fans up here behind the heavy
duty radiator. Quick ratio power steering with a power steering
cooler. Extra chassis and frame bracing that wasn’t included on
base models. Oil cooler. Power steering cooler. Big solid front and rear sway bars, heavy duty bushings, seventeen inch wheels
and lots of meat at all four corners. Did I leave out anything?”
Sam was silent for a moment, his mouth open in a half formed thought.
I was just going to tell you that she’s got twelve hundred bucks worth
of rubber on her and those shoes are almost brand new. I didn’t
know any of that other stuff you just spouted off with … Damn,
son. What do you do? Memorize this stuff?”
I live this stuff.” I told him matter of factly as I squatted near the
front driver’s wheel and looked closer at the tires. Twelve
hundred dollars worth of rubber … Katrice’s engagement ring had been a
little bit more than that. I found it hard to believe that you
could get a set of tires for this Vette for what I had paid for
Katrice’s engagement ring … or vice versa.
took a nickel out of my pocket and checked the tread depth. Sam
was right; the tread depth suggested that the Goodyears on the Vette
had only a few hundred miles on them, if they had that. Brand new
and expensive. I was glad that I wasn’t paying for that set of
shoes. I looked over the massive radiator at the front of the
engine bay, the two electric cooling fans and let my eyes travel down
to all the aluminum in the engine bay … the brackets, the suspension …
everything was exotic, purpose designed and purpose built … no fat, all
muscle. Even the valve covers were die-cast magnesium with the
Corvette crossed flags logo inserted into the ribbed design of the
driver’s side. Everything that was bolted down under the hood was
as much a work of art as it was functional.
sat down on the driver’s side front tire and, running my hand and
fingers across the top of the TPI plenum, I felt the cool aluminum, the
ribbed machining, tracing my fingers down the cool aluminum curves of
the intake runners, following the wiring harness through the aluminum
ribbed fuel rail down to the fuel injectors … All those hoses and
wires, the feel of the valve covers, the aluminum intake manifold,
tracing the metal cables that made up the cruise control to the lever
on the side of the throttle body that controlled the position of the
butterfly assembly within … down to the shock and the aluminum parts of
Art and design.
Lipstick and speed, electric red lightning.
“Well? What do you think?” Sam asked, hopefully.
“I think she’s sold.”
“Huh?” Sam asked, his sales pitch and concentration broken.
had to change gears, going from the soft sell straight to the hard
bottom line. I could almost see the cogs moving in his head as
numbers were added, carried, and thrown up against the bottom line of
the final asking price like suspects in a typical police lineup.
“How much?” I asked, interrupting Sam before he could indulge in more pointless sales-banter.
“How much?” Sam repeated, still trying to change gears.
much, Sam? I just need to know how much you want for her.
Money’s not a problem. Give me a no dicker figure that we can
each agree on and we’ll both be a lot happier when the sun goes down
was silent, thinking; thinking hard because he started to say
something, stopped, thought, started again and stopped again. I
continued to sit on the left front tire, marveling at the myriad lines,
hoses, tubes and everything else that was under the hood.
She was a real beauty.
All that technology.
All that power.
All that speed.
what say we just transfer that down payment you made on the Miata over
to this fine lady instead. Course, I might need a little bit more
little more was all I had left. I thought of the engagement ring
that I had bought for Katrice. I had a meeting with the jewelry
store owner later that afternoon to see if I could return the
engagement ring for a refund. The story that I would tell the
jewelry store owner was the same story that I would probably be telling
Sam shortly. Hopefully, he would be as sympathetic as Sam had
been so far.
“I can get you another fifteen hundred by Friday.” I said. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”
you can get me another fifteen hundred, then I don’t think there will
be any problems at all.” Sam said as he put his arm around my shoulder
and gave me one of those salesman hugs that is supposed to inspire
amicable feelings and with Sam, it didn’t feel quite as artificial as I
had expected such a gesture to be. It almost felt like Sam was
helping me to not make a tremendous mistake.
asking twenty tall for her but I’ll make you a deal. You let me
slide the forty-five hundred you already put down on the Miata over to
the Vette, give me fifteen hundred more … say, make it six grand down
all told and I’ll let you drive it out of here for nineteen grand
total. That’s taking another grand off the top, call it a hard
luck bonus and you’ll be financing thirteen grand but notes shouldn’t
be that bad. I’ve seen your credit, thirteen grand isn’t going to
be a problem with you, son.”
grand. That was the cost of my own personal freedom, my new found
freedom, my ticket to a Katrice free future and the rest of my
life. Take it or leave it, one door closes and another opens.
My red 1988 Z51 Corvette.
Lipstick at speed.
I had a feeling about this Corvette, a really good feeling.
I said, crossing my arms and staring at the Corvette. “But I’m
going to finance the remaining balance locally. In
Hattiesburg. I’ve got a friend that works at a bank I like to
Sam chewed on that and nodded.
I need a favor … I need you to sell the IROC-Z for me; the
quicker the better. Pawn it off on some Zoomie from Keesler.”
“What do you want for it?” Sam asked.
an ’89, fully loaded with only fifty-three thousand miles on her.
I paid $7500 for her a year ago. Get me that much back and
whatever else you can get beyond that can call the inside of your
pocket home. I just want her gone.”
“Anything wrong with her?”
“Nothing you can fix.” I replied.
“Try me. I’ve got a good mechanic.” Sam said. “A real good mechanic.”
got a lot of memories associated with her. Good memories that got
turned bad. I really don’t think your mechanic can do a damn
thing about those.”
Sam nodded then shook his head.
I don’t think even my mechanic can fix that. Okay. If this
is a done deal and you’re sure about her, you pick this beauty up on
Saturday, leave me the IROC-Z and I’ll see if I can move her for
you. As for the Corvette …That’s going to be six grand down and
you’ll finance the rest. Just bring me a cashier’s check or cash,
either is good with me. I don’t see a problem. Not a
problem at all.”
was nineteen minus six, right? You’ve got the four and a half I
gave you for the Miata so all I need to bring you on Saturday is
thirteen tall plus the other fifteen hundred to finish out the down
Paperwork should be done by Friday at the latest. Now, let me
just lock the front door and what say we take this fine lady for a
spin. I’m kind of hungry and could use a bit of breakfast.”
I nodded, looking at the keys in the palm of my hand. Sam smiled.
guess we’ll be taking the long way to get some breakfast.” Sam
said, looking at me slap down the Velcro fasteners on the wrist of each
always take the long way …” I said, lowering the clamshell hood to
within two inches of being closed then letting it fall shut, latching
with a resounding thud.
“Any kind of preference?” Sam asked.
“The farther away from Long Beach we have to go the better.” I said.
shouldn’t be a problem. I know this mom and pop place in Ocean
Springs. It’s far enough away that you can stretch her legs a
little while we’re on the way.”
Silence as we both stood there, Sam looking at me and me looking at the Corvette.
“You’re trading up.” Sam said, patting me on the back. “Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
thought about that. I’m sure that Sam was talking about getting
rid of the IROC-Z and going with the Corvette but he could also have
been talking about Katrice.
“Well, I’m going to close up and make a phone call or two … shouldn’t take me more than ten minutes.” Sam said.
“Take your time.” I said. “I’m just going to get further acquainted with the lady in red here.”
switch for the roll up door is back there on the left … why don’t you
open up the bay and look at her in the sunlight. You know, get
some fresh air in here. Help yourself to the juke box over
there; it’s free … just put in any selection you want and hit the
number and … you know … juke box stuff. Get some music playing in here. Knock yourself out.” Sam
said with a dismissing wave of his hand.
nodded and Sam disappeared back into the front of the business. I
walked over to the juke box to check it out; top quality and it was
definitely an antique with some patina and wear to it. It might
even be older than I was but I couldn’t find a date on it
anywhere. Looking at the music, I noticed that the selections
were all classic rock from the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s … nothing
newer than about 1979 … which was fine with me. I panned through
the selections, looking at each one before I found a song that
strangely seemed to fit the current moment and my situation as a whole.
“Yeah. That’ll do just fine.” I said softly, nodding and keying in the selection I wanted to hear. “Just fine.”
down in the guts of the old juke box, tired machinery began to
mechanically load the song I had chosen in the slow motion manner that
only well worn mechanisms can lay claim to. I turned and walked
away, over to the rear of the show room and hit the power door switch
mounted on the wall. With a groan of an old electric motor and a
chain that hadn’t seen oil like it should, the roll up door labored and
rattled along its guide rails, slowly lifting into the ceiling while
behind me the juke box dutifully started playing “Already Gone” by The Eagles.