"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)" -

          Trading up

February 17, 1992

I 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.  

No, 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.

I 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.

Not 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.

The 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.  

She 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.  

Eight 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.  

I 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.  

The ’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.

While 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 Trans Am.

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.

The 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.  

Under 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.

She 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.

If 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!).  

Trying 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.

The 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.

I’d 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.

I 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.  

I 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.  

I 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 …


I’d 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 particular.

“Hey, Christopher!

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.

Dating 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.

Loving 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 dream of.

Christopher Todd Shields … you are the man of my dreams.  I love you, I love you, I love you … forever and ever.

-    Katrice”

There, 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.

I 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.

Nothing happened.

There 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.

“Well … 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.



I 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.  

Yeah, 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.

You 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.

I 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.

It 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.

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?



Time, 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 drainage ditch.

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.

The 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 …  

I 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.  

I 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 ...  

She 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.

I 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.

As 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.

I 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.

Cassettes 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.

The 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 Christmas break.



I took another long drink of tea.

Gulfport 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.

Katrice’s 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 seat.  

Her seat.

Her now empty seat.

The 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.

I 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.  

Katrice had 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.

Now 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.

I 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 driven beat.

“Dust.” I said to myself, flatly.

Eighteen 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.

“I 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.”


Katrice was 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
Gulfport, Mississippi

I 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.

I 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.

When 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 …

“I 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 intentions.”

“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.

“That 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.

“Chuckles” 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.”

Sam 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.

“Ah, 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.

“Yeah, 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.

When 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.

Sam 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.

The 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.


You 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.

She 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 one.

But Katrice wasn’t with me anymore … and now the Miata was as useless to me as lugnuts on a waffle.

Sunday, 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.”

Her 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.

Eighteen 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 ...   

Eight 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.

I 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 lies.

Empty lies.

I 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.

I 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 for.

In the end, the only person that had been fooled was me.

Never 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.

Never again.

Never 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.

“It’s over.”

Dial tone.

Never again.

I 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.

Dust; 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.

I 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 to me.

Katrice had 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.

“You’re 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.”

I 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.  


Life 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.

No.  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.”

“Didn’t 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.

“You 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.

Sam 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.

He 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.”

I 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.

“Like 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.

Sam 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.

“Forget 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.

“No.  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.”

I 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.

I 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.  




The 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.

My 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.

I 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.

But 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.

Now, 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 voice …

“And 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’ …”

Sam 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 little closer.

“Love 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.”

I 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 many days.

“Go on!  She’s waiting!” Sam ordered, laughing, letting me go and then shooing me over towards the parked Corvette.

I 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.

Katrice had 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 time.

I 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 up.  

I was feeling freedom; the kind of unbound freedom that only the truly single could understand and appreciate.


There were no memories of Katrice associated with this car, with this Corvette, and right now that was what was important to me probably more than anything.

Katrice had never sat in here.

Katrice would never sit in here.

None 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.  

I 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.  

All 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.

The 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.

Sam 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.

I 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.

Heavy 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.

The 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.

“Z51.” 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.”

I 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 year’s offerings.

I 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.

“You 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.

“Heavy 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.

“Hell!  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?”

“No.  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.  

I 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.

I 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 the suspension.

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.

Sam 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.

“How 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 this afternoon.”

Sam 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.

“Uh, 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 …”

A 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.”

“If 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.

“I’m 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.”

Thirteen 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 Vette.

My red 1988 Z51 Corvette.

Lipstick at speed.

I had a feeling about this Corvette, a really good feeling.

“Done.” 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 use.”

Sam chewed on that and nodded.

“And 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.

“She’s 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.”

“She’s 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.

“Nope.  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.”

“That 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 payment.”

“Yep.  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.

“I 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 glove.

“I 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.

“That 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.”

I 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.”

Sam laughed.

“The 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.

I 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.”

Deep 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.