Monday, April 6, 2009

Sunshine, Ocean, Fiat and Dire Straits
Make My Day

Yesterday was the first perfect top-down day of the year.

The morning temperature was in the mid-40s. It was too cold for driving, so I puttered around in the garage, shined up the ancient Fiat 124 Spider and replaced a fuse that restored operation of fuel gage, directional signals and fuel pump. I could live without the fuel gage, but it's tough to drive without a functioning fuel pump. The dual Weber carbs need liquid gasoline -- not just fumes and memories.

By one in the afternoon it was 52 degrees, the sun was shining, I was in a pair of shorts and a Fiat-red shirt with Fiat-red Seiko on my wrist, and eager to greet the Spring. Per my standard ritual I cued up my hit-the-road theme song "Money For Nothing" (I want my MTV, chicks for free, etc.) and hit the road.

I started my trip with a five mile drive west on the Boston Post Road so I could try to get some spare fuses at Pep Boys.

As usual, the road was filled with shoppers, but I hardly noticed them. I was absorbed in the sound of Dire Straits and my engine. I might have been as loud as the assholes who blast hiphop from their Hondas, but if anyone complained I felt I could easily defend my action and not merely flip the bird in response. No one complained and I received a few smiles and thumbs-up. I know that Dire Straits deserves and demands max SPL (maximum sound pressure level, i.e. HIGH volume). I didn't need approval, but the positive reaction felt good.

I was thrilled and surprised that Pep Boys did have weird fuses for an old Italian car. I bought some extras, because future availability is certainly uncertain. When I got out of the store there was a small crowd around the car. I'm used to that. The most common question is always "what year is it?" I point to my license plate (ITSA-78) to answer the question. Thirty-one years old used to be old. It's not anymore. Neither is nearly-63.

I got back on the road and headed south toward Long Island Sound, still grooving to Dire Straits coming from the huge Pioneer TS-TRX40 speakers behind me powered by a big-watt Opti-Lanzar 2X150D power amp in the trunk, connected directly to the car's battery. Although the new Kenwood KDC-MP338 receiver in the 31-year-old dashboard can play AM, FM, XM and iPod, I tend to just play the Brothers In Arms CD over and over.

When I got to Jimmies in Savin Rock, I headed west to follow the shoreline. The water and the world were on my left. The right seat and my mind were filled with the spirit of an old girlfriend whom I know would have enjoyed the trip.

I've always felt empowered by the ocean, and by the sun. They're the source of life, and joy. When I feel sick, I soak up some rays. I can feel the sun penetrate my body and drive out the "evil spirits." Water is my favorite toy. I've often said that if God never got around to creating dry land, I would not complain. I could be a very happy sea creature, eating other sea creatures.

Floating is just plain magic. Swimming underwater is close to flying. (Astronauts train in big tanks with diving gear.) When I'm under water I can move left, right, forward, reverse, up or down. Gravity becomes irrelevant. The feeling of freedom while driving a sports car is pretty close to flying, too.

Even up on the surface, ocean equals freedom. If I had the strength and supplies, I could walk from the beach into the ocean in Connecticut, and walk from the ocean onto the beach in Spain or Japan. No highways or airports are necessary to see the world. If I chose to hollow out a tree and carve oars or weave a sail, my trans-ocean voyage would be more likely to succeed. Ocean equals freedom, and life.

For about 30 minutes I followed four guys on motorcycles. It seemed like we had the same emotional objective and physical itinerary so the four-wheeler bonded with the two-wheelers. It was the vehicular equivalent of the "zipless fuck" that Erica Jong wrote about in Fear of Flying.

At one time another old guy in a bright red Ferrari approached from the other direction. In a pleasant and completely unexpected violation of sports car etiquette, the Ferrari driver waved first. Traditionally, drivers of equal cars try to wave simultaneously, but in an economic mismatch the driver of the lesser car pays homage to the superior vehicle and waves first, hoping for a fleeting recognition. Ferrari Guy recognized a kindred spirit, and so did I.

The bikers and I passed lots of ordinary cars, other bikers, kids and adults on un-engined bikes, one horse rider, and lots of dogs with their dog-walkers. I was disturbed by seeing many cool cars being driven by people who didn't appreciate them, and therefore didn't deserve them. What kind of an asshole would own a Porsche 911 and keep the top up on a perfect top-down day? With a car like that, on a day like this, I'd put the top down even for a two-minute trip to 7-11 for a quart of milk.

The call of the ocean was irresistible, like the Sirens' songs in Greek mythology, so I parked at a nice beach in Milford. I had no beach blanket, but I just stretched out on some warm grass, closed my eyes and absorbed the sunlight and sea-smell breeze and dreamed for awhile.

I got up from the beach and got back in the car and kept following the shoreline west. I kept the engine speed at about 4500 RPM. It was a bit higher than normal, but the exhaust sounded great, and the "throttle response" was amazing. I was either in second or third gear and the slightest change in gas pedal pressure caused an immediate reaction from the engine and the Yokohama A378 tires on the pavement.

The speed limit signs meant nothing to me. I wasn't racing, but was breaking the law, maybe doing 40MPH in a 25 zones. Part of the magic of being in a small car with a high-revving engine is that 40 can feel like 80. When I'm on the highway, with the wind blowing, there is sufficient ecstasy at 55 and seldom any need to enter the fast lane. Other cars may pass me, but it's unlikely that the drivers' fun surpasses mine.

Driving a car with a 5-speed transmission (even a somewhat loose 31-year-old 5-speed) is a special experience. I would never want a car with a manual transmission if I had to drive in Manhattan every day, but in a sports car on the right roads it's ecstasy, car-gasm, wander-lust.

A car with an automatic transmission ("slush box") can drive itself, at least until it hits a wall.

A car with a manual transmission and no driver would probably stall before it hits the wall.

A car with an automatic transmission is needed by the driver to get somewhere.

A car with a manual transmisison needs the driver to go anywhere.

The car and driver have to combine in the human-mechanical equivalent of Mr. Spock's "Vulcan Mind Meld." They become one. The tires, tranny, brakes and engine had direct links to my cerebral cortex. Continuing the Star Trek analogy, it's Borg-like, but I'm not sure who or what does the assimilating. I suppose I was the humanoid drone that was assimilated by the Fiat/Borg Collective. The Fiat was my bright red cybernetic implant -- but I volunteered for the implant.

In an ideal world, Fiat drivers would have evolved with three feet to handle the three pedals sprouting from the firewall. It's not just gas pedal and brake pedal, but there's a clutch pedal. The three pedals both invite and require a delicate interplay between the right and left feet to maintain the car in the proper position while "hovering" on an upward slope at a red light.

When the light goes green, the foot movement has to be just right to avoid stalling and seeming like an asshole (especially in a loud, bright red car) or sliding back and crashing into the car behind you. "Heel and toe" and "double clutching" add to the control. They're not necessary with modern cars and pretty much a lost art. I'm not sure if I can still do them.

As planned, I headed north through Milford and Orange into Derby. I had two five-mile laps on the Wilbur Cross Parkway to give the car its annual "Italian tuneup" (drive with the tach at the red line to blow the crap out of the carbs), and then a great ride on the Derby-Milford Road and Wheelers Farm Road, and went home.

This next part seems like bullshit and I'd yell BULLSHIT if I saw it in a movie; but I swear it's true.

Exactly as I entered my driveway, I heard Dire Straits start to sing: "Now look at them yo-yo's, that's the way you do it. You play the gee-tar on the MTV. That ain't workin', that's the way you do it. Money for nothin' and chicks for free."

My odyssey was ending on the same note it had begun with. The overture and the finale of my loud-but-personal symphony were identical. I shut off the engine but kept the CD running. I shut my eyes and leaned back to absorb the sounds and the sun.

When the song ended I opened my eyes and saw a neighbor standing next to the car looking down on me. He said, "At first I thought you were dead, but then I saw your knee moving along with the bass beat, and the smile on your face, so I knew you were OK."

I was much more than OK. I just had the perfect day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merci d'avoir un blog interessant