Sunday, April 30, 2006

My Boy! Posted by Picasa
Stripes and a Smile! Posted by Picasa
Noddin' at the Table! Posted by Picasa
Hangin' in the Yard! Posted by Picasa

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Boy and his Car

At the corner of 29th and 4th in Birmingham, AL is Eurasian Auto Service, Inc. Bill Mitchell, the longtime proprietor (known throughout the area as “Yoda” for his knowledge and expertise), specializes in the upkeep and repair of high-end sports cars—Porsches primarily. The building appears to never have not been there—as if formed naturally prior to Birmingham popping up all round it.

Following two afternoon beers at O.T.’s Sports Grill and a three block walk, we are restless. I alternate between sitting on my heels against the outer east brick wall and meandering to the corner and back, peeking in the windows of Saabs and other pretties. Inside a 26-year-old auto repair savant named Mike does a pre-purchase inspection of the old Porsche 944 S2 my buddy, M. has brought in.

We clear the on-ramp at Alabama pre-dusk and the Porsche flirts with the road at a child’s whisper under 100 mph. It is ready to do more but grudgingly backs down to 85 mph. It is an older machine with something to prove. It is Black Panther black and invites the cover of night. Occasionally men need speed and the power of something else to become boys again.

This evening we are boys again.

M. is a car geek since childhood—an F1 aficionado in a land of NASCAR neophytes. He can rattle off production and cost figures and engine and body style particulars of Ferraris, Aston Martins, BMWs, Mercedes, and the like with little effort and no pretension. He’s a bit like Rain Man in that regard. He knows cars well and takes his research seriously. I, on the other hand, look upon cars as I do art. I know what I like and that’s about it. I like the sleekness and muscle, the purr and roar, the unmatched speed. I fix upon the aesthetic more so than anything else. The remainder is gravy.

At the heart of it, M. and I are but aging adolescents. The description is not to dismiss M.’s car purchase as symptomatic or reactive—far from it. The purchase is thoroughly researched and thoughtfully engineered. But a good portion of our friendship hinges on a juvenile appreciation of dick jokes and all things scatological. Often we are children on a play date, immune to the fact that we are the only ones who find us funny. I think we embrace the prurient and sophomoric to keep ourselves from going finally and utterly mad. I do not presume to speak for my friend, but I can say such about myself with confidence.

The swollen moon hangs on our right, full of possibility, red, yellow, orange, with a blue aura, clipped just enough on the left underbelly to make it not whole. It keeps pace with us for several miles, lighting our way to Nashville. The car hums a constant tear-jerking whine and we feel every beautiful mile of road in our feet and bodies.

The potential purchase of the Porsche is, for M., of monumental importance. I alone, may be aware of the sacredness of this transaction. And M. has invited me to share in it. This selfless act is as high a compliment as I have been paid.

The plan is simple: Meet in Gallatin. Load up the rental. Drive to Birmingham. Meet the owner. Test the Porsche. Buy the Porsche. Drop off the rental. Return to Gallatin. It is a good plan—down to and including the Map Quest-convoluted driving directions, insurance paperwork, and a check cut in full for the price of a Porsche (less than what you might expect but more than you would ever want to lose) tucked safely into a used Fed Ex envelope.

The entire event nearly unraveled once I got to M.’s and put eyes on the rental car. I was greeted by a stark white 2006 Plymouth PT Cruiser. I looked at M. Then I looked at the PT Cruiser. Then I looked back at M. I paused. Then I imagined how two middle-aged guys driving to Alabama in a PT Cruiser might look to the rest of the world. I opened my mouth to speak and closed it again. “M.,” I said finally. “You do realize we are going to be victims of a hate crime before this day is done, don’t you.”

The seller is a wealthy pilot/real estate developer/faith-based Web site something or other who is as detached from the ownership of this fine automobile as he is passionate about his business interests. He is humorless and looks very much like M.A.S.H.’s Frank Burns—complete with the prominent beak and Reba McIntyre upper liplessness. His wife is attractive and fit; and his two Boys from Brazil are handsome and charming. To his credit, he is honest and willingly points out any perceived weaknesses of the car. He is matter-of-fact and focused. The only time he breaks from protocol is to pause, study M. and me for a moment, and ask if we are married. M. opens his mouth to respond, cocks his head funny, closes his mouth, and looks at me with something like concern. My thought, as I try not to laugh, is, Oh, Fuck. Here comes the hate crime. “I’m recently divorced,” I say smiling. I somehow manage to not add, “It’s O.K. We’re not flits. The PT Cruiser is a rental.” I am a pillar of restraint. This once. It occurs to me that Frank is concerned he might be entrusting ownership of this beautiful machine to a gay guy and his scruffy partner. If this wasn’t M.’s moment, I surely would make it mine.

As Mike, the magic mechanic puts the finishing touches on his near two-hour inspection, a mishap occurs that threatens to dwarf the catastrophe of the PT Cruiser. The Fed Ex envelope of possibility, the one with maps and insurance papers, and a substantial check, the one that will enable M. to realize his dream, the one that will seal the deal is gone. Not misplaced. Gone. I made a joke about putting the Porsche on my card as a gift. M. looks at his hands as if seeing them for the first time. They do not contain the Fed Ex envelope. He could not look more surprised if he’d just learned he was pregnant or had accidentally shit his pants. It is the saddest and most hilarious expression I’ve ever seen.

I calmly shift into rare leadership mode and tell M. not to fret. Look around the shop, I say, and I’ll go back to O.T.’s. On my trek, I mentally try to minimize this major setback. M. can call, cancel the check, and request an immediate replacement. We can stay the night in Birmingham if need be. I can be fairly useful during a crisis as long as I don’t own it

I do not expect to find the envelope (and certainly not the check). But I do. And I am glad. As I walk out of O.T’s, envelope clutched, Mike the magic mechanic zips up to an angled stop in the middle of the street. We grin at each other and I get in the Porsche that has been deemed “a very sound car.” We drive off fast, heading toward the shop and the anxious new owner of beauty incarnate.

On a dark stretch of I-65, just past Brentwood, where the speed limit inexplicably drops to 55 mph we find the cop we’ve avoided for 200 miles. He hits his brake lights and flips his rollers. In an unparalleled gift of goodwill or, perhaps laziness, he does not pursue. We cruise below the speed limit, waiting. Nothing. Then M. relaxes, lets the car prove herself. She is speed and power, at one with the road.

And tonight, we are boys again...