Magazine article The American Conservative

Get 'Er Done

Magazine article The American Conservative

Get 'Er Done

Article excerpt

You need to know about how in 1962 I was a half-wild country kid of 16 in the wilds of King George Country, Virginia, and drove a derelict '53 Chevy that shouldn't even have started but in fact went places that would terrify an armored corps. (You may think you don't need to know this. Well, you do. It's like, you know, real history and American.)

Now that Chevy was brown like two colors of mud. It had six cylinders, but ran on three, perhaps saving the others for emergencies. The closest it came to compression was a sort of ancestral memory, and the tires showed more fabric than rubber. But it was built like a tank. It had to be. Kids then were hard on cars.

The county was mostly woods and fields with towns far apart--King George, Colonial Beach, and Dahlgren Naval Weapons Laboratory on the Potomac, where I lived. Cars were our life. On Saturday nights, we drove interminably through the dark forests, just driving, moving, rapt with the night and freedom, without the sense God gave a crabapple. The times were different. We'd park for hours with our girlfriends in empty fields glowing with moonlight. We actually liked our girlfriends because we knew we probably weren't going to get laid anyway, so we might as well not do it with someone who was good company. It didn't seem to hurt us.

We learned things only known to teenagers. Don't park under a mercury light because it makes zits turn purple and green.

Truth is, the Pluke Bucket--my tired Detroit dragon--was not of high consequence. The best cars had phone-flow. This refers to a gear shift of four speeds, located on the transmission hump. ("Four on the floor" to the uninitiated.) Below in the scale came threenatry--three on the tree--meaning a shifter of three speeds on the steering column. The Pluke Bucket had an automatic transmission, which was as prestigious as a venereal disease in a convent. But she was mine.

Our dream car was a fitty-sedden Chev 283, bored-and-stroked, with dual four-barrel carbs, magneto ignition, solid lifters, Isky three-quarter cam, milled heads, Hearst narrow-gate phone-flow, 3.51 Positraction and tuck-and-roll Naugahyde. But this was like saying that Ursula Andress was a hot date. Wasn't going to happen. Not to us.

Lots of times we got into sort of half-trouble, which is about right for teenagers. …

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