A Very Rough Draft of Jim Harstad’s Memoir, ON HE RODE — Chapter Forty-Three

Out on the open road again, Miss Chevy rides smoothly enough at the moderate speed I’m driving her, and I’m well aware that moderation could win the day, assuming the day can be won. I’m also aware that I seem to want to give a name to my vehicle, an indulgence I’ve always resisted on the grounds that by anthropomorphizing machines we belittle ourselves and hasten the day when robots become more important than people.

Really? Or would it just throw a wider net over all the things touched, changed, then owned by human beings? Or is it just because I could never come up with a name original and appropriate enough to actually pay someone to paint it in cool script? Ha ha, you want me to paint “Mr. Appointment” on your car? Yeah, I can do it for a hun. What color you want? And are you sure you don’t want, like, “Mr. Disappointment,” ha ha, or “Miss Align,” ha ha?

The best names I’ve seen were “Miss Carriage,” a ’56 Chevy Bel Air, “Mr.” (Mister Period, get it?), on a ’50 Ford club coupe, and “Father’s Moustache,” on a cherry ’32 Ford sedan. When it comes down to it, the harder you try for something really clever and rare, the more likely you are to sound like you’re trying too hard. Best to just stay alert to possibilities and see what comes up. “Sarah N. Dippity,” perhaps? Yeah, right. “Miss Chevy” will do for now, and if she actually makes it all the way back to Puget Sound with me still driving, I will certainly have thought of something better.

Before leaving Mardi’s, I added a quart of oil and topped off the radiator and battery but did not seriously consider a professional lube job or oil change. I’m playing for a true miracle, something absolutely incontrovertible or at least hugely unlikely without Celestial Assistance. Let’s assume that if I make it I’ll have had Help. Period. I’m tired of guessing, God or no-God? I want to KNOW . . . and by Jove I WILL know!

In the meantime, to emphasize my good faith, I’ll imagine the future Miss Chevy, the Miss Chevy I will fashion from whatever she has become when I point her nose into Whitey’s driveway, days or weeks from now. Originally my idea was to keep her showroom-fresh forever. She’d be our family’s 1951 Chevrolet, famous far and wide for its just-minted appearance, a decided enhancement to this whole country, a source of quietly positive pride: See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet. Which, minus the family, is what I’m doing.

And in order to convince God that I am still worthy of His consideration inasmuch as I am quite earnest in my desire for redemption and as symbolic gesture of assurance, I will think of all the changes I’ll make in Miss Chevy to bring her back to practical transportation once again, which may convince God that whatever help He can give to getting us safely all the way home will be honorably acknowledged by a total rebuild of Miss Chevy and a commitment to her lifetime perpetuation as reliable transportation for me and as a mobile shrine to the God who brought us safely home. Thy will be done.

Well she’s my Texarkana baby, and, yeah, I’m serious, friends, serious in my pursuit of the Eternal Spirit, if that Entity exists. And why not? The fact of our existence is the strongest argument in for of God’s. If He didn’t make us, then who or what did? Evolution? But what is evolution if not God-in-action? Did He make us? Or did we make Him? Didn’t we all evolve together as One Huge Overlapping, All-encompassing, Eternal Cosmic Being? Didn’t we? Aren’t we? Isn’t Earth Eden? Aren’t we Adam and Eve? Haven’t we gone forth and multiplied? Didn’t Pappy come from Texas and Maw from Arkansaw?

My Aunt Alma was an avid country and western music fan and especially liked Eddie Arnold. In her opinion he could be another Frank Sinatra or Perry Como if he decided to sell out to the big money boys in New York and Hollywood. But he wouldn’t, she was certain, which made her like him even more. She also liked western paperback fiction and passed me Safeway bags full of Max Brand and Luke Short novels for summer reading.

I read them at night, after listening to Leo Lassen announce the Rainier’s baseball game, around ten or ten-thirty. Then I’d read the Bible, say my prayers, and tune in to Bob Summerise broadcasting the latest (and greatest) in rhythm ’n blues from his World of Music records shop turned down low and personal so as not to disturb others.

What would Aunt Alma think if she knew I listened to Little Willy John instead of Eddie Arnold while reading Luke Short until three a.m.? I’m sure she’d understand. There weren’t that many nocturnal options for your twelve-year-old Bible-reading hipster. A guy’s gotta avail himself of what he finds avail-able. Common sense.

Common sense should tell me that what I’m doing now — driving an outdated and damaged vehicle toward an unfamiliar destination on strange roads — does not make common sense. Oh, really? Oh well.

It appears that I will not be going through Texarkana proper unless I want to take a little side jaunt, and common sense tells me I can’t really afford side jaunts. There’s a multi-lane intersection that gives me several options, and I head north, away from Texarkana, which looks flat and spread out and pretty damned uninteresting for a town with a song named for it.

Miss Chevy’s temperature is still normal, but even with the windows rolled down I keep getting the unhealthy smell of displaced water and oil mixing in heated protest. Pleasant it is not, but I’ve been living with it since Oregon and it no longer worries me. If I drive no faster than, say, 55, I think she’ll be OK.

But the first thing I’ll do when we get back home is change her engine. What kind of engine? If I stay with an in-line six, which would be easiest, how about a 270 Jimmy? Or how about a small-block Chevy V-8? Cool, but a lot more complicated. Anyway, God, You see how I’m keeping my commitment to thinking hard about it. Don’t You?

Mahalo for reading!

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