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  • The Scrivener

Story: THE NAMING OF VEHICLES, Part 2 (of 3)

We turned north on Interstate 84 and drove past the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. I spent the night in Boise, Idaho. It was clean and there were healthy looking high school kids in the IHOP. No nasty surprises there.

Pendleton Oregon looked like it had thrown in the towel; as if it had looked around, held up its hands in surrender, and said: "What the hell is the point?"

Everything seemed damp and tired and unemployed.

But it's probably unfair to judge places on a single impression. It was early spring after a long hard winter. I expect that if you lived in Pendleton and you knew the bars and cafés, you'd probably find enough to keep you occupied. Just like Charlie Fitzpatrick knew about that café in Glassport PA. If you weren't from the area you might think the whole place was dead on its feet, but people are pretty resourceful.

In the laundromat there was a pudgy young man in knee-length shorts with a tattoo on the outside of his calf. He was wearing Vans tennis shoes with those socks that make it look like you're not wearing socks.

He could have been a model for the shorts. I thought how whenever I wore shorts they always felt like they were too long or too short. I could never get them right.

This guy had them down. He had them perfect.

Until I realized it wasn't a guy. It was a young crew-cut woman, in the laundromat with her girlfriend. She looked very good in the shorts.

From there I continued west on the southern bank of the Columbia River to spend the night with my friends in Portland.

It was a long way down the river to Portland. When you reached the river you thought you were there, but you weren't. And all that time beside the river was dead time while you waited hour upon hour for the city to arrive.

Marjorie's ghost stared wide-eyed out of the window and eventually fell asleep with her head resting on a sweater on the upright behind the window of the passenger door.

I left Portland the next morning and drove the remaining two hundred-odd miles to Port Townsend.

The ladies at the rental office were pleased to see me; it meant they could go home. -After they had given me the keys to the apartment.

In all the stories I read about epic car journeys, the car never made it. The transmission would fall out a mile from the final destination, and the protagonist would transfer his meager possessions to a back pack, and leave the car derelict on the side of the road, and crawl into town on his hands and knees.

Marjorie took the trans-continental odyssey in her stride and then settled down to being a suburban commuter.

At work Carl said to me: "That car has been very good to you."

And I thought: Yeah well why wouldn't she be good to me? I'm her favorite nephew.

Marjorie had coil-over-plug ignition: each sparkplug had its own coil and the coils energized in rotation in response to a computerized distribution system.

One of her coils failed, and her engine ran to-say-the-least roughly, especially uphill.

The engine was a transverse V6, which meant that three sparkplugs faced demurely forwards, and three faced unsociably backwards towards the bulkhead of the passenger compartment and you had to remove the inlet manifold from the engine to get to them.

If the bad coil had been on the front of the engine, the job would have been easy. But in strict conformity with Murphy's Law the bad coil was on the back, the inlet manifold had to be removed and re-fitted, and it cost $750 to get the problem fixed.

Aside from that she did pretty well until the heated rear window filament failed and the heated rear window just became the rear window. One of the cigarette lighter sockets went to the great Radio Shack in the sky, but I got that fixed.

It was no big deal. If I had not been so busy I could easily have addressed all those little problems a lot more promptly than I did.

"So tell me again," Marjorie said. "What would you do if you had the time and money?"

"Well I guess I'd get everything working the way it should: heated rear window. cigarette lighter socket for the GPS unit; cigarette lighter socket for charging the iPhone and the JABRA Bluetooth earpiece. So then I'd go to see Dave Coker in Las Vegas."

"And Dave Coker is..." Marjorie said.

"Dave Coker is The Count from Counting Cars. On the History Channel. He'd fit those big knobbly rallying tires on all the wheels, and he'd paint the body bright yellow, and he'd fit a roof rack and those circular grids over the headlights, and maybe a couple of rectangular fog lamps on the front of the roof.

And his artwork guy would airbrush a roadmap on the trunk lid showing how we drove from Massachusetts to Washington."

"I'd look pretty spectacular then, wouldn't I?" Marjorie said.

"Damn straight you would," I said. "But it's no more than you deserve. You saved my life blasting from coast to coast like that."

But I was getting older and starting to think of retiring. Also I started receiving social security checks in addition to my salary. and I was able to save a respectable portion of what I was receiving.

I started looking at RV trailers, but the Airstreams, though elegant, were beyond my means. However, there were less prestigious trailers which were within my financial reach, and which could be bought new.

But American RV trailers need big vehicles to pull them. Most of the people in the USA who pull RV trailers, tow them with V8 pickup trucks.

So a three liter Ford Taurus sedan was not going to be adequate.

I remember driving home north on San Juan Drive and taking that right angle bend at the top into 49th Street. A Bonnie Raitt song was playing on a home mixed CD:

"Just hold me close; don't patronize.

Don't patronize.

I can't make you love me if you don't.

You can't make your heart feel something it won't.

Here in the dark of these final hours

I will lay down my heart and I'll feel the power

But you won't

No you won't.

'Cause I can't make you love me if you don't..."

"Hey it's not like that," I said to Marjorie. "Don't you think I'll miss you?"

On the subject of the need to be dispassionate when buying used vehicles, my friend Phil, back in England, used to say: "Don't fall in love with cars. You'll get hurt."

Phil never said anything about the car getting hurt.

"I didn't say anything," Marjorie said. "I understand that you need a different kind of vehicle for your trailer, and I would not have missed the trip from Massachusetts to Port Townsend for anything. I'll always remember that."

(To Be Continued)...


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