Wrecked Diaries

The last time I visited a junkyard I was 17 and in search for parts for my 1997 GMC truck that I was slowly rebuilding after spraying it all over a highway in a bad car accident. The truck was totaled but I was too stubborn to junk it, so here I was looking for parts to get my first car back on the road. As I walked through the acres of wrecks, I kept hearing the sound of silence. There are few places in this world that can make you uncomfortable because of their unique blend of quiet. Silence has a sound, it’s the sound of your mind running wild. You can hear it at graveyards, deserts, complete darkness, any abandoned building, and junkyards. Places so quiet your mind cannot help but fill in the silence with day dreams, fears, suspicions, memories, or even music. It’s why most of us get the sensation that something is going to jump out at us when we have a quiet dark room behind our backs as we walk towards a light switch. My mind was jamming out to the sound of silence by creating back stories for every wreck I saw on the lot. Every junked car has a story, a wrecked diary.

In my search for a hood and right fender for my truck I came across a set of twin Ford Mustangs. I say twin because they were both silver 2005 models parked side by side. They were identical in every way except for how they ended up here. The one of the left looked like a shark had taken a bite and eaten half of its frontend, upon closing inspection I noticed it was not missing just compressed inwards towards the driver side like a crumbled soda can. I looked inside the interior to see exploded airbags and dark spots on the driver seat which I suspected was dried blood. What really got to me was that the windshield had a human size hole on the passenger side of the car. Drunk driver came to mind, or a driver that simply ran out of talent while carrying a passenger that ran out of luck. The second Mustang on the right looked like had taken the highway to hell since it was just a burnt marshmallow of a car. The only reason I knew it was silver was because the bumpers still showed its original silver paint instead of the orange rust coated bare metal of the rest of the car. No interior in the car, just leftover relics of leather, plastic, and metal. Cold chills ran over me wondering if the owners of these cars met with similar fates.

Another four wheeled tombstone I saw was a blue and yellow 2002 Crown Victoria. The paint scheme made it look like it once worked as a taxi cab, then I saw the small badge on the trunk lid that read Police Interceptor. A real work horse. A car that spent its whole life serving the community chasing bad guys and then shuffling tourists around town until it was finally retired at the age of half a million miles to rot on a lot. I felt sorry for this car, like a horse being worked to death and then sold off to be turned into glue and dog food. This car did its job well and was rewarded with cobwebs and a life sentence until Mother Nature claims it and swallows it back into the earth. I was on my own when I was looking for parts so the only noise was the wind rustling through the metallic corpuses of abandoned combustors as my boots crushed sand and pieces of glass through the yard.

One unusual car was this 80s Cadillac hearse that was sitting on flat tires next to a stripped out school bus that was used as a storage container for used transmissions. You could cut the irony with a knife on this old hearse, you probably need a one to cut away the decades of cobwebs and dust on this car. Kept thinking it be pretty spooky seeing this thing speeding down the highway in this condition with the grim reaper behind the wheel, shooting flames out the back. A car built to be the last ride, eventually took its final ride. As the old saying goes, the dead travel fast.

A minivan with its roof caved in sat as knee high grass slowly grew around it. As I walked past it I noticed the side door was missing and the only thing I could see was a much neglected stuffed animal, the kind a small child would play with. My heart wanted to sink when I saw the toy, because that probably meant a small child was in this van and the van looked like it had cartwheeled its way down an Interstate. All the windows had been shattered and the van’s body had gone from a box to a freeform shape due to the accident.

When I finally found a truck that I could get parts off from, I came across a bright yellow front fender that belong to a 2010 Camaro. I couldn’t believe that someone had already wiped out a brand new Camaro. I figured it was probably somebody around my age who, “borrowed”, it from his father or a spoiled kid with a trust fund who didn’t know how to counter steer. I never saw the rest of the car, just that one lonely fender sitting on a rack full of different car parts.

Eventually I did find what I was looking for, paid for my parts, and made my way back to the city. The whole drive I could not help but think that my truck almost ended up in that place. Just another wreck with stories that’ll never get told, and memories left to be forgotten. I look at my truck now, looking better than ever, and sometimes think back to the day of the accident. I’m grateful that neither one of us ended up on a lot to rot. Tough to imagine what some other 17 year old kid would have thought of my wrecked truck if they ran into it at a junkyard. Thankfully, it’s a lot easier to know what he thinks when he sees it cruising down the street. Be careful out on the road everyone!

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Young Geezers

Modern technology has grown faster than a pre-teen hitting his grown spurt, and a lot of people of an older generation may find themselves being left in the dust. It seems that if you are younger than 30 you are qualified to work the genius bar at an Apple store, but if you are over 60 then you are still getting used to cordless phones. That isn’t my belief but it is a common joke in pop culture that the baby boomers are struggling with modern smart phones, computers, and the latest gadgets in modern cars. I’ll be honest, for a young guy I have difficulties with modern technology myself. I’m constantly uttering the phrase, “It can do that?” when somebody mentions another useful feature my laptop or iPhone. This, however, can quickly turn into a two-way street when it comes to cars.

Modern cars can be complicated when it comes to figuring out the desktop computer they decided to fit inside the dashboard. Having Bluetooth, GPS, satellite radio, MP3 connectivity, push button ignition, and now even wireless internet have turned modern cars into rolling laptops. It’s no wonder some people have a hard time figuring out how it all works during their daily commute. But if you switch the tables and introduce an 18 year old to a car from a time when a baby boomer was young, let’s say 1965, then you have a similar problem. Old cars are not complicated, but they are a handful to operate.

The most difficult car I ever drove, so far, was my father’s 1964 Chevrolet C-10 step-side pickup truck. It had a modified 327 small block v8, manual steering, 3-speed column shifter, and four wheeled drum brakes. It was the first time I had to change gears with the shifter being up next to the steering wheel. Having to pull it down for first gear and then up, but slightly away from you, to get into second gear and then down again for third. Doing this while pressing down on a clutch pedal that felt like it was spring loaded to shoot back up the second you changed gear. For those who have never driven a car without power steering, picture a scene from any movie that takes place inside a submarine or on a boat. Seeing those huge wheels in the center of a door that they use to lock or unlock a sealed door, in every single one of those movies there will be a scene of a person struggling to turn the wheel because it’s too heavy. The flood water is coming and you see the panic in their eyes as their arm muscles bulge from using every pound of torque they have to turn the wheel as the water gets closer and closer but the wheel won’t move! …yeah, that’s how it feels to turn in a manual steering power car from a dead stop. Want to get ripped arms but don’t have time to lift weights? Just drive a manual steering car for a few weeks and you’ll be sporting Rambo arms in no time.

Never driven a car with drum brakes? Imagine the car is telling you, “are you sure?……….oh alright”, every time you press down on the pedal. The pause between pressing the pedal and actually feeling the car trying to stop is so long that you will want to press down harder, but if you do that the tires will lock up and one of two things will happen: 1) you’ll slide into the object you’re trying to avoid in a cloud of tire smoke. Or, 2) you’ll slide sideways into a different object you weren’t trying to avoid. The only way to drive with drum brakes is to start braking about three blocks away from any location you’ll have to stop at. “But what if I need to perform an emergency stop?” you might be thinking. Well if you need to brake suddenly, you better hope your arms are developed enough to wrestle the car away from any danger because there is no emergency stop! You’ll only be giving yourself a few more seconds to fully grasp the fact that you are about to hit something. The only way to improve the braking is to quickly downshift into second as you bury the brake pedal into the floorboards. Downshifting to use the engine as well as the brakes to stop a car has become a lost art of driving, thanks to ABS and stability control.

Seriously, if I had the Bill Gates’ checkbook I would rent out the parking lot of a football stadium, buy a few classic family sedans from the 50s and 60s and just watch a younger generation try to manhandle these steel beasts around while trying not to pass out from laughing. Just picturing a 1955 Ford Fairlane packed full of teens coming in at speed and then trying to make a turn but locking the brakes and blowing right pass you in a straight line with its front wheels turned completely to the left in a cloud of screeching rubber. Or pulling a muscle trying to turn the wheel while completely a three point turn. I would invite baby boomers to come watch and get some sweet payback at teaching their grandkids how to drive these cars. Granddad could get a chance to use the same sarcastic tone Junior used when he was teaching him about Skype.

Regardless of age, we all struggle with one form of technology or another. Whether it’s knowing how to set up the Bluetooth connectivity on your 2015 Chevy or knowing how to use a three-on-a-tree transmission on a 1955 Chevy, we all started as beginners at one point. I recommend all my young readers to go out and learn how to drive classic cars, because daily commutes turn into motoring adventures every time you set off. Mastering an antique car makes you feel like you can drive anything on wheels, much like when a grandparent gets that sensation of amazement when he is watching his granddaughter talk to him on a phone screen. Different eras bring different thrills, but they all create the same smiles.

Cockpit View

Owning more than one car means having more than one start-up routine. On my cars it can range from having to pump the gas before turning the key, waiting more than two minutes to warm up, or opening the hood because the damn battery didn’t hold its charge again. Even on my modern daily driver I feel the need to wait 30 seconds before shifting into gear to allow the fluids to circulate and prevent wear and tear. All these moments spent in the car before setting off allows my mind to wander off for a few minutes and forget about the daily grind. I’ve always loved driving, even before I could reach the pedals I knew it was something special. Even some non-Gearheads have told me they love going on drives to just clear their heads of a stressful situation or hectic day. Few things in this world can wash the day away better than the combination of an empty stretch of road, a car, and favorite playlist on the radio.

So the other day I was having one of those particular days where you just wake up with a chip on your shoulder. Could have been from an odd dream or not resting enough during my sleep, but that day every little thing was sending my mind into a hurricane of annoyance and disgust. Let’s face it, we all have problems and schedules to keep up and sooner or later it gets to us and end up waking up on the wrong side of the bed. After I was done with school for the day I walked to my little Mazda with a plan on driving somewhere to go get something to eat, but not sure what I was in the mood for. As I turned the key and waiting for the 30 second rule, my mind wandered and came back with a thought that completely mellowed me out.

In life, we are rarely in a situation where we have a task or a chore to complete and have everything we need at arm’s reach to handle it. If its school you might have to go to a library or search the internet for the material you need to study or complete your homework. At work, you might have to drive to different locations, work with co-workers, or deal with annoying customers. And if you have a family, then you definitely know what I am talking about. As I sat in the car staring at the interior the only task I needed to complete at that particular moment was to drive myself to a food place to eat, simple. It dawned on me that everything I needed to complete this task was at my fingertips. I have a steering wheel, gear shifter, three pedals, and the skill needed to use this car to get where I need to go.

We often overlook the joys of driving because we are constantly thinking of the next thing on our to do list. Modern technology is also trying to take away the simple pleasures of motoring with safety features that allow the car to make decisions before you can even begin to think on how to react. I never agreed with blind spot detection, over bearing traction and stability control, and auto braking. Frankly, if you’re the type of person who needs a car to tell you that you have someone in your blind spot, help you turn a corner, and stop you from hitting a car in front of you, then you might be better off taking the bus because you are not qualified to turn a wheel and push a pedal. However, if this technology stops a learners permit kid hopped up on Starbucks and blasting rave music from running into my Camaro, then god bless those brilliant engineers. All I ask is you fit an OFF button so the rest of us can enjoy the cars we are paying good money for and not feel like miss Daisy being chauffeured around town.

The point to my rant is that if you own a car, and are a member of society, then the next time you’re in the car try to leave the outside world at the door. Once inside the only task that should be in your head is the destination, not what you have to do when you get there or the next destination. If you are going to work, only thing you need to focus while inside the car is, “I need to take this route to get here”, not what you need to do once you get there. That thought will enter your mind once you step out of the car. We have too many things running around in our heads, even in our sleep most of us do not get the rest we need because we are constantly thinking of the next task at hand.

We spend a good chunk of our lives inside the interior of a car, so let that space be the one area in life where you let your mind rest and focus on one task which is simply to drive and maybe have a good time doing it. We don’t need a 1962 Jaguar E type convertible and a road on the French Riviera to enjoy driving, not that it wouldn’t be unbelievably amazing, all we need is a car, a road, and a clear head. Driving at its basic is a simple skill if you are focused on the task at hand which is getting from point A to point B. If we complicate the situation with cellphones, food and drink, a laptop screen in the center dashboard telling you the weather in city you are not in, or ear numbingly loud music, then we are merely creating more stress for ourselves.

The next time you’re in your car about to go somewhere, stop and take a really deep breathe and set aside everything else. Worry about where you need to go, not what you have to do.