Life & Island Times: What It Was Wasn’t Exactly Clear
Editor’s Note: Marlow brings back some memories from a quarter century ago. Not good ones. We all share them, though. Last night there was the monthly gathering of the tribe down in Old Town at the Sonoma Cellars wine bar. Our missing comrades could have been there had they made other choices.
April 21, 2017
What It Was Wasn’t Exactly Clear
I came across an early 1990’s funeral card for one of our nation’s active duty Navy spooks. He was one of a series of wonderful people who shockingly suicided themselves during a short period of time.
We survivors thought we were smart, but there was so much we didn’t know then. The causes and effects did not start to become clear until much much later. All we had for many years was the sadness.
As our bodies aged and fact-filled, prowling minds relaxed, we dropped the filters of what we were, and so began to see beyond the anguish more clearly and deeply.
four of our best died by their own hand
in the 90s to get away,
and we who they left behind
never quite understood
how strongly they
They were senior officers in their mid-forties, when they finished themselves off. There’d be no more morning coffee sipping, office politics, Christmas parties, birthdays, and payments on new cars and bills for electricity, gas, water — the whole enchilada of necessities.
They were really likeable and smart guys, married with children. I wondered if they had concluded the world was senseless only to discover that this awareness almost gave it some sense. You know what I mean – sort of an optimistic pessimism. Did their choice came down to “kill myself or love myself?”
In the end they had nothing, and they found out that having nothing was too difficult. It was an unbearable burden. If only there’d been some gentler road in between. To those left behind, they had other choices. They only saw one.
It took a long time to first see that.
They had no more interest. In anything. They had no idea how to escape. We blind mice still had some taste for life. They seemed to understand something that we didn’t understand. Maybe we were lacking. It was possible. They just wanted to get away. But there was no place to go. Suicide? Jesus Christ. The color in their eyes went back into the ocean, as they drove over the sea cliff edge.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat/Bukowski
Life & Island Times: Strong Letter To Follow
Editor’s Note: Marlow is a real live human being. Really.
Author’s Note: This is not something I wanted to share, let alone post, during Holy Week. So, I withheld it for the coming week. True story nonetheless.
Strong Letter To Follow
I found a single day’s correspondence I had had with various factotums years ago. I smiled when the details surrounding them became clear.
woke around 10 and went downstairs to fetch the mail
in my old blue bathrobe.
I was hung over
hair looked like confused harbor seas
my scarred bare feet
stiffly teetered down the narrow wooden staircase
to the front door mail box
I scratched my three-day beard
As I bent over
the roofers across the street dropped
a stack of metal tiles
crashing on sidewalk
Shit fire! it was like being hit in the back
with buck shot
“dammit,” I shouted
gathering up a VISA card bill, catalogs,
property tax and gas payment notices,
letters from the probate lawyer and
the divorce attorney
plus an unsigned note that
requested I not furnish evidence next month
I limped back up the narrow stairs
Thinking maybe I’ll write them saying
for judgement day
is about to close in on them
there’s only one way to handle these jerks.
the day’s writing would have to wait
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: El Dorado
Editor’s Note: Marlow is his own man. Like, totally.
– The Editorial Board
I found one of my old state highway maps from a cross country trip in 2005. It prompted this memory:
no chance at all,
completely cut off from
eastern imperial cities,
I was a middle aged man
riding my motorcycle
on the way to a rendezvous
my stomach began growling
and the bike stopped
at a little cafe
in El Dorado.
locals were there
I sat at table
in the back
so I could see the others,
I ordered and the
the meal was
so was the
the waitress was
unlike the other women
she was natural
others at nearby tables
said funny crazy
the sun begin to shine on Central Street
I wanted to stay
in that cafe
it had possession
it would always stay beautiful
I had to go
Steve would be waiting for me in Hays
I told myself
that it was time
to mount up and ride.
I thought once more,
I’ll just sit
here and stay
but I rose and entered the El Dorado sunlight
I found my bike
and looked back at the cafe
as the bike accelerated out of town
then around a curve
into some hills
I looked straight ahead
wondering if the others
at the cafe
I looked one last time
in the rear view mirrors
to see if El Dorado
was still there.
there was nothing in them
I listened to the
thrum of the
of the tires
on the pavement
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: Drive-in Nightmare
Editor’s Note: Standard disclaimer. Marlow is an actual human being and a welcome guest on the Socotra House LLC site. I miss our place- Maverick’s, on Woodward Ave. in suburban Detroit. If I had his car I would probably already be dead.
I grew up in a place called Clintonville, a small streetcar suburb that was swallowed whole by the city of Columbus Ohio during the baby boom explosion. Growth became crazy as every family had to have a car to get around when the city’s rail trolley system closed in 1948.
Culture disrupting byproducts of this automobile age were the drive-in theaters, restaurants, and sales kiosks that catered to a new customer base that lived this auto life. At their height in the 1960s, there were tens of thousands of drive-in restaurants and theaters in suburban, rural, and even in urban areas. Drive-in theaters started closing in the mid 1960’s, but drive-in restaurants were hitting their stride with licensed boomer drivers motoring their jalopies to their generation’s social networking sites.
Every weekend night starting a bit before sundown these places was jammed with hungry teens ready to down a “Super Jumbo” burger, fries and coke. The hipsters smoked cigarettes, but most were there to check out the opposite sex fauna. Tight pants, bouffant hairdos, oh my. Many of us cruised the place in our hot rods, looking for someone to pull out or challenge us and our ride.
Even now, I can hear songs that played from the AM radios in our cars at our local drive-in diner:
“Superstock Dodge is windin’ out in low/But my fuel-injected Stingray’s really startin’ to go. To get the traction I’m ridin’ the clutch/My pressure plate’s burnin’, this machine’s too much.”
“She’s got a competition clutch with a four on the floor, and she purrs like a kitten til the lake pipes roar.”
“And she’ll have fun, fun, fun til her daddy takes her T-bird away.”
“Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out — GTOoooo.”
After I graduated high school, the local fuzz stopped letting anyone cruise through Jerry’s lot or hang out and talk. This plus the draft, war, college and the onset of the J-O-B phase of our lives was beginning of the end of drive-in restaurants. It was a slo-mo drive-in nightmare.
By the time we boomers started to hit the half century mark during the 1990s, only one or two of these dine-in-your-car eateries per city remained. I was lucky – my place, Jerry’s at the corner of High Street and Morse Road- lasted until 1986, when it was sold to a series of owners who by deed restrictions had to keep the place open as a restaurant and maintain its fabulous moving neon sign out front. It is still there under a different name.
I have fond memories of Jerry’s with its downstairs bathrooms, the inlaid sparkly floor, the chocolate iced brownies for desert, and the owner’s office where a huge shiny blue swordfish hung on the wall.
The continued existence of these surviving drive-ins was assured when we boomer geezers started forming classic car clubs and holding regular gatherings at them. Not much at these events goes on anymore regarding checking out the chicks and certainly there’s no more pull outs for clandestine racing on the back roads. Nope. It’s just old farts sitting in folding lawn chairs next to classic rides, sipping a bagged beer and swapping lies about the old days.
We are seeing perhaps the final death knell of the boomer car culture with more millennials shying away from acquiring driver’s licenses and cars until they reach their mid to late twenties. I guess Uber, carbon footprints, greenhouse gases and alternative energy are having an effect. I can hear the song lyrics now . . .
She’ll have fun, fun, fun, til her daddy takes her Prius away.”
Click it on, charge it up, whine it out, little Focus Ceeeeee”
Maybe sometime in the distant future, American car culture will return to its roots, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the cops. Perhaps this time the cars themselves will be bootlegged — fat, fast and gas-powered — racing through the night on off-the-map roads while the cops hunt them down using multi –sensor stealth drones. Reborn to run, anyone?
Hopefully, we octogenarian rebels will give our grandchildren our hot rods, so they can road race run from the feds.
– – –
long ago almost every week
I got into a road race
with some joker
on back roads and
I usually won
death did not matter
without knowing why
I was sticking my head
into the lion’s mouth
and walking through waters with
I was not alone
in banging on
death’s funny bone
night terror now
is not death
but partial transitory death
at a table in a restaurant with
someone serving food from a dirty
barely hidden jealousy and
lots of unresolved
better to fear death on the streets of
hell with blabbering financial folks
picking pockets, as they scan for
long ago I beat
in their late model
cars and bikes,
racing red, I
bright red SOBs
now it’s me
with the red flag
waving at the young bulls
the Hellcat, their nightmare
wonder if most of
them live with their mothers
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: Added Thoughts About Net People
Editor’s Note: Standard disclaimer. Marlow is a real and distinguished human being.
Added Thoughts About Net People
When writers grow old, their thoughts sometimes dwell upon legacy. A desire for same almost always is destined to failure. Most scribblers never realize that they are penning stories atop bakery cakes with icing on a hot day instead of carving them in marble.
What follows in my next few posts are word pictures of the mundane from my past. Much like my Hollywood Famous post several days ago, their wellsprings are recovered memories sparked by things like old photos, a press clipping or a scrap of the past in a journal, a keepsake or other items long stashed in shoe boxes, preserved and flattened between book pages and other hiding places.
There is not much in them in terms of striking metaphor, mostly just bits of youthful foolishness, forks in the road, as well as obscure details long forgotten but recently remembered with clarity.
I have been having trouble writing about these things since they were so long ago and my understanding of them is only so-so. I can’t recall exactly how I came to the end of them as experiences. What I can say is that I am trying to recapture whatever ism that laid underneath my feelings at that time, and not just pen some formless recapitulation of events.
Some of these memories might take a year or two or three to emerge into words suitable for sharing. For instance, my piece on Net People took countless attempts, and it still wasn’t a finished piece when I booted it out of the draft folder. I must confess to troubles conceptualizing what digital bubbles really are. The thought came to me today that perhaps the ultimate consequence of these self-directed apartnesses is ironically the concentration camp. The concentration camp is the final expression of human separateness and man’s organized abandonment of those things he finds unpleasant or disturbing. Yet this topic still needs work . . .
Another thought regarding the Net People piece appeared to me the day after I sent it out . . . it seems that an irrational terror is spreading wide across the land from the far right to the far left. It seems that this equally felt fear on both sides of unpleasant and evil outsiders has taken to itself a fiat of moral goodness. In these instances in the past, oftentimes somebody had to die when panic emerged. Panic buttons when pressed by the clean hands of moral duty set loose murderous trains.
Then I saw the much ballyhooed, recent Pepsi commercial and the ensuing net-fueled indignation. I did not feel sorry for the sugar water seller or its ad agency. Millennial hipness is a tough battlefield to play on, let alone seek street cred on.
Pepsi probably should have had a male African American offer the soda to imitate and pay homage to a 50-year-old photo icon from my youth. They should have also clad an older cop in full riot gear instead of the short-sleeved hunky one they went with for verisimilitude.
Seriously, most of us Americans can’t surrender our belief that politics should somehow make sense. We think that the state has lost its mind and is unfairly punishing “innocent” people. We find this intolerable. Both the left and right see this at the same time of the same government of each other’s treasured things. Any evidence to the contrary must be internally denied. That requires work. So the easy way out is to wall ourselves off from the contrary in favor of our beloved evidence streams.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: Hollywood Famous
Editor’s Note: Standard disclaimer: Marlow is a real person, and veers into poetry on occasion as he does this rainy morning. Me? I slogged through the taxes this morning and stabbed the button and sent them in. What an obtuse and frustrating system we have created. When I printed out a paper copy for the files, the mass came to around forty pages. This is absurd. Perhaps not as crazy as wanting to be Hollywood Famous, but you never know. Over to Marlow!
Long ago I knew this neighborhood boy. He lived just down the street from me on West North Broadway just up from the Olentangy River. Both of us were the oldest of our seven child families, attended the same schools, rode the same buses and played at the same parks. He was a studious, quiet person. Almost twenty years ago, I read about him in the news. Yesterday, someone sent me digital press clippings that he had been in the news. He was once again Hollywood Famous.
This prompted some free verse.
he was five foot nine with dark brown hair
deep set brown eyes
with a wiry body
he was quiet and rode an old used bicycle
to school and work
he didn’t go out with girls
he didn’t hang much with boys
he’d pull up on his bicycle
put his foot down on the ground at
the park: “Hey. Marlow, where are you going to go
to college? You’re smart. You’ll get in anywhere.”
He was smarter than me so
I’d say the same back to him but
he’d say right back to me or others who sometimes made fun of him
“college is not for me. I’m headed for Hollywood.
I’m going to be famous.”
they never got to him in one way or
they did get to our school’s assistant principal for girls just after we
graduated, she left the nunnery, married a defrocked priest,
had children and moved out west.
in the class pictures of 1967, graduating class,
spring , Dante Soiu’s photo was there on the same page
as mine and he looked very different than the rest of us.
under each photo there was something unique
about each student:
“Loves baseball and canoeing the river . . .”
“Engaged to a student at OSU”
“Wants to be a housewife and a mother . . .”
under Dante Soiu’s photo it said:
“Going to be Hollywood famous . . .”
Dante Soiu of Watterson High
class of 1967
he should have changed his name
he looked so deranged later
with his beady eyes
now he looks mildly off the hook
he was born under a bad sign
Scorpio, the predatory arachnid
riding his old
Dante 2016: acquitted and adjudged as recovered; now Hollywood Famous twice
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: Net People
Editor’s Note: Marlow, and his wonderful Coastal Empire series, comes from a real human being and is not a figment of my fevered imagination. This one struck a particularly resonant chord. I work from home- or better said, with the net, I live at the office. I find if I turn around from the AOL account, the inbox fills up rapidly with junk- normally, if I am doing something else and come back through to check, there are 20 or thirty new things to look at, some of which (though not much) is actually worth the time. I only kept the account because composing these little soap bubbles goes better here than on gmail- though of course there are a couple accounts over there where I have tried to steer the junk and promotional notes. Google seems to do that well enough that I can ignore it all. And then there is the office, of course. It is getting mind-numbing, nd the more old pals who join the ranks fo rhthe retired clearly have too much time on their hands.
April 5, 2017
Who speaks for America today? I believe it’s the ad agencies whose hundreds of billions of dollars of creative electronic ad placements underpin this new world netted economy. They are entirely capable of showing us our unparalleled prosperity and paint a nearly present classless, raceless, faithless, secular society that is relentlessly affirmative.
These purveyors do not look for assurance. Their art proceeds from an understanding that Americans and the world will take what they show them as revelation — not of what they ought to be but of what they are at a given time and under given circumstances. Take this, eat it, shut up, be happy. Sadly, everything they give us is a small pleasure whose effect does not last, depressing its consumers as it wears off and prompting them to await with hope and then demand with anxiety the next upgrade or new thing. Some would call this jonesing for the next fix.
It should not take much to make us realize what fools we become when trapped in this cycle, but the little it takes can be a very long time in coming. Like decades. That might be not just too long but too late.
At its best the American age, the pre-hypernetted version, was a story of innovators, searchers, discoverers and true believers. As the narrative is petering out now with people drowning in self-selected multimedia streams of our own bathwater, its characters are numbly focused on a final triumph over despair by domesticating it and living happily with it.
From behind their digitally erected walls, these net people withdraw into the inner compartments of like minds where they spend most of their time. This mental bubble in which each person establishes himself allows the exclusion of that which they cannot bear going on around them. From it, they can see out and judge but in it they are safe from any kind of penetration from without. It is the only place where they feel free of the general idiocy of others. Non-likes can never enter it, but from it they feel confident that they see everything with absolute clarity.
Cyber citizens’ experience is largely rootless. They can go anywhere. They belong nowhere and everywhere. Being alien to nothing and everything, they end up being alienated from any type of larger entity other than their self-defined community. The borders of their culture and country are the sides of their skulls.
I had what passed for higher education and a richly experienced life back in the day. With the rise of the seamless internet, Google and social media, I am no longer deceived by any former confidence in my book learning and life experience.
This loss was felt not as a pain but as a tide. It rose within me, over many years of unawareness. It rose as my children and children’s children chose and sustained these new ways to the detriment of their privacy. I wonder how or even if they might hear those who wander this violent world when they break their silence to shout a warning about impending dangers.
The age we live in now is full of the stuff of which fanatics and madmen are made. How does one stay upright and make progress in such a time and place when the choice is at times between madness and empty despair? What should be the direction when the bubbled ones lose their balance? Is there a choice? A real, let alone a good, one?
I might be silly here, but the internet saddens me at times. There seems to be little to nothing in it but trifling domestic doings — people buying stuff, youth watching, posting, commenting on video, folks haggling about this or that . . . what do they get out of it? I wonder. Where is there any chance for self-expression – – not the Snapchat crapfest of image/video manipulations or snarky political comments on news media sites — for creation, and for art? Blog websites? They’re so digital 19th century.
All around the web, it’s the same — hundreds of millions of sites and hundreds of billions of daily posts, images, videos and texts by people scurrying about with their hands full of little packages and their minds full of little packages — mothers with children in daycare, job and home life pulling her, jerking her, dragging her away from a peaceful moments of small pleasure with the family; she like others will probably be pulled and jerked the rest of her life. And there are others with their lives sped up and complexified by the ever increasing spew of new technology. Is all of this digital hurry making us walk faster, drop our life’s package contents all over the streets and forcing us to ignore our loved ones’ pleas for more face time (pun unintended), while up the street folks speed up and strangers crowd us from behind too close for comfort.
During my pre-networked years, we may have felt more, but certainly we saw less. Today’s digerati in my opinion feel less, see more, even though they see with the blind unsentimental eyes of acceptance – an unquestionable faith in their bubble and its underlying construct. In the absence of feelings, tenderness is lost. What passes for tenderness is wrapped in dry communications theory. When tenderness is detached from its human source and object, the logical outcome is terror. It ends in digital forced-outrage storms on the web and on our city streets and college campuses.
As we become dumbed down, the American mystique and mystery seem to me to be gradually evaporating. Dogma is the chief guardian of mystery. As the American canon failed to morph/evolve and then disappeared from our schools and public life, so has America mystery. Its loss was spiritually significant in ways that we cannot fathom.
We are living in a new age which doubts both fact and values. We are swept this way and that by momentary convictions. Instead of reflecting a balance from the world around us, we are forced to achieve one from a felt balance inside ourselves and our bubbles. Seeing and judging become difficult. Without a set of agreed to values, this easily becomes a hopeless fool’s errand inside our bubbles. If one is without hope, one really cannot make sense of life.
Perhaps we digiterati should plunge into the gritty reality outside ourselves and our bubbles and experience its very cold shock to our systems. To sustain this encounter, monetary rewards are insufficient. What is offered is the chance at revelation and salvation. Will this suffice?
What I am spitballing here is a draft approach to life that begins with the risks and possibilities of real life rather than the probabilities and certainties of our bubbles. We must force ourselves to confront the unpleasant, the different in life – to meet evil and those who act solely on behalf of themselves.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: It Is All on Us
Editor’s Note: This is, in the form of the mandatory disclosure, the fruit of the intellect of Marlow, a colleague of distant year’s past. It is his story, but we all have them, don’t we?
Life & Island Times: It Is All on Us
Last week’s imperial city healthcare follies stoked citizens’ fears over the fate of American health care reform – both the proposed new replacement one and the seven year old version now in place. New and improved TrumpCare would have cut millions from the insured roles over the succeeding 4 to 5 years, while original ObamaCare costs are skyrocketing, providers (primarily doctors) are refusing to treat Medicaid patients, and insurers (aka payers) are leaving its exchanges. So, politicians did what they do best – kicking the can down the road once again.
Was TrumpCare’s non-vote a catastrophic loss or victory? Probably both, especially for American citizens. It is all on us and not them. Again. It always has been this way.
As we age, health care becomes about chronic conditions and occasional immediate life-or-death issues. This has to do in part with entropy as well as competing specialists for various conditions not liking the other’s medicines and treatment decisions and taking you off much needed meds. In crunch times of acute conditions, it becomes about whether, when, and where you can get treatment and care if you’re sick, and how long the system lets you get the care. It is so hopelessly complicated and complex and pits patients as individuals against faceless, implacable payer and provider institutions, whose DNA code when spelled out says D-E-N-I-E-D.
It puts the aged into increasingly complex decision situations as their mental acuity starts to wane. When my parental units started to fail during their mid-80s, their children stepped into the breach. The ass kicking started immediately. Doctors were fired. A concierge doctor was hired as their primary care physician and navigator of the conflicts between specialists and hospitalists. Insurance companies were mercilessly beaten and made to pay and pay and pay. Squabbling specialists were brought to heel.
Their children attended all doctor appointments, kept detailed notes and ensured there were no contradictory courses of treatment or medicines ordered without the contradictions being immediately resolved. Hospital and rehab facility officials came to fear these gatekeepers and their helpers.
This level of support ensured their parents’ ability to make the right decisions in accordance with their wishes. Their health and quality of life improved. And they said so.
This had the potential to embarrass these two wonderful people as their situations became too complex for them to manage. These shadowy places and times required clear eyed and experienced navigators and helmsmen/women. Opaque sounding rules were translated into plain English and resistant and manipulative provider and payer decision makers were read the riot act into compliance with the law and policies. It could no longer be all on these octogenarians as it had been for the previous 60 years. It had to be all on others.
This support team was unique – a sister in law lawyer with decades of knowledge in health care law, a sister in law registered nurse who owned and operated an urgent care business for a decade, a grand daughter’s friend who was a PhD pharmacist, a child who has a decade’s experience as a forensic accountant in healthcare, a second child who was a Fortune 500 company CFO and a third child who was professional grade ass kicker of bureaucracies and their denizens.
Well, their folks passed after they turned 90 but not before having gained several more years of high quality life before they moved on.
Now the support team children and spouses are entering their own ageing stage where this increasingly complex scene is all on them. They know from this experience that it’s not all about the cards in their wallets. It’s so much more that appears at times to be impersonal, needlessly complex, deliberately confusing and at times humiliating and inhumane.
It’s no longer about being covered and trusting the outcome. It is the antithesis of simplicity and clarity. They’ll work to make it as clear and simple as best they can. They’ll enlist each other to work harder if they have to. They will not cotton to being jerked around. Anytime. Anywhere.
In some ways, it’s like a gaming casino where the house odds are better than those in place in Las Vegas. So, as their parents did before them, these players will take their own house and bet it all on us.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: The Enchanting Song of the Bad and All Powerful Kitty
Editor’s Note (and Disclaimer): Like Socotra House LLC commentator Arrias, Marlow is a real human being and not just another manifestation of my alternate personalities. The Quacks have put me back on meds and all that seems to be just fine. I have been a car nut all my life, starting with my first speeding ticket (120mph in a 50-zone) while I was still on my learner’s permit. Marlow has combined the thrill of crotch-rocket two-wheeling with the most amazing ride to come out of the Dodge Brother’s MOPAR shop in decades. Fasten your seat-blet and take a real ride with Marlow today.
The Enchanting Song of the Bad and All Powerful Kitty
There are some things nobody needs in this world, and a Tor-Red, hunch-back, warp-speed Dodge Challenger Hellcat is one of them – but I wanted one anyway, and on many days now two years after I bought it, I actually believe I still need one. That is why they are dangerous.
Many American males own fast cars at some point during their lives. Some go 120 miles per hour on freeways in them. The foolhardy do so on two lane blacktop roads, but not often. There are too many oncoming trucks, patrol cars and stupid critters that might get in the way.
You have to be a little crazy to drive these super horse powered (the Hellcat has 707 of them), high-speed missiles anywhere except a drag strip. Even there, these cars will scare the sniveling shit out of you. Upon reflection, there’s not much difference between rear ending a semi on the freeway or exiting the drag strip runout sideways at 130 MPH.
There have been days in my life when I got what I wanted, and on others, I got what I needed. This story is about both. At the same time.
The Dodge dealer in northern Indiana called me in March 2015 to ask when I could pick up this red beauty after some earlier email exchanges and many tens of thousands of dollars being overnighted to him. I got giddy. As he prattled on at the other end of the phone, my mind got lost on quarter mile times in the low 10s, trap speeds above 125, and freeway test speed runs in excess of 200. It seemed like a chic decision at the time (I was two weeks shy of 66), and my surviving friends in the fast car world would be very excited. “Hot damn!” I could hear them they say. “We’ll take it to the track and blow them all away.”
My dreamy response was simple.
“Eff that! Screw the strip. That’s for sissies. We are gonna road race this sucker against any and all comers. Let those fast and furious weasels eat tire smoke.”
I had been a connoisseur of fast cars and motorcycles all my life. But college, a wife and a daughter intervened in the late 1960s. So I settled for a series of screamingly fast bikes –Triumph with a 750 TT kit, Kawasaki and Suzuki triples. I rode in freeway traffic doing wheelies, lost them lowside on crappy decreasing radius turns cracking several helmets, and avoided various cars trying to kill me for decades. I am not without scars on my brain and my body from those motorcycle days, but I lived with them and survived and accommodated their after-effects.
Back then, road racing, whether in a car or on a bike, was sometimes about going way too fast for conditions and somehow making it out alive. It was where you sat on the side of the road just shaking and wondering how you made it through that, and how that turned into “if I had cranked the front wheels a bit more and applied a bit more brake to adjust my drift, I could have gone a little faster and quicker. Kind of like busting your personal best time on a twisty piece of road, just to see another car enter the other end. Somehow you got past the car without crashing, and then when you realized that you were still alive.
Road racers were a different breed back in the day. You see we had very different things we valued in fast cars and bikes. Pure speed in top gear on a drag strip was one thing, but pure speed in third gear in down or up hill hairpin turns was quite another.
We craved it. Road racing was strictly a matter of taste. It took a primeval mentality, an abnormal mixture of high speed, 100% unadulterated stupid, and an unquestioning commitment to road racing and all its dangerous pleasures. It was one of my finest albeit short-lived addictions.
It was about to acquire another addictive substance again.
When the Hellcat came into my sights in the dealer’s garage four weeks later, I knew what to do with it. We had taken several days off to fly north, collect the beast, and drive it back down south to Key West.
As we screwed on the Florida license plate (HELQAT), the salesman explained the need for two different key fobs – one black and one red. Of course, I thought, “You don’t want to cripple unsuspecting parking lot attendants or dealer mechanics with too much power, so you give them the 500 HP black fob when you left them to care for your beast.”
When I got behind the wheel and lit the fuse of this fiery red, four-wheeled rocket ship in the garage, I realized I was back in the road-racing and scare-myself-shitless business.
The engine grumble at idle was amazing, while the growl as the accelerator pedal was depressed was awe inspiring. I was filled with feelings of lust every time I stomped on the go-pedal. I knew that others would feel the same way.
My dreams continued as the engine idled . . . my southernmost driveway would quickly become a magnet for drooling gearheads. They would quarrel and bitch about who would be the first to help me evaluate this new toy. And I did, of course, need a certain spectrum of opinions, besides my own, to properly judge this car. Subconsciously, I also felt their presence in the car as passengers would keep me from doing something mega stupid.
When aimed in the right direction at high speed, I immediately found the Hellcat had almost supernatural capabilities. This I accidentally discovered as I drove it south from the dealership on a two lane Indiana county road. I was following a slow moving car doing a sedate 55 mph and pulled out to pass while giving the Hellcat what I thought was a little oompph on the go-pedal. This red devil fishtailed as it launched itself around the slow moving car. Somehow the demon straightened out as I backed off the throttle. By the time I pulled back over into the proper lane it was starting to decelerate below 90.
This was not a bold and reckless move, but it was necessary if only to teach me to baby the accelerator with my toes and not my sole or heel. And it worked: I felt like Evel Knievel as the car screamed past anything provided that my jaws and eyes were not clamped down shut in fear. To do otherwise was to come face to face with the Death Machine. I never wanted that queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach again nor to silently cry for my mama. When pulling off to gas the beast up somewhere around Indianapolis, I went into a trance for 60 seconds or so while pumping gas until I was finally able to light a cigarillo and calm down enough to get back behind the wheel again and drive.
After a brief stay with family in our central Ohio hometown, we pointed the Bad and All Powerful Kitty southward. W wanted to take certain interstates that would get us home quickly. I had other plans that I revealed as turns were made that took us into the far southeastern corner of Tennessee.
As I turned onto US 129, I shared the rest of my plan. Tail of the Dragon. Uphill attack. Spring had not sprung, so we could see through not-yet-leafed-trees turns to spot oncoming traffic.
I had ridden this road many times on motorcycles since the early 70s but never in a muscle or super car. It was late in the day, so the road would be mostly clear. And it was.
On advice of counsel, I can’t say how fast we went, but I did set a new personal best (PB) time for an uphill climb.
Suitably sated, we took our time and made it safely home the next day, but not before W wound BaAP Kitty out past 135 on a deserted twenty mile stretch of I95 in Florida. While headed south my road racing dreaming continued.
A NASCAR track and NHRA dragstrip were 130 miles north in Homestead Florida. No. Not everybody who buys a high-dollar, super horsepower-brute yearns to go out in a ball of fire on a public street in the Florida Keys. Some of us are decent people who want to stay out of the emergency room, but still blast through tourist season-gridlocked traffic along US 1 whenever we feel like it. For that we need a Death Machine.
The Hellcat is a finely engineered machine. Once in its new home, my neighbors hailed it as beautiful and admired its racing lines. The sucker looked like it was going 80 when it was standing still in the driveway.
Taking friends and assorted speed freaks for a road test drive in the beast, though, was a genuinely terrifying experience for all my first time passengers. They had never felt instantaneous power, neck breaking acceleration and speed like this. Just past Mile Marker 5 where Boog Powell’s Marina used to be, we would be heading north on a straight two mile long stretch of divided highway along US 1 doing 60-65, when I told them to hold on. Two plus seconds later we were rocketing past 110. The local fuzz knew me and the car by sight. They knew where and what I was doing, but never hassled me. That was because I gave a number of them test rides. A couple of southbound FHP patrol cars flashed their lights, when they spotted me on one of my runs, but never gave chase.
They all loved the torque, the true deadly element of this beast that you got when you strapped this monster on and hammered the accelerator. BOOM! Instant take-off. No screeching or squawking around like a fool. Just an outrageous roar and the supercharger spooling up as our minds were completely emptied of everything but fear.
This rocket dug right in and shot us straight down the road, for better or worse, good or ill . . . until the Death Machine did you depart.
Somewhere north of 130 is where the Hellcat got its second wind. That’s when the supercharger whine became prominent and a second acceleration thump was felt. Sorta like an afterburner engaging. I never got the electronic shift to go higher than 6th on these runs. The Hellcat has 8 gears.
This would be a shameful admission for an all-out road racer, but let me tell you something: Bad and All Powerful Kitty is simply too damn fast to drive at its top speed in any kind of normal road traffic unless you have about a guaranteed mile of clear and completely straight and level freeway ahead to roar down the centerline with your hair on fire and a full throated Yahhhhh! as you pass 190.
Now when I drive the Hellcat, I try to do so with a more calculated sanity. The emergence of the 21st century supercars has drastically heightened the need for this approach. Automotive technology has made huge leaps forward. Take the Hellcat. With this banshee’s optimum cruising speed at well over 110, seeing a bambi in the middle of the road as you round a gentle sweeper turn . . . WHAMMO. Meet the Death Machine.
The Hellcat is so finely engineered, balanced and torqued that you can do 90 mph in fourth through a 35 zone and get away with it. The car is not just fast – it is ungodly quick and responsive. It is like driving something, which will outrun a modern jet fighter in the quarter mile on the runway, but in the end, the jet would go airborne and the Hellcat would not. Hello, Death Machine.
There are fundamental differences between the old muscle cars of my 1960s youth and the current breed of supercars. These new beasts are gifted with overspec’ed race car quality braking, steering and on-the-fly tunable exhaust and suspension. Yet, should you drive them for any length of time at top speed, you will almost certainly die just like road racers did back in the 60s. The new supercar road racer macho might not be about winning a race but more like Do you have the balls to drive your bottomless pit of horse power past the edge longer than I will mine?
Whatever the answer might be, on some days this car is in my opinion the most fun you can have with your clothes on. This type of bloodcurdling fun has plagued me all my life. I am a slave to it. Yes, even at 68 years of age. On my tombstone they will carve, “LAUNCH HIM!”
So far, no one has offered or even discussed road racing theirs against mine.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Life & Island Times: 68: Skin Shedding
Today’s email inbox contained the above best wishes from one of the medical community’s specialists who have attended my needs. With the ongoing health care follies inside our nation’s imperial city, it should have made me a bit uncomfortable.
Surprisingly, I am not yet uncomfortable despite turning 68 today. In snake terms, I have shed my skin 68 times. It is fortunate that nature provides us this annual cosmetic surgery. As this stage of life, it helps rid us of older wrinkles, life’s disabling expectations, false illusions and fear. Anger as well is let go during this annual shedding. In fact letting go is a key operant of successful ageing. That and restraining my inherent dickishness.
On the positive side, some will tell you that slow-n-steady is the best approach to take towards ageing. I’m here to tell you that fast is better. Much better. The choice is simple – missile launch or squeezed out of toothpaste tube. I’ve always believed this, in spite of the trouble it has caused me from time to time. That is why God and Mssrs Harley and Davidson made fast motorcycles. Frequent sessions of full wide open throttle, my friends.
Readers of my four corners journal know my answer to this next question but they should also answer it for themselves — who is the happier man, he who has braved the storms of life on the ocean and lived or he who has stayed secure on shore and merely existed? Just remember that life upon this ocean is one where we humans enter the food chain, and not always at the top.
The edge – there is no straightforward way to explain why I lived there other than by stories. Various going-overs are what I tried to share in my four corners diary. I want to note for the record that I don’t recommend drugs, violence, or insanity as personal edges to cross, but they seemed to have worked for a lot of creative folks. Sadly, a lot of them died or got brain fried early. I remain too old for that shit. I think I always was.
In my long ago youth when I departed late night NYC to catch some sleep during the late 60s on the night’s last train, it was never full of nice guys. Yeah, I admit now in hindsight that this was risky. Hopefully, my final departure from this orb will not be so perilous. There’s nothing to fear from those folks in white coats, right?
Old elephants head off to the hills to die. Old Americans go out to the highway to drive themselves to death asleep at the wheel or stricken with a heart attack behind the wheels of our huge cars. I think I shall ride my motorcycle.
Every now and then when life gets complicated and the political jerks or job weasels start closing in around you, I recommend getting on a motorcycle and riding like a bat outta hell south to the Conch Republic. I plan to do so in the near future.
I am turning 68. Please, no presents. No more games. No more marching. No more protesting. 68. That’s 18 years past 50. 18 more than I likely deserved and certainly more than I thought I’d get. I am tired of being tired and achy. No fun — for anybody. 68. I am beyond the greed. My needs are simple. A bit more travel. More time and fun with friends. Acting my old age? Screw that. What I fear most is hearing these words “Relax. This won’t hurt.”
Children don’t need friends to help them face birthdays. But we do at this age. Some of you have been around for many of these celebrations, while others for just a few. Thanks for sharing with me the past, funny or frightening as it may have been.
Same time, next year? Who knows where. I’ll get back to you. Maybe.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat