When dad died in late 1994, one of the first things I did was call a car salvage company to take away the Chevy I had purchased from an acquantance at church. The woman told me a few things needed repair, but her son did car maintenance, and he’d get to them as soon as my check cleared her bank. There was a lot to like about that Chevy; mostly the air conditioning. But I discovered — after the check cleared — I couldn’t drive it on the highway. I tried — this was back when I travelled the state for an actually employer, believe it or not — and that’s when I learned the real price of the handsome but costly Caprice. For the duration of my days with IARF, I rented when I roamed beyond Sherman and Lake Springfield.
So after the police came and saw dad, and the Bisch people came and took him away, I called the car salvage people, all on the same morning. I then became the proud owner of dad’s 1986 Ford Escort. For ten years, it served me well. I was able to drive to Decatur to write for Decatur Magazine, to Rantoul to help with the Octave Chanute Museum and even semi-commute to Carlinville and Tallula and elsewhere to attend to matters of the heart, so to speak. Then things started going bad with the car. For a bloke with a job, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I will spare you the solemn saga except to say that in 2004, the outside door handle on the driver’s side broke. No big deal; I opened the passenger door from the outside, reached across, opened the driver’s door from the inside, and all was fine. In 2005, the passenger door’s outside handle broke.
Thank God she’s a hatchack.
Today I call her the Soggy Bottom Express. To enter her, I open the hatchback, insert a hefty branch havested from fallen timber in my back yard, and prop that heavy “door” open. The hydraulics which would keep it up normally haven’t worked since ’03. I then lift one leg about as high as I can lift it, lean into the trunk and with the remaining foot still on the ground behind, push my froggy body into the back of the car. . . . . open the driver door from the inside, gently ease back out of the car in a combination crawl/squat, return right foot to terra firmly and exit the back. Normally, in winter, I do this in my house clothes: the slacks with the model airplane paint on the legs, the shirt with a missing button near the top, the sweatshirt with the raggedy sleeve cuffs and the Animal Protective League logo on the front. I then return to the hoose, change into decent clothes, proceed with all deliberate speed to the Soggy Bottom Express, and go where I must go.
I didn’t start calling her the Soggy Bottom Express until a few months ago. I plan my local travel (there is no other kind) carefully. Usually, even in rain, my entry routine keeps things dry inside. If I’m parked in the school parking lotm substitutte teachihng on a rainy day, I either leave my car door open just a hair, so it doesn’t latch or I endure the ignominy of re-entering my car via the propped open hatch routine. The spectacle has generated some interesting glances, but folks know I’m a harmless married mother’s son, and they ignore or enjoy the show. Until recently, I endured the public sntic.
When I hit 60 years old, my attitude was bent back by that impact, the way a STOP sign looks after an “intersection incursion” where a skidding car bumper kisses it. So now I say to blazes with that public sillyness.
When I arrive anywhere, window of the low door — usually the passenger door, unless it’s a one way street and I park on the left curb — is cranked part way down so I can reach in and open frikking door from the outside. Even in precipitation, the angle helps keep falling snow or rain from coming in. But sometimes, more recently, I just leave the driver’s window open regardless of rain when I park anywhere away from home; sometimes even at home. And if I arrive at a reception or a meeting with a soggy bottom, big fripping DEAL! Nobody seems to notice, and in half an hour or so I’m mostly dried out and back to normal.
What about water damage to the car’s interior????????????????????, you may ask. It’s all vunyl and synthetics anyhoo; pretty much like my state of mynd these days. The Soggy Bottom Express and I are sharing our final days together, her in her way; I in mine. Even if someone would hire me, I’ve pretty much determined to stay with her for the forseeable future. We’re a unit. We’re a pair. A biumverate of weathered resignation..
Jez me and the Soggy Bottom Express.
Live long . . . . . and proper.