You know it’s a bad sign when you’ve planned a road trip and one-third of your companions bail before the truck even leaves the driveway. I suppose the troop transport vehicle in which we were about to embark would fall under truck category; even a twenty-seven year old Chevy Suburban should be allowed its dignity in old age, but standing beside Old ‘Burbon, I thought I detected a sigh. There was a hint of exhaustion in the way the faded sapphire blue paint rusted and curled along the fenders. It may have been my imagination, but the tires, although brand new, seemed to sag, jutting outwards like the bony hips of a cow past its prime.
Biking 40 miles worth of hills and rollers at the Elephant Rock Cycling Festival didn’t worry me, but the simple act of getting there in ‘Old Burbon bothered me enough that I couldn’t sleep the night before we left.
“Do you think the Suburban will be able to make it ninety-one miles on the Interstate?” I asked Theron nervously. Yes, his name is Theron, but I can call him T for the rest of the story to make you quit giggling.
T stopped adjusting the four road bikes secured tightly to his specially designed bike rack inside the truck to look over his shoulder at me. T is a master woodworker; his pieces are pure art, worthy of displaying in a museum, including this bike rack. He lovingly tucked his bike’s wheels, encased in individual, zippered bags, next to the wheel well, gave them a pat, and turned to me to explain.
“Me and ‘Burbon, we just got back from a cross-country drive all the way from Jackson, Mississippi. This little ole jaunt down I-25 is nothing. It’s a picnic. ‘Burbon’s got all the bells and whistles: new tires, I just spent $11,000 on engine repairs getting him into mint condition,” he explained.
It was a picnic — of sorts, and seeing how there wasn’t anyone to share the wide bench seat with us, Dr. K. and I gnawed on our breakfast burritos, sipped coffee, and gazed outside the windows as the early morning scenery jogged by, our eyes a bit blurry at six on a Sunday morning.
“You could even take a nap if you’d like, save up energy for the ride later,” T offered. “That upholstery’s comfy.”
It was true; the plush, navy velour seats were comfortable, the bench seat plenty wide to lay down upon, but I had to keep my eyes open. I had to keep my eyes on T, watching as he wove through traffic, edging the concrete barrier. He spent a fair amount of time turned around talking to us in the back seat.
“So, why was it that Bones and your other friend decided to take different cars to meet us at the fairgrounds?” I asked him.
“Oh — ‘Burbon’s a bit drafty,” T explained. Sharing the front seat with him, Nina, T’s wife, turned to me and shook her head in disagreement.
“There’s a bit more to it than air conditioning,” she said.
Or lack thereof.
Dredging memory, I recalled what car I was driving back in 1988. It was a used BMW, colored a similar sapphire blue with a stick shift, and I wondered where it was today, who was driving it. Did they love it as much as I had then? That car had been my entry into the adult world, the first car I purchased with my own money to celebrate that I had passed the bar exam and was now a full-fledged lawyer with a real job.
‘Burbon, named J.B. (after Jim Beam) by T’s mom, had belonged to his parents; purchased in San Antonio, it had made the move to Jackson to be closer to grandchildren as the parents aged. Along with them, ‘Burbon lost his shine — the truck was definitely a boy, T assured me, for how could it be anything else? The truck also lost its (optional) air conditioning, window seals, and the right passenger seat required a pair of surgical scissors (neatly tucked into a door pocket) to yank the lock up from the door frame. At a point during the thousands-of-dollars overhaul, the truck also lost the interior roof lining — somewhere — because it wasn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things: bike transport. With only lap seat belts in the back seat, we rumbled along, pushing the old thing to reach a rattly 75 mph, visiting easily between passenger and front seats without the interference of headrests. Bemused, I cranked down the window to get some air to be greeted with a warm blast of exhaust from another I-25 driver heading to an unknown destination.
Our destination was obvious, if anyone had looked inside the truck at the row of curved bike handles silently rearing to go-go-go downhill. Carbon frames have that look about them; sleek and elegant, they are the thoroughbreds of bicycles.
“This is definitely one of those moments when you could say your bike is more expensive than your ride,” I quipped to T and Nina. They both chuckled; the Suburban’s Blue Book value chimes in around $1,500 so that wasn’t a hard mark to meet.
But driving with T was nerve-wracking, what with all his swerving and visiting, and I meekly offered to drive us home after the bike ride. “I just want to see what it feels like to drive a Suburban as old as this one,” I told him.
We all shuffled seats, guys in the back, Nina and I up front on the wide bench seat.
T gently laid the keys in the palm of my hand. “The square one is the ignition, but this one,” he indicated, rubbing his thumb across the smooth surface of an oval, brass key, the Chevy logo gone, “this one is for the rear window.” He stroked the worn key once more with his forefinger and looked at me.
“This was your dad’s car, wasn’t it,” I said, and he nodded.
Some things are hard to get rid of. Sometimes, you just have to hold on to them.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.