Friday, June 30, 2023

Midsummer Night's Playlist

It was forty-seven years and a couple of days ago today.... 

I was driving from here to there and the songs on the above list were blasting from my radio. In my first two cars, there was only a built-in AM radio to listen to, but that was okay. At least I had tunes while I cruised.

This list popped up on one of my social media timelines, and as I read through it, I was immediately taken back to those midsummer days, and the AMC Gremlin that I drove. The Gremlin was not my first car. My first car was a 1962 hooptie that could get me from one place to another when it wasn’t broken down. During the few months I owned it, I replaced the entire exhaust system, brakes, and fluids and performed a complete tuneup. When the transmission went out after I’d invested all that money, my dad told me that the car was done. He helped me with those repairs; I learned a lot even though a lot of it was spent simply holding a flashlight while his mechanical skills came into play. Now, most of those repairs are not required or simply cannot be performed by the average owner without a full car maintenance bay. So, the Gremlin was the one I spent more time working on the fun side.

The only existing picture of my 1976 Gremlin
I pinstriped the car myself, and swapped out the rims before attacking the inside of the car. It may have only started with an AM radio, but it ended up with a nice FM radio complete with an 8-track player. I only owned ten or of the large clunky tapes. However, in that small number, I covered a wide range of genres from The Good Bad and the Ugly Soundtrack to Kiss Alive!. I added a set of home speakers I bought at a yard sale for ten dollars and they set loose in the back of the car, creating a safety hazard but giving me my own wall of sound.

I never did much to the engine. I didn’t know what I was doing. Automobile mechanics had marched forward in the two decades from when my first car was created to this one. It looked nothing at all like what I had done with my dad on the hooptie.

 About eighteen months later, as I was heading to an employee party in Williamsburg, the car was totaled. The rural highway I was on was in a heavily wooded area, and as I went around the curve, I faced two sets of headlights coming at me. On either side of the road was a steep embankment, so that was not an option. There were simply too many cars and not enough road. The Cadillac Deville that hit me head-on was being driven by a driver who was both drunk and high. The car he was passing was an older car with a group of older ladies in it. Given that everyone was traveling above fifty miles an hour, it is a wonder that everyone survived––especially me. There were no airbags in the car, but the seatbelt that my dad insisted I always wear was firmly fastened.

 After being struck head-on, his car pushed mine backward and then down the embankment. I remember sitting in the car a little surprised I was still alive. I shook my head several times to clear it before exiting the car and climbing up the embankment. Once I got back onto the highway, which was now covered with broken glass and shredded metal, I was stunned as the gravity of what happened pounded me. It was a memorable evening.


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