Zane was cruising back home from a trip to nine-mile hill. The small block Chevy was purring, as he sauntered down the interstate at a steady 70 miles per hour. He always took it easy on his machines during a test drive. The peculiar thing about Zane is that he already owned the car, It was bought and paid for. This however was the first test drive. The logic being the vehicle was only worth $200. He traded it for an engine block. As is custom for a lot of folks, people tend to name their cars as if they were children. He never anthropomorphized his vehicles however, because he was kind of peculiar in that regard. If the car did have a name however, her name was Grace! The car was dilapidated. It had four wheels and a steering wheel, but the tires didn’t match. Nevertheless, he was pleased with his acquisition so far, otherwise he never would have ventured out this far from home. Zane loved a road trip. He was known to ‘travel over to Texas, just to turn around and drive back again.’ He was loner, and automobiles were his sanctuary.

Zane was a statesman at heart, but he didn’t know it. He was identified with being a mechanic; he was only 17. He was a stateman because everyone genuinely loved him. This was not just because of his looks either. He had an inquisitive mind and an attractive soothing demeanor. The girls secretly dreamed they’d be his partner, but he was oblivious to the attention. All he wanted to do was escape. Zane was brought up poor, but the funny thing about him was that he didn’t even know it. What I mean to say is he was totally oblivious. He was oblivious of his good looks and charm, and he was oblivious of the poverty. He glided through life knowing somehow, he’d be okay. Zane didn’t care what people thought of him because he possessed an authentic self-confidence. He believed enough in Christianity to follow the Golden Rule; and it was already starting to pay off in dividends. His peers loved him as much as they hated him. They loved him because he was genuine and hated him for having it so easy. Being totally oblivious, he never realized that he was considered less than in the greater scheme of things. Those who knew him would say he always sold himself short, and he did. To earn money, he would sell used auto parts and bric-a-brac at the local flea-market. The idea of getting a proper job was foreign to him. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t find a job if he looked; he just never did. The concept of gainful employment was lost on him. He was considering the military as a post high school escape route, but that would be his last resort. He scored phenomenally high on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, and the recruiters swooned. He always believed there was more to life than what he had been offered, so he tended to daydream. He would daydream about cars, and travel, and the thrill of escaping New Mexico. On this particular evening, he was pondering his new red Chevy!

The car that should have been named Grace, was a 1966 Chevrolet Impala. Zane understood that she was optioned out with the Impala package because it said so on the glove compartment lid. There was a tiny rectangular badge with the word “Impala” stamped into what looked like actual walnut. “It couldn’t be real wood,” he whispered. Grace was by all accounts a rusting rolling hulk, but she once was beautiful lady. Once was a time when she could really turn heads, but now she was approaching her final days. Her lustrous burgundy lacquer had deteriorated over the years. Decades of not being garaged left her unshielded to the harsh burning sun. As a result, Grace’s paint had faded into what could only be described as ‘the color of dried blood.’ The seats were torn and unloved. The carpet was ratty looking and caked in dried muddy dirt; but the headliner was good. The interior smelled like the inside of a greasy low rent auto repair shop. The oily aroma was fused with the dusty smell of lingering age. “It was the scent of retreating dignity,” Zane thought. Grace was a four-door sedan which made her practically worthless in terms of resale value. The engine, on the other hand, held modest potential. Not only that, but Grace also possessed a PowerGlide transmission which meant she only had two speeds…low and drive. These gearboxes were coveted by the quarter mile drag racing crowd, and Zane knew he could recoup his $200 dollar investment with little effort. Motorheads opted for the SuperSport two door fastbacks, but Grace was built for carrying passengers. She sported 283 cubic inches, which was the next level up from the straight-six basic package. An optioned-out SuperSport would roll off the factory floor with a 427 cubic inch plant, which was the gearhead’s engine of choice. Having said that, the 283 was no slouch. Zane pondered these things as he drove aimlessly through the desert.

“I thought I saw a loose hubcap in the trunk…and some spare parts,” Zane thought. He let his mind wander some more as he fiddled around with the radio dial. He was intrigued with the AC Delco. The car was built before the time of F.M, but the illuminated tuning dial still emitted a calming glow which contrasted nicely against the early evening shadows. The radio had elegant chrome handles in lieu of knobs. They weren’t actually ‘handles;’ Instead they were elongated tapered cylinders that resembled tiny sculptures. The radio was elegant, but it couldn’t pick-up a signal. After fiddling with the radio some more, he concluded that the external antenna must have snapped off sometime during the car’s hard life. He eagerly suspected the radio itself worked fine independently of the broken antenna. He turned the volume down to avoid the crackling static, but he left it powered up so he could admire the soothing glow of the illuminated dial.

Zane knew better than to push the old girl too hard, so he didn’t. He cruised along in silence as the cool evening desert air calmed his nervous soul. These were the moments he lived for. Moments when time and space would coalesce in unison, creating a semblance of self-actualization in which he would often find himself in a self-induced trance. This was one of those times. He was driving down the interstate with his body, but his soul was flipping through the pages of the vehicle’s operating manual. Zane was emotionally drawn to the imagery. On the front cover was a lady donning fashionable 1960’s apparel. On her face was painted a portrait of sheer bliss! She was standing next to the car striking a pose, while a man with a pipe sat proudly behind the wheel. They came to life In this altered state, and the fashionable couple beckoned Zane to join them in the shadowy ethereal plane. It was if he had teleported into another dimension where madness and clarity dance around each other in an attempt to cement a more pleasing reality. The miles crept by as he fell deeper into a trance. “What would it be like to go back in time?” Zane pondered the question as Grace leisurely sailed on into the dusk. Prompted by a soothing existential serenity, the man with the pipe proudly announced, “I know the family who owned this car when it was new; I remember what they were like!”

In his mind’s eye, they were a wholesome church going family with two kids. A boy and a girl perhaps. Zane imagined a happy home; maybe they had a puppy…and a swing set? Maybe they also loved road trips! Zane intuitively believed the happy family did in fact exist; moreover, he felt a strange sort of communion as he drove. It was if the ghostly specters were tagging along for one last ride! “Never drive faster than your Angels can fly!” came a voice from the ethereal twilight. The cautious advice echoed within his perceptive mind. Zane believed in the afterlife, and he believed that such a family indeed owned the car, and more importantly, they shared a common love for her. Perhaps this metaphysical energy still lingered within the soul of the automobile? By channeling joyful moments from previous owners, he unwittingly invited positive energy intended to bring about safe journeys. By honoring the memories of the original owners, Zane invited good fortune upon himself. “This is a lucky car,” they agreed, as Grace rattled on down the road.

It was about this time that they noticed a hitchhiker thumbing alongside the interstate. Zane was still trapped somewhere between reality and magic as he tried to shake himself back awake. Before he knew what was happening, he had released his foot from the accelerator. As the Impala slowed, he fixed his gaze upon the wayward traveler. Their eyes locked, and the hitchhiker nodded his head aggressively up and down, while flashing his most harmless smile. Instinctively, Zane applied some heavy brake pressure as he eased the big Impala onto the shoulder. Upon coming to full stop, he grabbed the column shifter, and coaxed the old PowerGlide into reverse. He rotated his torso towards the rear window as he cradled his right arm upon the bench seat. By this time the grateful hitchhiker was sprinting towards Zane’s ride. No sooner than he could crack down the window, an excited and grateful stranger arrived at the passenger side door. “I need to get to Albuquerque fast!” he exclaimed in an eagerly respectful tone. The hitcher was on his way to an Alice Cooper concert at Tingley Coliseum. The young man would have been wagging his tale if he had one. This reminded Zane of the puppy he was daydreaming about just moments before. In the span of about three milliseconds, he realized the lad was harmless, so he nodded his head and motioned him to climb in. There was no formal introduction as the excited hiker slid into the passenger seat. “This is a nice car!” exclaimed the young Native American as he settled in for the upcoming 30-minute drive. The hitcher brushed an index finger across the small badge on the glove compartment lid. As he did this, the word ‘Impala’ slowly fell from his lips. Social norms being what they are, no one would claim that Grace was a nice car; but this man was being sincere. Like Zane, Navajo Indians are of extremely limited means; and in their minds, any car is a nice car just as long as it will start up and drive. Without a thought, Zane pulled back out onto the interstate. There was an uncomfortable silence as the hitcher slowly took stock of his situation. “What is up with this crazy white boy?” pondered the nameless traveler. The hiker silently sized up his benefactor as he rode. “What’s your name?” asked the hitcher as he extended his right arm in an effort to shake Zane’s hand. Zane was still struggling to snap back into the present moment, as his metaphysical experience slowly dissolved back into a semi-solid state of reality. He only noticed the offered handshake through the corner of his eye. “I’m Zane,” he said as he extended his arm in kind. “Bruno,” the hitchhiker quickly retorted as he motioned to himself with an extended thumb. Bruno was eager to stoke the burgeoning conversation, so he continued, “I have an extra ticket to the concert.” He explained that he was going to sell his extra ticket at the gate. “Isn’t scalping supposed to be illegal?” Zane asked almost by reflex. “Nothing’s illegal ‘til you get caught,” said the Native with a crooked grin. The hitchhiker was wearing a tattered jean jacket that concealed a T-shirt displaying a slogan that read, “Nugent Kicks Ass!” Zane assumed the young man was a rocker, and this soiled T-shirt was a souvenir from a concert long passed. “You like Ted Nugent?” Zane inquired. Bruno promptly declared that ‘The Great White Buffalo’ was his favorite song. This made sense to Zane because the lyrics centered around the plight of the Plains Indians. Zane made this assumption as his mind wandered. He pondered these things as he sized up his passenger who was talking about the concert or some such thing. Zane was a brilliant multi-tasker. He could hold an honest conversation with you while daydreaming about something totally off topic. That was the thing about Zane. He could tilt his head and give an affirming nod. He could raise an eyebrow in a certain way, and you’d think he answered your question without even speaking. Zane was soft-spoken because his facial expressions did his talking for him. To break the silence, Bruno asked, “How long have you had this car?” “About a day and a half,” Zane quickly responded. Bruno laughed as he pulled a hidden vintage flask from a worn-out boot. Without permission, the young Native took a large pull from the metal container. After taking a swig, the hitcher offered Zane a drink. Zane considered having a sip but opted to shake his head instead. Bruno raised the flask as if to say ‘cheers’ and downed another shot. It was at this time that Bruno’s attention focused back onto the Chevy. “Did you steal it or something?” “No.” Zane replied. “I got it off of a friend of mine.” Zane knew it was only a half-truth because he was not really friends with the previous owner. In fact, he had no real friends, only acquaintances. He mistakenly assumed that he lacked skills needed to properly socialize. Zane was a lonely soul, but he was oblivious to this fact as well. Zane went on to tell the tale of how he had come across the vehicle, and how he traded some engine parts for it. “That’s really cool,” nodded the passenger. “My dad used to have a car like this back on the Res!” This was local vernacular that meant ‘reservation.’ Zane correctly assumed that Bruno still lived out in the Badlands, which reminded him of his early childhood. Zane and his father would frequent the flea-market located at the demarcation line between America, and Native America. As a result, Zane spent much of his youth playing on the reservation. Because the flea-market was located adjacent to “Indian Land,” he assimilated nicely into the Navajo tradition. He even knew their language to a limited extent. Zane and his youthful associates would quite literally run wild in the unforgiving desert! Natives accepted him as one of their own. As a result, he never learned to socialize well within the white culture. In comparison, Zane felt that the Natives were much more amiable.

Because of his upbringing, Zane felt a certain comradery with Bruno, who had by this time slumped down into the passenger seat while bracing his weight against the dashboard with his shins. Zane went on to share his experience with Bruno as they motored down the interstate. In Bruno’s mind the pair had become fast friends. In fact, Bruno scribbled out an invitation with three different names and corresponding phone numbers. Bruno explained that he would be crashing with his friends after the show. “It’s going to be a party!” he informed Zane. “If I don’t answer the phone, call the other numbers until you find me!” Zane had no intentions of attending an Alice Cooper after party, but he accepted the crumpled note just the same. The pair talked as they traveled, but it was nearly time to part ways when Grace reached the Louisiana Boulevard exit ramp. “Could you drop me off at the Circle-K on San Mateo?” Bruno asked. “I’m meeting my cousin there.” He went on to explain that he was going to catch another ride. “I can do that,” Zane stated in a neutral tone.

At about half past six, the duo arrived at the convenience store. Bruno was greeted by his entourage as he cranked down his window. To Zane’s surprise, three attractive girls approached the passenger side of the rusty Chevy. “This is my new friend Zane,” He announced. “He gave me a ride from Nine Mile!” His female companions nodded in grateful appreciation. They were wannabe groupies Zane reckoned, based on their heavily laden make-up and spiked hair. They were dressed to kill with tight jeans and rhinestone jackets. “Are you coming to the concert with us?” one of the girls queried with an inviting smile. “Nope, not this time.” Zane stated. “You have to at least hang out with us after the show!” Bruno insisted. “I can’t make any promises.” Zane explained. The truth of the matter was that he couldn’t have been less interested. Besides, he already had plans to stop off at Mike’s Buy-Lo if he could make it there before closing time. Zane was thinking about new shocks earlier that evening. Instead of partying with his peers, Zane bought auto parts. That’s the kind of guy that he was. Zane would rather rebuild a carburetor than chase girls. At school, rumors persisted that he was gay, but Zane was just asexual by default. He put little stock into social norms, because he preferred the astral plane instead. Zane was a mystical being, but he was oblivious. Bruno knew it, and so did his crew.

By this time Bruno had exited the vehicle, while begging Zane to change his mind. Zane told Bruno that it was nice meeting him, but he had some place to be. “This is the end of the line for Bruno,” he told himself as he popped the PowerGlide into low. As Grace pulled out into the night, Zane offered a half-hearted head nod into the rear-view mirror, because he noticed Bruno waving goodbye in the reflection.

…To be continued.

November 28, 2021

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