Chapter 39: Tin Man

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Chapter 39: Tin Man

I decided to buy the MGA sports car, even against the advice of my friend. I was, after all, young, and the idea of owning this iconic vehicle appealed to my vanity. I sold my Fairlane for $475.00 to a man with a wife and two kids, and paid $350.00 for a car that had been stored in a garage for the past three years. My bartending acquaintance neglected to tell me that he had lost his driver's license at that time, and had not so much as even started the car since then. My first expense was to invest in two six-volt batteries linked in series mounted into compartments behind the seats between the drive shaft. Because British cars are positive ground, I damaged the coil by connecting the system incorrectly. This cost me another $18.00. The car started, but ran unevenly, and stalled as I tried to accelerate. I bought a Haynes Owner's Manual for another $12.00, and after extensive reading, realized the engine was equipped with dual SU carburetors, requiring oil poured into reservoirs on the top of each unit. They were bone dry.

The 1600cc engine started effortlessly; and, as Rudy would say about any good sounding motor, it ran like a sewing machine. I spent several days making tidy my new ride. It took me a few days to get used to the five-speed floor-mounted stick drive, particularly the reverse. In time, however, I learned to appreciate the practical sporty design. The aluminum body was in good shape, except for perceptible wind ripples running the length of the car when you looked at it from a certain angle. It was a grey motley color, reminiscent of a battered World War I Sopwith Camel, with a heavy vinyl soft-top, which I raised only when it rained. In fact, I often felt like the intrepid Blue Max skirting around corners, or zipping daringly through traffic in this peppy low center of gravity machine. As soon as I got a little extra money, I invested $29.95 for an Earl Scheib metallic blue paint job. Unexpectedly, however, I had to change the rear muffler, which cost me another $20.00 for a replacement, including clamps. It took me all day one Sunday in the alley behind where I lived to pry off the old one. To install the new one went relatively quick, only I broke the rubber support. Unwisely, I used a coat hanger instead; a decision I would later regret.

Bruce met a girl named Katherine, who went to UC San Jose and studied Bio-ecology. They often flew back and forth for weekend visits. This particular weekend, neither had the money to fly. Bruce proposed that we drive up in my car, splitting the gas.

"Katherine has a cute sister named Tamera," he said enticingly. "She thinks you two might hit it off. She's a real looker."

Being part Lebanese, Bruce possessed the qualities of a natural salesman--not that I needed that much selling. I liked Catherine since the first time I met her, but more in a plutonic way, than desirous. This was partly because I considered her Bruce's girlfriend, but also because Catherine was physically different from my acquired taste. I wondered if Tamara might be any different. Nevertheless, the idea of traveling up the coast highway in my convertible sport car appealed to me.

Before noon on Friday, we stuffed our few belongings in the compact trunk and skirted up the Coast Highway. By half past four, we straddled the precarious ribbon of a two-lane road that climbed into an elevated region called Big Sur along the scenic ocean route.

"Smells like a forest fire," I said, surveying the wooded hills to our right.

Bruce grunted in agreement, also, scouting the dry tree-covered terrain. On the left ranged the precarious cliffs dropping hundreds of feet into the pacific, to the right a green mountainous barrier separating the coast from the arid plains spreading eastward, Highway 1 cut along the contour of the twisting range. It seemed that the higher we climbed, the stronger the smell of burning wood. Suddenly, Bruce became frantic, and began yelling something to me about fire.

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