SPRING 1957

Clem lie there in his twin bed restless. The dealership had gone all out in hopes to crack the flat line sales they had experienced as of late. He had a house payment, his oldest was soon to graduate and was looking to attend school in upstate. Mama was still driving a ’48 and Clem knew it was on borrowed time. As a top tier salesman for Hope Chevrolet, Clem had hoped his time was now. Mama murmured and rolled onto her side.

3 A.M.
The Motorola clock radio’s  minute hand swept around softly, chasing seconds, turning minutes into hours. Clem sat up. The harvest of 1956 had come and went and the 1957’s waited hidden behind soaped windows and tarpaulin drop cloths. Every year it had seemed that the competing manufacturers had rolled back when the new models were introduced. Maybe this was what had advanced the grey at Clem’s temples. But everything felt different at Hope Chevrolet. The new hardtop had these incredible rear fins. The 283 V8 engine had options to make even the Nomad wagon a hot ticket on the street. The 2 seater Corvette was ready to attack the Euro class on American tracks and across the pond. On the economy front the tried and true 6 soldiered on in both trucks and cars.

A hot shower and shave. Clem picked out a navy blue suit and a tie that was hand painted with a spring theme to it. His shirt was bright white, ironed and crisp. Dark blue nylon socks and his wing tips were spit shined and polished to what his sarge would approve of.

4 A.M.
Behind the wheel of his ’55 210 business coupe, Clem made his way across town and reveled in the early hours of this new spring day. Birds had started to chirp and exchange songs. Somewhere a rooster let go with a morning crow. The sky was  dark with hints of the encroaching sunrise. Clem approached Norman in his Divco dairy truck and was making a pass when he saw Norman wave his hand out of the delivery trucks window. Clem slowed down, reached across and lowered the passenger’s side door window. Norman leaned down and in his down home way shot out a question.

“Gosh, Clem, I do not mean to pry, but, this hour of morning usually finds you just rising. Heck, I pass by and I can tell by the lights in your home you are just getting ready. Is there something special maybe the town should know about?”

Clem smiled. He took a quick glance and noticed that the morning clouds had begun to break up. A sliver of white on the horizon teased of a cloudless day.

“Norman, it is our launch of the new 1957 Chevrolet. The car is beautiful. Think of a car that captures the mystique of fighter jets, of rocket ships. Available in so many colors.”

Norman just nodded and smiled with visions of Buck Rogers danced in his head. Clem nodded and dropped his ’55 into gear and drove away. The dawn was fast approaching.

7:45 A.M.
Before Clem would even knew it, the new cars were  revealed. The soaped windows were washed away and the colors of the new 1957 Chevrolet was then revealed to crowds waiting to catch a glimpse of the future. Clem stood outside and the sky was cloudless. The air was alive.  Behind him, freshly detailed was a bright red Bel Air with the 270 horsepwer engine option. Clem pulled out his pack of Lucky’s.  Fired up his Zippo and smiled.

“Time to sell.”  he whispered, and he did.

ONE MILE IN

Even before the sun had tickled the clouds pink, he stood there. The campfire had been waning since about four, but Jack had risen, stoked it with some dead wood and had a pot of coffee percolating before any of his buddies had even split an eye. Around him more fires were stoked.  Be it the same campfire he had woken or what waited between the frame rails of the hop up the crew had brought.

Since being discharged and relocating to his new home, Jack had embraced the culture that his armed forces buddies had spoke of.
California. It never rains!  It was May of 1947. Two months in but still, in the early morning in the high desert, Winter still breathed a chill across the dry lake. Minutes and the sunrise chased each other the sunrise gave light to El Mirage. Jack sipped from his tin cup, his team was soon awake and Cappy had a skillet over the coals, frying up some bacon and eggs for the team. As enticing as the pork belly smelled, Jack fired up the roadster then sat down on a stoop. He leaned in and with a flat blade screw driver set about his work on the trio of 97’s.

There were 9 members of the team. All were survivors from the B-17 bomber West Coast Doll.

As Jack sipped his coffee and listened as the heavily modified ’42 Merc mill sing her song, he thought of his lost tail gunner, Daryl. “We should have 10 of us here.” He whispered out loud. As much as he tried to bury the memory, to this day he can still feel the shudder as their plane took the hit at the tail section erasing Daryl’s life.

They were 1 mile out and headed in, but a renegade Focke-Wulf FW-190 came out of nowhere and riddled the tail section. Daryl never had a chance. If it were not for a pair of P-51’s that had been in the area, the loss of crew would have been deadlier. West Coast Doll came in and landed. Out of 39 missions she had survived and had returned home safely. The surviving crew decided then they would remember their fallen crew member by living out his dream of a hot rod racing wide open on the dry lakes. A pact was made. When the war was over, the remaining crew would converge on Daryl’s garage and finish his roadster and compete in his memory.

The team of 9 worked hard on the Model A Roadster. Daryl had her about 70% done, but not enough to be race ready. With all hands on deck, the car was race ready and ready for her debut in a month’s time. From faded black to bright red, Chipper even painted a near perfect match to the nose art on their bomber on the cowl sides. West Coast Doll was ready for her debut. Jack would drive her. From Golden, Co he had experience. Be it racing on dirt tracks, sprint cars, jalopies or hill climbs. Jack could drive anything, especially fast. Cappy was an engine savant. He and Jack took their time and made the Merc engine singing like the Andrews sisters. As the deadline drew nearer, the former bomber crew worked day and night on the roadster. Drong and Jose’ along with Von and Crow made it their job to weld and fab the frame and other chassis details. Gilbert was the extra hand and filled in to help bleed brakes, grab some grub or be an extra set of eyes and volunteered his ’40 Ford pick up to be the tow vehicle and push truck.

“Time is interesting isn’t it?” Jack mused to his buddies one evening. The sun had started to drop beneath the horizon and the finishing touches were being dealt with on the roadster. “As a kid, you lay around on, say, a June afternoon, bored, completely out of your mind. Nothing to do as the sun just strolls across the sky. As the grandfather clock in the foyer marks off seconds of the day, of your life.” Jack paused and took a pull off of the ice cold Acme beer in his calloused hands. “Summer break drives into school days then into winter break. Then school, then spring break. We do not notice Mom and her hair as it greys. Or Pop as his hair falls out and he starts to get weaker.” About this time his buddies had paused and turned their undivided attention to Jack. They noticed he had wet eyes and wiped an arm across his face. “Time is a gift and it is also a curse. I look back and wonder when it became so damned fast. How memories became a blur. My friends, all we have is now. Let’s make this trip one for the books and also, I have an idea.”

Jack climbed into The West Coast Doll. He hunkered down into the bomber seat. Von and Crow made sure his belts were tight as Drong checked the fluids. Cappy stood by and signaled Jack to fire the roadster up. Jose’ made one last walk around and checked tire pressures. Gilbert, Drong and Chipper climbed into the ’40 and eased up to the back of the roadster. The crew climbed into the bed of the pickup pushed Jack toward the starting line. The starter nodded and jack hit the go pedal. Gilbert nailed the throttle and gave The West Coast Doll a helluva a push. And just like time, Jack watched as the landscape raced by. He poured coals to the fire, feathering the throttle and kept steady on the wheel. A marker was set to locate 1 mile in and when Jack roared past he floored it. But, as he did so, he pulled a hidden lever inside the roadster and a secret valve opened up and at 130 MPH, the ashes of Daryl were released upon the race course.

The West Coast Doll did not set any records that day, but she did well in her class. And for the crew of that wounded B-17 bomber, they lay their friend to rest the best way they thought possible.

by Mark “Spooky” Karol-Chik

The Driver

15 years had passed. The Driver had missed the draft. He had spent almost two decades behind concrete and iron bars watching sun rise and set. Was he guilty? Well, he did drive. He was the pilot man. Yet, he never fired a shot or took a life. That was all upon the passenger and well, the passenger had a way with fire arms and a taste for blood.

Driver was apprehended. Driver had succumbed to the advances of the police and surrendered. Driver admitted guilt and gave up a life of fatherhood. He often dreamt of tiny embraces and a bright future, but behind cold concrete and hidden steel, life passes. Lives were lost. Memories fade as the days go on.

Hardened life stares on as dark brown hair turns to grey.  He sat on that Sunday in the barber station and wondered. In his clip was a scroll of contacts for the outside world. A road of grey and black. Opportunities and treachery.

Years of good behaviour led to the day of his parole.  3 times he had been turned down.

He counted the steps and watched his feet take a trail of uncertainty. Many times he had done as such only to be told to turn back and go back to the horde.

But not today. It was fast, really. Right’s read. A pardon. Freedom granted.
Opportunity.

And, as many times before, he sat on that bench and waited. Except this time, the hard, cold slam of the steel barred door did not occur.  Today a dance of the key spun in the locks and the cold iron door swung in his favour.

Free. He watched as the door let the daylight tumble upon the cold hard floor.

Outside the gates waiting was his dark green Galaxie ’64.

Driver stepped forward and a guard placed a hand his shoulder. “So, will I see you again?”

A warm wind lifted dust and the smell of fresh cut grass whipped past. Driver smiled.

“Not on your life.”

The convict walked across the yard and fell behind the wheel. He hit the key and the big old Ford responded and lurched forward.

As bad as the car and the man could have been, well, they never were again.

Even the hardest cowboys know when to let life take the reins, let fate control the journey and live life simple and good.

BIG MIKE

Word came to Erik that the station had shut down. With funding gone, and a new tri-city station, the need for a small town fire department became obsolete. Erik read in detail about the memoriam and that the bell was saved and had been placed in the public park, but everything else had been auctioned off or had been sold for scrap. Scrap. He knew in his heart that Big Mike was going to meet his doom and this explained why he was headed west on highway 30 at breakneck speed.

May 1950

On the outskirts of Rainier, there was an old homestead and had long been abandoned. It became the perfect place for kids to hang out and explore. Parents and local authorities always frowned upon this and every parent always sounded warning as their child left to go out with friends, “And stay away from the old Johnson place!” Well, that fateful night a carelessly tossed cigarette landed on a pile of rags that had been slowly rotting in a corner of the old barn. Whumph—the old pile of cotton instantly ignited and the flames spread across the bone dry walls. It would not of have been so bad, but the loft had five teens sitting in the hay gazing out at the stars and having a good time with each other’s company. Mr. Anders, a neighbor to the old Johnson place saw the flickering and soft orange glow as the flames spread hungrily.  “Maw, git on the horn, the johnson place is on far!”

The call came in and Erik and his men got suited up and rushed to Big Mike the station’s 1947 Ford Fire Engine. Hal dropped into the driver’s seat, hit the starter button and quick as a whip, the flathead V8 fired off. Sirens and lights combined to awaken the sleepy town.  The 5 minute ride felt like a lifetime. The young Fire Chief road in the passenger’s seat took a glance at his men in the back of the engine. He nodded and gave them a look of confidence. But, inside Erik’s guts were boiling. His hands were dripping with sweat. Under his watch he held the lives of his men and those they were racing into the unknown to save. Even before they had arrived, they could see the overcast cast sky reflecting the glow of the deadly flames that waited. Big Mike rounded one last corner and before the fire men, the valley was alight and they could see the kids in the open door of the loft holding each other and awash in fear. With the howl of Big Mike’s siren the kids began to jump in glee. They would be saved!

Hal brought Big Mike to a halt and like a fine tuned Timex the men exited and began to perform their duties. Erik shouted orders, the hose was unreeled from the back and he realized that his team had but a splinter of time to save those kids. Erik shouted to his men to grab the safety net and prepare to save the five in the loft. They looked at him in astonishment as Erik wrestled the hose from back of Big Mike hit the nozzle and with a mask on his face walked into the flames.  One by one the kids leapt the 20 feet and landed to safety. Erik extinguished flames to give the barn just a few minutes more. Then it happened. A beam slammed down close enough that Erik stepped back in surprise and dropped the hose. Entangled around his ankle he tried to wrench free but in the process his mask was pulled free and the room a bright glow began to dim as the smoke filled air filled his lungs.

The Firemen had just saved the last of the teens when they saw that within the barn their chief had not returned. Then it happened. Those who were there to this day still wonder if it was a miracle, cause and effect or just plain luck. There was an audible —snap!— and the kids and fire fighters watched as the engine began to roll backward. “Hal!” shouted one of the fire fighters. Didja set the brake?!” Hal watched and nodded. His mouth was agape as he along with everyone there watched. The flames hungrily engulfed the loft and a shower of sparks and embers rose into the night. Big Mike continued to roll backwards and from the opening of the barn entangled in the fire hose emerged Erik, their chief.
The big Ford backed into a post and the large brass bell rocked back and was struck.

—Clang!—

Everyone turned to see that the Fire Engine had backed into a long cut down stump and pulled from the flames was their chief. The loud sudden clasp of Big Mike’s bell shook Erik awake. He opened his eyes. The star riddled sky bore down on him and the sound of cheers did as well. He slowly sat up and watched as the Johnson barn collapsed in a shower of embers. Erik looked down and saw his legs entangled in the hose. Behind him was Big Mike. As Erik drew in more breaths of fresh air it all became clear. His men were safe. The kids were safe. He had survived, because for some strange coincidence, his legs were entangled in the fire hose and the park brake cable snapped in Big Mike, causing the engine to roll backwards.  Two out of three made sense. Erik stood up, bent down and untangled the hose from his feet. He then turned and looked at the engine. The emergency lights were still alight. The V8 hummed. But, there was something that Erik felt. Big Mike was a part of the team. Nearly 3 tons of machinery, but.

As the years rolled by and Erik continued to be the Fire Chief, many engines came and went.  Yet, Big Mike always was there. Parades or as an engine used for training purposes, the old ’47 was a staple at the station. When Erik retired in 2000 he requested that Big Mike be taken care of. That was 18 years ago.

Present Day

Erik made his journey in record time. Even as he pulled up to his old home town he was taken back at the growth that had swept through. Old buildings that were landmarks had been absolved into metro friendly condos and all of that made Rainier such a quaint old town had become gentrified. Sterile. A tattered sign pointed where the final sale of the Fire Station was to be. As before, a faded memories journey of desperation, Erik wound the roads racing to save a memory from his past. A final curve and he dropped onto a plain where a makeshift scrapper had set up a car crusher. Idling was a Cat and resting on the forks was Big Mike. Years had not been kind to the old engine. The once proud grille had tears. His glass was shattered and tires were all flat. The bright red paint had faded into a chalky resemblance of the splendor of what was once there. The lift driver began to inch forward with the cast off memory resting on the forks. Erik slid the rental to a halt. He opened the door and walked out. Mike was dressed in his dress uniform with his Fire Chief badge shining brightly upon his chest. He walked with purpose to the forklift driver and in one swift movement pulled a photo from his pocket.

Creased. Aged. Stained from the years, there it was. A photograph of the once proud and strong, a life saver Big Mike and Erik beside the old ’47. The forklift driver paused and keyed his mic.

Life is a miracle.

Be it a flower or some inanimate object that saves a life.
Sometimes belief is all you need.

Erik purchased Big Mike. The ’47 Ford is now in his humble garage of old cars and this day serves his tenure in parades or car shows.
Erik still sits in Big Mike and wonders. What if?

Hey Kid

I rest here, overrun by sage and dead brush and surrounded by razor wire.  Above me are endless skies.  My shattered headlights stare through chain link fences as mindless shiny boxes race by.  Inside them, drivers hold their devices and steer nonchalantly, racing forward like lemmings following each other into the abyss.

But here you are, Kid. I saw you pull into the parking lot.  My glass has become delaminated, and the years have not been kind to my interior soft bits.  My exterior has fared no better. There is rust on my right rear fender, the one that sat in the mud where I was found before I ended up here. Come closer, Kid.  Give me a chance.

The young man walked toward the ’48. To be honest, at a freshly turned 18 years old, there was still more than a hint of boy in his appearance.  Earbuds pressed in his ears, his head bobbed slightly. But unlike his peers, he was listening to big band music and late 40’s jump blues; early rock-n-roll and Bakersfield styled country music.

His friends had latched onto the tuner craze, and all drove whips. Yes, it’s true, he had one, too.  And yet…

The car just never spoke to his soul.  He’d owned his ’98 Prelude for about two years.  Motor Trend, Autoweek, and even Hot Rod magazine had run articles on how to make the beater into a balls-to-the-wall performance machine.  It had all been so easy really.  And he should be happy.  Yet…

Say Kid, I was once a proud coupe.  My owner kept me polished and changed my oil and kept me in tune. I was his daily driver. A businessman, he was. Sold paintbrushes for the Purdy Brush Company. But he eventually opted for a car with an automatic transmission and newer power plant. Sold me to a young man with a hungry heart and a wild gleam in his eyes just like you.

His skilled hands worked me into a custom.  My engine was hopped up and, if you would just pop my hood… well, you’ll see what he did. Kin spirits, he and I were. We went everywhere.  Hell, he even drove us to an actual drag strip and we competed. I remember nights of unfettered launches on back roads; the sound of uncapped headers filling the night air.  How the landscape raced by, and the growl of my exhaust would mix with his howl of delight.

Our affair was a short one, though. His number got called, ya see, and he left to serve our country.
The young lad walked around the coupe, hands dug firmly into his pockets.  Something about this old car spoke to him.

He paused and, as Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats began to sing Rocket 88, he reached for the hood release.  In between the fender wells was what remained of the hopped up inline 6.  Chrome plating on Cal Custom air cleaners flaked off and fell like metallic snow as he ran his hands over them.  Long gone was the throttle linkage. The Offenhauser finned valve cover was chipped and corroded in some places.

Stepping back, he realized for the first time that the old coupe was nosed and decked.  Shaved door handles.  The kid took it all in.

The next song cued up; a gentle chorus of strings swirling together. The young man let his mind run over his personal inventor—a freshly bored, honed, and magnafluxed Jimmy 6 on an engine stand; a pair of ‘41 Buick fender skirts; a ’42 Chevy banjo steering wheel; a real set of Appleton spots.  Everything began to click in his mind.

“At Last…” The passionate voice of Etta James floated through the ear buds.

I was parked in his parent’s garage for a long time; waited to see his tall frame silhouetted once more in the open doorway. I waited in that cold garage as the years passed.  Not willing to just sell me off because they hoped, as I did, that he would miraculously come home, I was pulled out of the garage to make room for the Mrs’s car. And there I sat, exposed to the elements.  Waiting. Over time, just how long I’m not sure, they lost all hope. He was gone, and so was a part of my soul. But, Kid, I see that look in your eye; the small ember of a fire.

The young man was in awe.  He had been saving for a bit for just the right old school survivor; the one that would speak to his soul.

C’mon,Kid, whaddya say?

Mark “Spooky” Karol-Chik

The Gift

There was a time before hand held devices, instant gratification and social networks.

A time when Christmas started after the Big Man himself, me, made his appearance at the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and not at the end of September in the Dollar Store.

A time when stop lights would pause for the night and blink yellow or red. When the news programs of the day started at 10 p.m. and were followed by Johnny Carson. When televisions only had four stations and they would sign off shortly after midnight. Well, with the sprawl of Suburbia and the growth of the country during the 1960s the world had become bigger and the toys so much more than just wood and cloth. Well it has been said the world waits for no one, and here was proof.

Choo-choo trains and rag dolls had been taken over by Lionel and Barbie. Mattel, Hasbro Marx, Tonka and many more companies flooded the market and every child wanted at least three of each.
I had  decided to take a break—to streamline my operations. So I scaled back operations and decided to focus on one major gift a year. Regardless of age or gender, just one. Immortal as we are here at Santa, Inc., we have been dealt some laws which even we can not over rule. It was decided that the gift could not be monetary. It could not be a cure for an illness. We have no ability to change that man or ladies mind so they fall in love with you. My long time friend Cupid laughs hard at this one. The  gift that was to be personal and the person who received it had done something extraordinary and deserved to have their wish come true. And here is the caviat emptor—a gift could be forwarded to a loved one.

And, that rarely happened. But think about it, if you were granted a choice for a really great gift without knowing what may be, what would you do? So back to our tale. When you see a Santa in the mall. Department store, big box store, well, sometimes an a rare occasion one of them is one of us.
Surprise! Oh, we know. We have heard it all and well at times are hard pressed where to throw our hard earned talents to.

Europe, Antarctica, Asia, Australia and yes, America. North America this time around.
It was in a mall in the Denver metro area and low and behold this time it was me who was in the chair. Not Melvin, or Cornelius, my personal assistants for generations mind you. Me. Kris Kringle. St. Nick. Santa Claus. CEO if you will.

The Mile High City has always had a special place in my heart. The Queen City of the Plains has been a melting pot of cultures since it came to be. Maybe it is the high altitude or the melding of the Yankee meets Southwest culture, Denver has always been one of my favorites. On this snowy November day, right after Thanksgiving I was in downtown Denver. Right off of the 16th street mall. I had just attended a Breakfast with Santa event and had decided to walk down the mall and mingle with the people.   The smoky grey clouds hung low and the snow was falling steadily. The ground was snow packed and not treacherous, but that in between stage where as you step it is a soft crunch. The air smelled of kettle corn, hot coffee and pastries. The wind would gust on occasion and sting your cheeks, redden your nose. So many smiles and chattering. A man stood on a corner and was reading The Night Before Christmas to a crowd o rosy cheeked children. A young lad with dreadlocks was juggling tambourines and accepting tips. As I walked by I dropped a $20 into his hat. I kept walking toward the west end of the mall. The singing grew fainter. The smells in the air were replaced by diesel and grit. I paused to see a man try and create a better shelter with his cardboard box. A woman wide eyed and lonely walked by pushing a cart. And it was then I saw a tall man and two kids. The boy was a dead ringer for his Daddy and the little girl had the brightest eyes I had ever seen in a child’s face. I paused and noticed that each of them was pulling a red wagon behind them. Within each wagon were sacks of groceries, bottled water and socks. Their Dad was wearing a black pork pie hat. He was a broad fellow with bright eyes and a beaming grin. He was saying something to his kids when he saw me. Our eyes met and I knew this man. As a child I could see him from decades back and I remembered him. He knew who I was. Right there. It is rare that it happens and a select few adults have recognized me. “Uh, kids, I think you need to talk to this man,” is all he said. The little girl ran up to me and just hugged my legs. She was so shy and lovely. I tried to talk to her, but she buried her face into my shins and would not look at me. So I spoke, “Jo, you are so lovely! My dear girl come to Santa and tell me what is on your mind.” Her Dad lifted her up and the young boy walked up to me.  His eyes were so full of wonder. I got down on my knees and brought him in as I always do when I meet kids on the street. “Jackie, say young man, what do you want for Christmas?” I asked. His Dad stepped back and tilted his head back and laughed. The boy looked up at me wide eyed.  “Please, son, just tell ol’ Santa.” And he did. But beyond that he spoke of the wagons. Of hot summers and walking next to the Platte river. Of a hopped up go-kart and helping his Dad rebuild an engine. Of watching at night as his Dad put them to bed, then would work in the shop welding of working on Tiki statues just to earn money to keep their home a home. Of the love he had for his sister and how much his Daddy meant to him. “I have them,” the young boy said, “and that is enough for me.” Again I asked, “Son, what do you want for Christmas?”
And he leaned in away from his family and whispered into my ear. I listened. Carefully. I smiled. “Done young man. I can do that.”

His Dad looked at me smiled that huge grin, shook my hand and they walked off. I looked at the man and said, “Edward, you have done wonderful with your kids. Merry Christmas.” His eyes widened. He laughed heartily and shook his head. We locked eyes and he said to me, “I knew you were real.” I nodded and winked.

Young Jackie was walking with a bit more of a bounce in his step. He looked at me and gave me an okay sign with his hand and a wink. Jo, as lovely as she is turned and smiled.

And there I was. A wish thrown my way and less than 30 days to make it reality.

I paused and leaned back against the building. Over the years, decades, centuries as I have tried to deliver wishes to young folks, occasionally a child knocks me back off of my feet. On this cheery day in downtown Denver little Jackie did just that. The snow picked up just a bit. The wind picked up and my eyes watered cold? Nah, just the beauty of one kids wish made me tear up.

However, a wish was made, and well, I had a job to do. I pulled out my phone and dialed my home base. Yes, I have a phone, its the 21st century. Don’t judge.

At Santa, Inc. we do have a budget, but I’ll be damned how the donations are endless. Our contacts would floor you. A few clicks and the project was ours. In fact, the one that Jackie had known about. We scooped it up for a song and before you can say Christmas Story that ol’ boy was on a flatbed and headed for a new life. I will not say where our work shop is. But I can tell you that FedEx, UPS, and the amazing USPS know us by heart.

One goal. One wish. 24 days.

On the 1st of December the project arrived. Complete, yes, but well, this old boy needs some loving. At Santa, Inc, we launch into a project full on. The old truck was disassembled. Stripped. Painted. Detailed.  And we leaned on our contacts, trust me.  Speed shops, Restoration shops, wrecking yards and old friends—Svigel’s. You know who you are. Little Jackie had one definitive request that we strived to accomplish. Make the ol’ pick up a daily driver. He wanted his Dad to drive the wheels off of it as he had years ago when he set off on a soul searching tour that took his father to the Northwest, to Canada then back down route 101 and along the back roads of the Southwest headed back to Denver. A new Ford F-100 with all of the bells and whistles will bring a 25 MPG, well, a mild flatty in a 64 year old pick was going to do that very well thank you. And in my eyes a ’53 Ford F-100 looks so much better too. The paint on the old pick up was faded in spots, but in over all good condition.  Fenders and body panels straight and rust free. A few dents, but patina is cool. So it was left in a faded light blue. Painted black bumpers and a white painted grille. We polished the stainless made sure the floors were solid and contacted the folks at Mar-K in Oklahoma for a new oak bed and stainless runners. From a secret stash we through an NOS seat cover into that ol’ boy and added rubberized floor covers. A set of twice pipes singing through some smitty mufflers. Black painted rims, poverty caps and wide white wall tires courtesy of Coker tires. It was December 20th when Cecil and I took that old truck for a lap around Santa, Inc.

Driving a vintage vehicle is unlike anything you can imagine. If you have ever done so you know it. You DRIVE it. One feels the road through the steering wheel. You have to work the accelerator. And the sound. The youth today may be enthralled with the thump and pop of those WSR’s, but the sound of a healthy flathead V8 through glasspacks. Well, it is timeless.

Cecil and I glanced at each other and just grinned. Our job was almost done. Time to make a delivery. 12:01 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, December 25th.

Edward had just wrapped up his duties at the little house of wonders on Pierce street. Stockings filled, gifts laid out in the living room. He was pausing to take it all in when he heard a sound in his driveway. A sound all to familiar to him.

Rrrrar-rrrarrrr-rrrrarrr-Vrooom!

A flathead V8 firing up in his driveway. Who was in his driveway this time of morning he wondered? Edward walked to back of his home, opened the door and walked out toward his driveway. His pace slowed. It was starting to snow and the delicate flakes danced lightly in the soft glow of the headlights of the old pick up. The exhaust burbled softly. Snow that had landed on the roof and hood had already melted up and was beaded up and running in rivulats down the old skin of the truck. On the roof was a huge red bow. Edward walked in a daze to the driver’s side door. Hanging from the handle was a tag that flittered about as the wind blew. He reached out and turned it over in his hand and upon it was written in script,

To: Mr. Edward
From: Santa

Edward opened the door and was awash in heat as the heater filled the cab with warmth.
He reached over and turned the key off. The engine cut off and Edward killed the lights. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and noticed the key chain had a key fob with his name engraved upon it.
Edward stepped back and took it in. 1953 Ford F-100. A short box pick up. His eyes filled with tears. He ran a hand along the fender and paused. The night was still. He could hear the dull hum of traffic and the soft tick as the engine and exhaust cooled.

How could this be?

Then he remembered the meeting with the bearded man on the 16th street mall and how his son had whispered to the old man.

He paused outside his son’s bedroom. Jackie was fast asleep and he hated to wake him, but he had to know. He entered and gently touched his son’s shoulder. Jackie stirred and then realizing it was Christmas, his eyes were then wide. “Dad, did Santa come?” he asked. He glanced at his son and nodded. “Did he bring the gift for you?” The father nodded holding back more tears. Jackie hugged his Dad fiercely. “I knew he was real! Let’s go out and look at it!”

“Son, I have to ask. Why didn’t you ask for a gift for yourself? Why did you give up the chance for something for yourself?” Edward asked Jackie looked up at him and then said,”Dad, you have taught me something that I treasure. And it is that giving is the greatest thing a person can do. That’s my favorite gift.”

—Dedicated to my friend Mr. Dale Sawin

I am Coming Home

A cold wind blew as I stepped off of the Greyhound bus.  I paused and hoisted my duffle bag. The Cummins wound up and the bus was off. Chasing that lonely black rib bon  delivering her passengers to their destiny. Blowing snow and blurred vision, slick sidewalks and all, I began to walk.

I had left 5 years prior and, well, had fallen by the wayside.  Ma and Pa did not approve of my actions. My little brother was barely ten and he idolized me. Sis, well, she had long since boarded the train and had head west to look for her own place in the picture shows. She didn’t care.

Never did.

I took a few steps toward where 9th was a straight shot to my old home, then paused.

5 years had been gone and I felt as if I was not missed. Years before that, three kids and two parents wrenched apart by hungry mouths and longing for better days. As a GI, I felt part of something, finally. I was part of a unified group. We were a team. Boris, Jeb. Tye. Jesus.

It was different than “home.” We felt part of something. I sighed and walked a few steps an stepped into the Tip Top bar. I was in my dress uniform still with my Army Air Corps hat on.  When I stepped through the door, a gust of cold air followed suit. I stomped my feet and shook my shoulders to get the rest of the snow off of me. All eyes turned to me. Behind the bar the bar keep turned his gaze to me, still polishing a beer schooner. His jaw dropped and his hands relaxed. We locked eyes and the glass hit the floor, shattering. He gaped. “You are the Lawson boy!” he said. I stepped back a touch and nodded. “Yassir,” Clem and Jody are my parents. We live on 9th up yonder,” I replied.

“Boy, step up here,” he said. And I did. The bar keep paused to pick up the shattered glass. His skilled hands did so and he never even grazed his calloused fingers. Years of practice, I guessed. As I got to the bar he had already pulled a glass of beer for me. I watched the bubbles chase a spiral in the glass. The pale yellow liquid steadied and was so damned inviting. I grasped the cold glass and glanced up to the bar keep. His eyes were shining. I had seen this gaze so often since we had rolled into Paris and beyond. Eyes rimmed with tears, pride. Hope. It is a look that has kept me alive, really.

“Thank you.” And he lowered his head, and then another voice echoed his.
“Soldier, thank you so much sir, thanks. God Bless you. Thanks.”

And what ever I had held within myself had fallen by the wayside. I was a half mile from home. In my mind I saw Pa by the radio. A can of Falstaff by his left hand. The paper a messed up adin his lap. I could hear the clinking of dishes as Ma was washing and thinking of what to prepare for dinner that night. Did they think of me? Wonder about me? I did not know.

I drank my glass of beer and exchanged many hugs and shook many hands. I had entered the bar at a quarter until 1 and had left at about 3. A little less lonely, yet.

Still.

A half mile walked in a snow storm can be many things.  A dreamscape or a longing for brighter times. But for me, I was in the middle. As beautiful as it was to see my home town embraced in white, I thought of that winter across seas in Europe. A driving storm. Crimson stained snow and the smell of diesel and fear. At this point, I could see my home.  On the door was a wreath. In the window hung a blue star flag. That rocked me back onto my heels. I walked gaped mouth forward and then noticed the hand written notes on the sidewalk in chalk, smeared but still visible. All words about me.

One step, two step, three step, and then knocked.

A second knock and the door opened. Pa gasped, Ma shrieked with glee.
“Welcome home, Boy. I am so Thankful for to see you,” Pa said.

I looked at him and again, was taken back by that certain look in one’s eyes. Thankful.

WELCOME HOME

It was November, 1954 and the instructions were simple. The hostage exchange would take place at 32 degrees North by 108 degrees West. In the most south western corner of New Mexico, AFOSI agent Gilbert would travel from his home base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to this desolate corner of New Mexico to meet for a pre-arranged swap.   Being in the military, vehicles were not the utmost of performance caliper. Gilbert’s prize for his trip was a 1954 Plymouth Savoy 4-door sedan, painted in Air Force blue and stripped bare.

The high desert is cold and unforgiving. Across the landscape out crops of sagebrush and yucca struggled against the continuous harsh winds whipping out of the North. Gilbert had driven 600 miles to this spot and then, per the instructions, had taken a right off of where the compass would nail down his exact location and travel a ¼ mile down to an abandoned grange.   He parked the Plymouth, stepped outside and paused. The sun was a dull nickel like disc hidden behind a dense fog.

New Mexico. Land of Enchantment. That is the state’s motto, and as the wind howled past him he took it all in.
Rolling hills, painted deserts. Mountains carved by wind, water and time.

No wonder this was where the exchange was to take place.

Gilbert walked into the old building. Paused, pulled a Pall Mall out of the pack and lit up. He took a hard drag and was looking for a place to sit when a voice from his right snapped his senses.

“Well done. Your penchant for timeliness is what I had hoped for. It makes all of this so much easier.”

Dressed in black suit he stepped from the shadows. “You were here all along I take it?” Gilbert asked. He was tense, Gilbert’s left hand had stolen into his jacket pocket and his pistol was in his hand. Hidden behind sunglasses (who wears sunglasses inside? wondered Gilbert), the contact took a hesitant step back. “Easy now, I am unarmed. Per the agreement, this is a peaceful exchange. Remember?”

Gilbert nodded. He removed his hands from his coat and slowly raised them palms out showing he had no weapons. The contact relaxed and his thin lips spread into a smile revealing a large smile with too many teeth for just an instant, and then gone. Gilbert narrowed his gaze. Outside the sky had gone grey. The windows of the old building had lost the glimmer of sunshine and now were succumbing to the tendrils of condensation brought on by low hanging clouds and a fog-like condition.

“I have been told that you have brought with you today the bodies of those who had perished here in an unexpected tragedy. That by those who have sent me, to retrieve them, that all knowledge and the official knowledge of what had happened on that day 4th July, 1947, shall and will be eradicated from the official record in return for those who had been deemed missing since day 2, July 1937.” The contact in the dark suit spoke fluidly.

Gilbert nodded. “Let’s proceed, then.” The pair approached the door and Gilbert slid it open. Where once a sky that was so blue it hurt his eyes, had been now replaced by a dense fog.  The dark stranger walked past and from out of the fog his mode of transportation was there.  Gilbert paused.  His contact walked to something from out of a dream.

Long. Low.  Blacker than lust. Sleek. It just sat there looking as if it was going 200 m.p.h while at idle. Out front were a quartet of headlights and a hood long low and smooth. The windshield arced back at an impossible angle.  The top was radically thin and flowed back as if sculpted by wind.  The trunk was smooth and large and rising from the quarter panels were two razor sharp fins with an angled red tail light lens in each. Gilbert gathered his thoughts and asked, “What the Hell is that?”

The contact that was walking toward the trunk paused. He turned and spoke, “Wait 6 years. Beyond that this car will rattle imaginations for almost a century.”

Gilbert followed and as the contact approached the trunk Gilbert asked, “How many bodies ya think can fit in there?”
The contact paused. Gilbert would later state he saw a flash of green from behind the dark glasses. The contact replied, “Enough to solve a problem.”

The pair walked to the Savoy. Gilbert opened the trunk and as they as a pair unloaded the cargo, Gilbert noticed the contact wince and shudder. The contact was saddened and horrified.   There five total. Only two were complete bodies. Two had been almost obliterated by the crash and one had been partially examined. The contact snapped his head toward Gilbert. “We do not disassemble bodies. Never have. What kind of species are you?”

“I don’t know at times actually,” was all that Gilbert could reply.

The contact walked back to his vehicle, opened the trunk. Gilbert assisted as the bodies were placed inside. Then, the contact walked to the passenger’s side door and opened it up.

A man and a woman from out of a distant memory exited from the dark beauty. Dazed, the pair looked around. A wind had started to rise and the fog was starting to lift. The contact looked at Gilbert and took a step toward him. They shook hands and the contact walked around to the driver’s side, opened the door and with a soft hum, the dark ride began to rise. Slowly upward. When it had risen to about 10 feet, the pods in the rear bumper lit up in a blue and orange flame and with a soft whoosh, the finned dark ride rapidly chased the sky and disappeared.

Gilbert walked to the pair who had stepped out of the mysterious machine.

The sky had once again returned to that incredible blue. Fred Noonan took in his surroundings, then fell to the ground and sobbed. His hands caressed the soft earth. The pilot turned to Gilbert and he said, “Welcome home Miss Earhart.”

ENDLESS SUMMER

He came into this world as many do. Bright red and screams. Clenched fists and trembling with anger as the revelation that life begins now. As she slipped from this world, his mother told us his name was to be Tide. Tide?

His mother was a SoCal beach girl, had spent days wandering the shores, and would just disappear as she watched the incoming tides. Tide. I nodded. It was perfect.

But Tide’s dad had only stayed in California because of the girl. His hometown was a Pacific Northwest blue-collar town far from the sun and sand where Tide had been born, and that was where he returned as a widower and new father at only 26. I uprooted and moved myself there, too, to help my son-in-law raise the starry-eyed child.

I noticed it right from the first time we took Tide to the coast. The coast. Funny, on the Eastern seaboard, they call it going to the shore. Anyway, Tide was enthralled. He walked down to the crashing waves and sat down. The waves crept in, washed over his bare feet, and he was in awe. He waded out a bit, bent, and touched the sea. Righting himself, he gazed out across the vast horizon.  Slowly, he raised his arms and stood still, bathing in the salt air and endless sky.
Tide’s dad turned to me, “This is something new. He’s so damned quiet. He doesnt say much at home or react to much of anything. This…well…”

I looked at Tide. The surf rushed in, and the boy reveled in it. I nodded knowingly. “Clem, the boy has found his own. The sea rushed through his mother’s veins, and so it does in him.”

Clem turned to me, and we locked eyes. He knew it as plainly as I did. Clem took Tide to their home in Longview and I returned to Big Sir.

And so it was, as the years washed away, that Tide became a student of science and embraced that was all of the oceans. Ya see, I was a surfer bum. Since my return from ‘Nam in ’69, I spent those days on Venice beach surfing and doing what a 22 year old man would do. And, well, that is how I became a father. I stopped the surfing and hot rodding and became a Dad. Hidden away, I had stashed an old ’49 Merc woody. She was a rock solid car and well, too good to sell.

My intentions were to someday upgrade the drive train, keep the wood as is and well, drive her. And then, well, Tide began to show his own in school. His grades were top tier. One day he told me “Grandad, well, I love the sea. I am going to attend the Western Washington University. I want to be a marine biologist.” Clem smirked. “Boy, you need grades.” Tide looked at me and his eye were like razors. Clem had lived a hard life. He had never taken anything from anyone, he had said, yet. Yet. The bastard had shook any tree, begged borrowed, and had stole to keep his sorry head above water. My gaze narrowed. I looked at Clem and said, “Let the kid dream. This may happen.” Clem and I stood across from one another. Eyes locked. I tilted my head and that was when he cast his gaze to the side. Ya see, anyone can speak and spout words. But a man will stand behind what he says. Clem looked downward and walked out of the room. Tide, well, the kid knocked down any wall the system through in front of him.

As a senior, his grades placed him in top tier in the nation. Clem shook his head. Always one who hated himself, he condemned his only son. “Yeah, like that will happen.”

Tide graduated in the top of his class and was awarded a full scholarship to the school of his choice. I missed his graduation, ’cause I had a plan up my sleeve.

Tide was resting in the sun outside his home that he and Clem shared. It was August and soon September would be here. I saw him and from a side street, I fired up the old Merc and trolled slowly toward him. His eyes narrowed. The ol’ girl growled. The new crate 347 ci Roush mill barked. Varnished wood and painted a deep burgundy. Wide whites and chromed reversed. Two long boards strapped atop. Tide stood up and his jaw just dropped. The license plates read NDLSSMR.

I rolled up and parked the Merc. “Ya know, she is even better than when I found her in ’69! Take care of her, she will serve ya well at school.”

Tide stood beside the Merc. His lower jaw hitched and I could see the tears.
“I love ya grandad.”

I paused. “Love ya too son.”

It doesn’t end here. My years fade here, but the years roll on. Tide drives the Merc everyday, still, and is now a doctor.

6 Second Hero

Oh, he had walked the walk. A blue collar pencil pusher by day. He knew the in and outs of the corporate shell. Nailed the daily punch card and had a perfect record. He would speak when asked and worked hard to achieve goals set by those in charge. A dedicated company man. A company man dedicates his time and effort to help keep the status quo by doing his part Never causing ripples to upset the boat. Just remain a steady hard edged cog in all that keeps the company moving forward. Monday through Friday. Even at his clean desk he did not have any distractions, unlike his co-workers. No radio or personal desk calendars or family pictures. The higher ups liked that, in their mind it kept him focused. Friday would arrive and the seeds of an approaching weekend would sprout throughout the office. BBQ’s,  soccer /basket ball/football/hockey games.  A gathering of co-workers at Benigan’s and knock a few back to start the weekend. He always turned their offers down, he had other plans. As his co-workers left in their shiny new cars and SUVs, He gladly climbed behind the wheel of his trusty 1989 Dodge truck and headed west, his heart and mind focused on his other office which waited.

Friday nights are all about prep. Tear down and rebuild.  Planning, strategy. Dirty Johnny watches the weather and working with Woody, determines sparkplugs, fuel/air ratio, tire pressure. Knowing. The brothers discuss the barometer and weather for the next day.  Dirty and Woody come to a decision and reassemble the smallblock. Ol’ Skinny, well, wise as he is, just watches. Knowing. And as the moon rises and the digger is prepped and ready for Saturday, revelry in the pits is not too uncommon, and the first of many of Golden’s finest is emptied.

The morning sun blasts the pits with warmth.  The temperature creeps as the asphalt gets softer. Skinny is resting on a stack of racing slicks. Late night combined with an early morning. Through the fog of a night’s good time the team works. A mild throb in the skull, but the boys have work as one. A unified  machine of a hidden teamwork. Dirty Johnny casts a glance to the horizon.  Then looks at his watch and studies the track thermometer. “Hmm.” He knows that their time for their first run is not for an hour, but if the conditions are just right.

The pits are strong with the smell of racing fuel. Alcohol. Nitro. Skinny suits up and Woody tends to the tow straps. Dirty climbs into the Dodge and eases the pick up forward. The soft breeze calms and the weather balances. Still. No wind. Dirty Johnny raises an eyebrow.

The launching of a dragster is all about a check list. Woody had lived it since he was only as tall as a racing slick. Everyone tending to the launch has a job to do and most important is the communication with the driver. Fire up, tow straps disengaged, chute straps pulled. Every detail ran through like clockwork and then it was all up to Skinny.
A quick burn out, heating the tires up. Not too much. Guided back into place and then he rolls forward slowly and the Christmas tree lights up that he has pre-staged.

Now he is staged and it begins. Yellow. Yellow. Yellow.

As the yellow light fades he stabs the throttle. A weeks worth of sweat and prep comes down to a millisecond as his reaction time is .499.

Green flashes by and he feathers the throttle. No tire spin, and the small block screams.

And it’s done. He pulls the shoot and coasts..drag chute slowly pulling the dragster safely to a stop.
Numbers flash across the display board. 6.1  201.54.

The crowd howls. Skinny Jim pumps his fist and whoops.
Just another day in his office.

Written for my friend Skinny Jim O’Connell. Happy Birthday, man.