The little brown car was laid to rest under a tree at the tow truck driver’s house. It joined several other cars in various stages of dying. I gathered the insurance papers and Dad’s Frank Sinatra tapes from the glove compartment, and at the last minute, took a couple pictures of the damage for the insurance company. No amount of money would make up for how much Dad was going to miss his car. This was likely the end of his foreign car love affair. I imagined the introductions at the wedding the next day: “This is my daughter Mimi and her boyfriend, the ones who wrecked my favorite car yesterday.”
Only in northern Michigan,(or maybe Butcher Holler), would it happen that the tow truck driver’s brother is a demolition derby driver. Of course he is. Gasoline was in the family blood and the brothers had the perfect business partnership– one rescued cars and the other smashed them up. This arrangement probably happens a lot more often than we think.
Steve and I stood around in the driveway for a few minutes wondering what to do with ourselves when the demolition derby driver, the younger of the brothers, mentioned they were leaving for a race that night at the county fairgrounds in Midland. We could ride along if we wanted. It was excellent news. I had a friend in Midland and anywhere east of the car cemetery got us closer to Detroit. The sun was heavy in the sky when we set off with the brothers, another smashed up car trailing behind us. We were a strange group, and on that day only one thing separated us: they ruined cars on purpose, whereas we preferred the element of surprise.
Ten miles later Steve and I are sitting on our suitcases on the dirt midway at the Midland County fairgrounds. Somehow I didn’t think we’d just be dropped in the middle of nowhere, but for the last two hours the kind people of northern Michigan did everything for us and now we must fend for ourselves.
The situation got ugly as whiplash settled in. We looked like a couple of puppets as we argued over where to find a pay phone. I dragged myself to my feet and staggered around for a phone.
Brenda. Dear, sweet, Brenda, please be home. Brenda was still single, living at home and of an indeterminate age. At my very first job as a DJ at a tiny 1000-watt station, Brenda, the office manager became my friend. At first I was afraid of her. She was stern, kept the books and paid the bills. Did she ever smile? Hers was serious work compared to playing music and mispronouncing baseball players’ names for a living. One day I asked Brenda to help me out at the board by punching the commercial buttons for me so I could take a bathroom break. I think she liked hanging out in the studio and I showed her how things worked. Soon after that I started writing copy too, so we shared the front office for a few hours every day after my shift. Next thing I know I’m her shopping buddy at the Saginaw Mall. She had money, so I watched her buy things.
Within an hour of my call Brenda picks us up from the fairgrounds and informs me there is no place in Midland to rent a car. Of course there isn’t. We have to go to Saginaw. Of course we do. So dear Brenda drives us all the way to Saginaw where another hour later we finally get a car and start driving to Detroit. The sun is turning orange. We should be at the hotel already getting ready for dinner, so I gun the big Buick as fast as I dared down I-75. It is such a relief to be in a car again. We feel rejuvenated and giddy as we speed south into the lavender summer night.
Once at the hotel, I throw on my wrinkled dress. Steve is completely wiped out and refuses to accompany me to the dinner. I refuse to let him off the hook. This is when he points out that he has already gone the distance by getting his hair trimmed for the trip, which he really didn’t appreciate doing. My latest request is too much for him. But then, a second later, he realizes he’s hungry.
God only knows where the rehearsal dinner was that night, but we couldn’t find it. Neither of us had been to Detroit before, much less the suburbs of Detroit. (Well I had, but I can’t share any information about that misguided trip since I didn’t know where I was then either.) We did eventually find it, and strolled in around 10 o’clock at night, feeling as sheepish as a flock. All my Mom said was “I’m glad you made the effort to show up.” Then she adjusted my shoulder pads for me which were facing backward like wings.
All in all, my entire family was pretty understanding about the whole debacle. I got my older sister Michelle to tell my Dad about the car before we even got there. I was scared out of my mind, but Dad was a class act. He never once mentioned it, and in addition to paying for the hotel room, he paid for the rental car too. The only thing I could offer him in return was my eternal gratitude and a couple pictures of the smashed up car. Looking at them later he said, “It doesn’t look that bad!”
About a week before the wedding there was a big plane crash there and over a hundred and fifty people died. As we lifted off the runway, headed back to LA, we flew right over the hull of the plane still lying there in pieces, half sunk into the earth, yellow tape flapping around. It was a quiet flight back to LA.
Within a month I moved out of the guest house, found my own place, and made a vow to move back to the Midwest. I missed the lake. I missed my family. I missed rain. I missed it all. Eight months later I quit my job, rigged up a cap for my Mazda pickup, held a garage sale, and said goodbye to all my California friends.
The last thing I did was buy two souvenirs of LA: an exquisite leather jacket and a crystal from the Bodhi Tree bookstore.. And then I headed east. It was going to be a long drive.