You Can't Fly Underground, 1990

If I titled this story what it should be titled it would give away the punchline so, since my life is an open book, I just wanted to be straightforward with you on that one.

As you know my best friend and I both owned fire breathing Pony Cars in high school. We'd take turns driving to school as while 8 cylinders are just right for a fast car, 16 is too many to just drive to school and work so we economized.

Another friend that lived close somehow ended up part of this deal so we had three cars at our disposal so it made no sense to do anything other than accept another 4 cylinders into our carpool.

I cannot recall if his parents bought the car for him or if he was able to just drive it whenever he wanted but, I think, his parents bought him a new 1990 Nissan Sentra. I am pretty sure Sentra means "square face and ass" in Japanese but I don't know Japanese so I can't bet more than $1 on it.

This is not my friends Nissan Sentra, it is a representation. Stop looking at pictures and read.

Well, today was the Nissan's duty to drive us four sophomores to school. Oh, and if you're asking how I know this particular Nissan Sentra is not said Nissan Sentra, it is because said Nissan Sentra is either rusted out, has mildew problems or has enough electrical problems to have driven whoever owned it next insane.

How do I know this?

I know it because I was in the passenger seat. On this day in the Greater Seattle Area it rained above average. Which means it rained "a lot". Plus, kids, todays drive to school took a diversion down a road that we never really drove down. It was a residential area and to this day I cannot remember why we diverted down it.

Picture a long, straight residential road, no speed bumps and oh about 1/4 mile of distance in a 25MPH zone. As my particular friend that was driving was not all that daring a kid (read: more mature than myself) we were doing 25MPH. When what to our wondering eyes did appear but a little bit of water running over the roadway.

As the intrepid Nissan rolled over this water, it became instantly apparent that this road was not "perfectly flat". Soon the water was ½ way up the tires and wheels. We pressed on, a steady 25MPH as our attention turned more and more to what was ahead of us.. in a matter of seconds the Sentra had a bow wave

The not-so-mighty engine started having trouble holding speed and soon the water was over the nose of the hood.. this ship was in peril. My friend in the backseat and I yelled, simultaneously, "FLOOR IT!" and, "DON'T STOP!"

Accelerator to the floor, the Nissans brand new windows, and I'll never forget this, were very clean. I could see a good 3" under water through the side window of this car, if the Sentra were a convertible I'd be up to my nose in rainwater! The car was slowing but we were still moving... if there were fish in this "puddle" I'd have seen them, the windshield and in fact, all the windows were 3" under water!

This was as deep as we got - but knowing that if we stopped now, right here, it'd be catastrophic to not just our morning but to the car. I'm unsure if we could have even gotten the door open.

The car sputtered down to less than 10MPH under full throttle (and we never became afloat as far as I know). The wheels kept turning and the water visible through the window started to recede as if a drain had been unplugged from the street. It wasn't, of course, we just happened to make it to the other side of the pond.

We laughed knowing that we dodged a bullet, as Ralphie in A Christmas Story states: We kids know it is always better to not get caught.

Our friends only comment on this, other than extreme laughter echoing through the cabin of the Sentra was, "don't tell my dad, he'll never let me drive again."

So we never told anyone.

Sticks and Stones My Break My Bones But they Also Can Fix My Chevy

I've posted a couple serious and deeply personal posts lately so I'm going to balance it back out with goofy car stories. This one is actually a "humble brag" post about my mechanical ability and ability to work a situation that isn't necessarily going my way.

In 1992 while driving in my neighborhood, I passed a car with a for sale sign in it and it immediately drilled into my psyche. It was a gunmetal grey 1962 Chevrolet Biscayne 2-Door Post. The "post" referred to the B-billar of the car. Oddly, to me a the time, it was also known as a "sedan" even though it was a two door.


Like this but grey
It had huge front and back bench seats and the seats were sprung, not of foam like modern cars are. The body was straight and it was a 283 V8 with a 3-speed and automatic overdrive, essentially making it a 6-speed. A great drag car!

The $1600 asking price was within reach - if I sold my 1968 Chevrolet 3/4-ton truck. I didn't need a truck, I'm not even sure why I ever bought it. 

I sold it.


Like this but grey.
The Biscayne I purchased the next day was just a joy. It was a 2-owner car, I was the third. The previous owner had installed cruise control, delay wipers, water injection and a 2nd oil filter under the hood. It purred like a kitten. It had the original hub caps on 14" bias-ply tires.

This is my 2nd favorite car I've ever owned. It never broke and I daily drove it for years to work and all over the Northwest.

Well, honestly, one day it broke. I had driven a good friend over to his not unattractive girlfriends home on the other side of the city. We listened to Queensrÿche: "Empire" on the CD player and 7 speaker system I had installed myself - and damn it was great!

The "breakdown" happened, appropriately for a Chevrolet, only after it delivered me to my destination. The clutch pedal went dead - to the floor - and for a few minutes my heart sank to the same place.

I had often bragged that I could fix a Chevrolet with sticks and rocks if necessary. I never had a wish to try it, it was bravado, but this day, this day I swear my only options were sticks and rocks.

I diagnosed the problem while my friend was in his girlfriends house doing who knows what. I found that the clutch pivot spring that mounts from the engine block to the fame, about 8 inches long, had broken the weld at the frame. This essential part was what let the spring "rock" when you engaged the clutch. No weld, no brace, no engaging the clutch.

As I eyed this problem, two factors immediately came to light. 1. I had not brought my tool box. 2. I did not know how to weld and even if I did, I'd need to fabricate a new part. The cherry on top of the shit sundae being that I was not a CNC operator.

The last thing I noticed was that forward of where the weld broke on the frame was the top of the suspension shock absorber. This was a stout mounting and here was where my mind went to work. Eyeballing the distance between where the broken weld was and this literal stud

Without even thinking of my past boasts about sticks and rocks, I began looking for... sticks and rocks. What I finally came up with was a nice piece of granite, a nicely dried 3"x½" stick of maple and the wonder of compressibility, a nice piece of bark off a giant Douglas Fir.

These three simple, natural items placed in the right order allowed the spring of the clutch to press into them. I hopped in the car and gave the clutch a press. I kid you not, it felt exactly as it did when everything was factory. Good pressure, the pedal returned to its normal height off the floor... groovy!

When my friend came out to check on me I had given it who knows how many pumps to see if anything was moving about under the hood - nope! In fact, the bark had already worn in a nice groove for it to rock in. I wasn't exactly 100% sure this would get us home but I had, as Astronauts say, "a high degree of confidence". I didn't ask how his girlfriend was.

My confidence was well placed. We got in the "Biscuit" as many of my friend called the Biscayne (they must not have been familiar with the bay but I'm a geography nut) and we sailed her home. Nary a hitch as Jet City Woman played on the CD player, an odd mix of 1962 and digital audio rolling through King County in style. Men in bland Honda Accords looked at me with our windows down, all smiles and I could read their minds: I wish I had never sold that car.

The most impressive part of my humble brag is that I drove my car like that for a good six or more months before finding someone who could take on the job of fabricating and welding in a new bracket at the great price of $50!

So if you wonder why the only tattoo I have is "1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2" and I bleed Chevy Orange, this is one of the many reasons. I've had many things let me down or not work as advertised or had small prayers not answered but Chevrolet has never stranded me, whether a 30 year old one with hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer or a modern 2008 or 2013 model.

I still have those sticks and rocks packed away somewhere. So I implore you:

See the U.S.A. in your Jet-Smooth Chevrolet.