Friday, January 25, 2008

The Smoking Chevy


Dad had a 1953 Chevy Bellaire that was also a pretty cool car. It was not as cool as a '57 but still cool. Our driveway had a slight incline that sloped up toward the garage door. Dad would always park that car on the left side of the driveway. In southern California the weather is nice much of the time, so we had loads of time to play outdoors. We went barefoot a lot of the time.

You probably know by now that I loved, love, playing in the water. The ocean wasn't too far away and I loved to go there. When we would get close enough to the ocean we would always sing "We're almost to the beach, we're almost to the beach, high ho the merry o, we're almost to the beach.

It's funny what you remember over the years, and I can vividly see the Coppertone billboard with the dog pulling down the little girls’ swimsuit bottom enough to show her tan. We usually went to Huntington Beach. We would spend hours watching the waves come in, spot little bubbles in the sand and then dig furiously to catch these little sand crabs that would ride in an disappear into the sand. We would race the waves and always be amazed at how far down the coast we would end up away from our beach blankets.

When the sky was overcast we wouldn't pay attention to the amount of sun we we're getting and would end up with these killer sunburns, especially on our backs. I can still remember how sore my back would feel.

We would spend hours burying each other in the sand, building rudimentary sand castles and eating wonderful meals Mom had prepared for us. Sometimes we would stay after dark and have a fire and roast corn on the cob in the fire.

The tides intrigued me. It was and still is difficult for me to understand how the position of the moon could affect how far or close from the shore the waves would come in. Sometimes there would be undercurrents that were very dangerous and could pull you down and carry you away if not really careful. We would body surf a lot and when the waves were especially rough, we would get spun, twisted, dragged against the sand and thrown mercilessly to the ground. But we never seem to be deterred for long.

I remember the day Dad told us to go with him into the deeper water. I was kind of scared, but he took us by the hand, and I know we would be safe. Pretty soon my feet weren't touching the ground anymore and I was getting anxious. I soon realized that the buoyancy of the ocean water was much greater than that in a swimming pool. That was the day I learned how to tread water. It was very fun, but I still had some anxiety about sharks, big fish or other unknown creatures from the deep.

The sand would get so hot on our feet sometimes that we would run as fast as we could to get to our towels, a veritable Island of refuge. There were lots of couples that would lie on their towels, many who seemed to really enjoy kissing. I tried not to stare too much. When the day was done, we would got to the public showers and rinse off as much as we could, but it was amazing how much was left to make us uncomfortable on the ride home and still on us when we'd bathe at home. The rides home we're always a little too cool and I would sometimes shiver. Having sunburn probably didn't help. I still miss the beach and wish I could be closer to the ocean. But the fond memories with my family will always last.

We'll back to the Chevy. One summer day we we're playing with the hose. I'm sure we must have made some muddy mess somewhere already, as we usually did.

For some reason on this particular day, my eye spotted the exhaust pipe on Dad's car. I had always been a pretty impulsive boy. It wasn't like I was looking to create mischief and grief, but rather, I just enjoyed discovering things. This day was no different and after spotting that exhaust pipe my nature just took over. So I did what any 8 or 9 year old moron would do and stuck the hose into it. Soon I pulled it out and watched the water spill out.

I was surprised by what I saw next. As the water poured out onto the concrete, I noticed that the water was colored. It was a kaleidoscope of colors: reds, blues, greens, yellows. The colors reminded me of the vibrant rainbow colors you would see with blowing bubbles from the plastic jar. They were similar colors we would make when spraying the sprinkler just right into the sun, when we would make our own rainbows.

Wow, what a discovery this was. Soon the water dispersed and the colors were gone. I reasoned that it must have been created by oil built up in the exhaust pipe. This was a brilliant deduction on my part no doubt. Soon the hose was back into its logical residence inside the exhaust pipe. More colorful water cascaded out creating a childlike euphoria only to be matched by awe one would experience at great falls named Niagara or Victoria. We watched with fascination once again as the swirling, vibrant, oily fluid filled the gutter.

Being the naturally brilliant provocateur that I was, it'd also seemed logical for me to instruct my brother to turn the hose on full blast, which of course he was anxious to do. This time as the hose entered the black tunnel of smoke, I felt compelled to hold my hand over the hold to insure the filthy chamber would retain as much water as possible. I reasoned that the discharge would be much more spectacular for my willing audience. Sure enough the display was even more gratifying in terms of volume, but less abundant was the illumination of greasy color.

As I rack the recesses of my memory it seems like I may have enjoyed a prompting that what I was doing may have been harmful to the engine in some way, but I dismissed with pediatric logic. Exhaust smoke only exits the car when the engine is on, therefore if the engine is off, there must surely be some mechanical barrier that would prevent any kind of damage. Besides the water, quickly and readily voided it self. Being somewhat ignorant as to the process of oxidation, I felt safe and exonerated from any long term consequences. The out come could never be as uncomfortable as when we reached substrata when drilling the ground before.

Of course we soon became bored with this whole routine and dispersed like the wind to wreak havoc elsewhere.


It is said that ignorance is bliss. Over the months and years this process was repeated too many times. I of course was totally and completely unconscious to the fact that the reason Dad spent so many hours working on that car, replacing rings on the pistons and trying to imagine why the engine valves would be rusted.

I do remember being annoyed that our car always burned oil and stunk like crazy, similar to the stench of Trevor’s gaseous discharges. Why did we have to have a car that stunk?


Dad didn't know the truth regarding his mechanical frustrations for decades. Neither did I for that matter either, but by the time I did and finally confessed the statute of limitations had run out. How my Dad could laugh about this boneheaded thing I never know, but he did and I suppose he forgave me.

For years I had nightmares that my children would repeat this calamity on my BMW, at the coaching of my father or through innocent experimentation. But he took the high road and let me worry about, always careful not to step out of line.

Dad I am truly sorry and hope you will forgive me. Thank you for not killing or dismembering me.

2 comments:

The Bradford said...

comment.

Doug said...

You're so funny. But thanks for the comment.