A Nice Italian Restaurant

Because I was rudderless at the time, my friend Tom encouraged me to come with him to attend College of the Redwoods near Eureka. In those days–and under the best of conditions–it was a six-hour drive from the East Bay, where we lived, often along narrow, two-lane road. Rain could make the journey so much as eight hours. As could falling behind a logging truck for miles on end. But I didn’t know any of this yet; instead, I agreed wholeheartedly.

We convoyed the nearly 300 miles, I in a 1968 Mustang and he in an mid 70’s Pinto wagon.

Parenthetically, it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Tom eventually transferred to and graduated from St. Mary’s. I did the same from Berkeley.

We quickly settled into dorm life–there being dorms a determining factor in our enrollment–and, although we didn’t room together, we both enjoyed the experience.

In fact, a few weeks in we were rather given the run of the place. One day five of us, in complete ignorance, decided to venture altogether too far out on the south jetty on the mouth of Humboldt Bay. Three of us returned. The fourth had to be snatched–like an astronaut, with a helicopter–from the water, and the fifth was never recovered. The effect upon us of this galling tragedy was that we were cut enormous slack by the folks running the dorms. Mind you, this was a junior college, run by the state, and strict rules applied to dorm residents. Especially those who were under age. We did everything short of building a still.

Still, the jetty incident occurred in January–I know: January–really?–so we had six months of dorm life remaining before the summer. Sometime that spring Tom told me his girlfriend was coming up for a visit. Now, I can’t remember how she arrived. She probably drove. The point is, shortly before the appointed hour Tom’s Pinto suddenly went hors de combat.

I don’t remember why they could not have used her car, if indeed she drove, or, if she flew, why they could not have used mine. Or even my girlfriend’s truck. I only remember that it was imperative to Tom to get his car fixed. So she probably flew, and he enlisted my assistance. A wise choice? Hardly. But somehow a good one.

Together, in the dorm parking lot, we got to work–neither of us knowing much about what we were doing. I want to say we were allowed to borrow tools from the fleet truck maintenance school adjacent to our dorm, but I really have no idea. This was 37 years ago. I do remember we had to replace both universal joints on the driveshaft and change a shredded timing belt–daunting, with a dearth of equipment and experience both.

But we’re talking an old car here. We knew what the driveshaft was, where its ends were, and with trial and error were able to swap out the joints and reinstall the shaft. I will say that some kind of lift would have been convenient. We had a tire change jack. Still, I doubt I could find anything in any engine from this century.

The timing belt, once we’d accessed it, did give us pause. “We have to determine top dead center,” said Tom, nervously. “How the hell are we going to do that?” “We’re not,” I said. “See that mark on the block? Put it in neutral and hand crank it through so the mark on the timing gear aligns with that mark on the block. That’s all I’ve got. We’ll match them and hope the engine doesn’t eat itself.”

“Greatest Generation” stuff.

It’s along these lines I remember the great effort. Of the holy visit itself, everything has lapsed into the void with the exception of a lunch double date at a nice Italian restaurant.

We have a Pinto to fix, people–and we don’t need tools to do it. A pen will suffice, or a lever. Whatever gets your ballot marked. And that’s just the start. We won’t get to sashay off to any nice Italian restaurant until some touchy issues have been properly grappled with.

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