Friday, April 12, 2013
Road Trip: You Turn Me Right 'Round, Baby...
Not really a road trip, so much as a test drive that went sour.
I had this monster '76 Impala wagon 20 years ago. It was the first car I owned that I actually drove anywhere. Mine was as white as Eric Estrada's teeth. There were some dents and dings, one spot above the left taillight where the previous owner backed into a garbage truck, and all the floorboards were rusted out, but for the most part it was straight and rust-free.
Huge car. Twenty feet long, with three rows of seating. The back row opened backwards so the occupants could look out the back window and make faces at other motorists [remembering that wrong--the seat flipped up facing forward, but there was still room behind the third row for small, unsecured, face-making brats].
Coolest feature on this beast was the "clamshell" rear door and window. Turn your door key partway and the rear window would retract into the ceiling. Turn it all the way and the tailgate would retract under the floor.
That was about the only "extra" other than power steering and brakes. Everything else was manual.
The Impala and I had a rivalry the entire time I owned it. I had it in my head that this car was going to run, and run well.
The Impala had other plans. Very passive aggressive. I'd have it running (again), run out and hop in to head to work, and...nothing doing. I'd curse it up and down, grab my 10-speed out of the back (got in the habit of always toting a bike as backup), and go to work.
I'd been fighting the Impala for about a year, rebuilding the carb, adjusting things, tricking it into being more reliable. Took it for a little proficiency run to see whether I could get my gas mileage into double digits, since 9mpg really freaking sucks. It wasn't even a big engine, just a run-of-the-mill 350 with a 2-barrel. I never got around to hot-rodding it.
Headed east down Creighton Road toward the bay...and damned if I didn't get trapped in a line of cars behind a big yellow road grader. I could hear its engine howling, maxed out, but only giving the thing 20 mph. When it turned south onto Old Spanish Trail, I fed gas to the Impala and headed for Scenic Highway, where I'd be able to open the throttle at least a little. South on Scenic, down to Langley, west. There's a long, high hill from Scenic up Langley. As I crested the hill...damned if I didn't see a line of cars ahead, and that farking road grader crawling along like a rolling roadblock.
I should have turned on Spanish Trail, which is right at the top of the hill. But no, I kept rolling along, planning to turn instead on Leesway, which runs between Langley and Creighton, to escape the grader. It took forever to get to Leesway. Some jackass in a black Lincoln tailgated me once I made the turn. I glanced at him in my rear view mirror--and there was a sudden flash of red ahead of me. I had an impression of something car-sized right in front of me, felt the Impala jounce, heard a loud CRUMP! and screeching tires.
The Impala barely slowed. I'd only been doing 35, but a 5,000 pound wagon has a bunch of inertia.
I was still trying to put things together as I hit the brakes and guided the car over to the curb. People were pouring out of houses, there was a red Chevy Cavalier in the yard to my left, and the Lincoln had vanished. I sat there shaking for several days in a few eyeblinks.
Turns out that this 18-year-old girl had been trying to get around a road grader that was holding up traffic a few blocks away and was so intent on looking for it that she ran the stop sign just as I rolled into the intersection.
The Impala rammed her right on the driver's side rear wheel, bashing sheetmetal from door to back bumper. Her car described 3/4 of a circle and ended up in someone's yard, two tires off their rims, rear axle bent, a sculpture dedicated to physics. The other driver was shaking harder than me. Maybe some bruises, possible whiplash.
The police ticketed her for failure to yield and figured the had about $2,000 damage to her car. He looked at mine and guessed maybe $500. The front bumper was compressed and swiped a few inches sideways. The grille had shattered and the nose panel above it was flattened. Both corner caps above the headlights were damaged--but the radiator was fine.
Her car was loaded onto a flatbed. I drove mine home.
A week or so later, her insurance company sent a guy out. He looked it over, pronounced it "totaled," and offered me a $400 bank draft--minus an imaginary $75 "towing fee" because I was keeping the car.