It wasn't the smoking or the craggy manners that gave away her age ... it was the bullet holes.
Not much sleep that autumn night. About two or three hours I reckon. But it was worth it since I was having such a great time with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years.
Of course it was a road trip. The 16 hours from Nashua, N.H., to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada gave us a chance to get caught up on some of the outrageous times we spent together back in the 1980s when, for a while, we were inseparable.
Sure she had aged a bit, but she was as spirited as when I was last with her at a Hollywood Gala years earlier. She still turned heads wherever we went and although she smoked for the first few hours, by the time we hit Maine, she put the habit to rest.
Perhaps she realized how tense it was making me, or maybe she was getting used to the new injector pump they bolted into the heart of her V8 Detroit Diesel before she left Los Angeles, Calif., for our New Hampshire rendezvous. Yes, Lucy Panzer, the 8,000 1984 GMC Suburban, in which college crony Ken Langley and I finessed our way through a lifetime of dicey situations between South Africa and North Cape, Norway, still had the goods. Even after four years of hanging around Beverly Hills’ prestigious Petersen Automotive Museum she was still unrefined and noisy with craggy road manners. But for her size, she handled surprisingly well.
I had slipped into a time warp. All those toggle switches. The forest of antennae on the roof. The smell in there, like crawling into a favorite old travel trunk. Yellowed press kits featuring fresh-faced Ken and I posed in front of Mount Kilimanjaro with “NO FEAR” written all over our faces. That favorite John Prine tape hanging out of the tape deck, Springsteen’s “Born to Run” in the glove box with the sticky latch. Under the seat, the rock we used to prop up the tire jack on a rutted road in Kenya’s Kasuit Desert after bandits shot out a rear tire. I love that old truck.
I had run into the venerable beast by surprise. The folks at General Motors had invited me to one of their media events in New Hampshire so I flew down and spent a day driving trucks around road courses set up at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
I had a ball. When else do you get a chance to drive a fuel oil delivery truck, a tandem dump truck, a moving van and another dozen variants around all morning? In the afternoon it was lighttruck time where I found myself blasting around the track in a 300-horsepower Sierra pick-up truck. It had 25-percent fewer parts than its predecessor. It was fast, quiet and smooth. It was a far cry from Lucy Panzer. At the end of the day, the organizers said they had shipped in a surprise for me. It was hidden around back of one of the pit garages.
“All right,” I thought. “A new Sierra. Or perhaps a Yukon to haul my family around in.”
My wife Lisa Calvi and our three daughterswouldobviouslybeimpressed when Dad pulled into the yard in a spanking-new GMC truck. They would cheer and realize I really did have good friends in far-off places.
Then I saw her. Lucy Panzer, listing slightly to port and riddled with bullet holes from that day in Kenya. With her scrapes and scratches showing through the fresh wax job, the truck reminded me of a scrappy puppy waiting for its owner at the dog groomers. And as I slid behind the wheel and fired her up, my want of shiny new metal evaporated.
That night, during a dinner at Searles Castle in nearby Windham, a fortune teller read my palm. She told me all the good stuff. I would live a long and productive life. The relationship with my wife would last forever. My children loved me. They would live long lives too.
The next day as I drove through the Maine woods on my way to the Canadian border, a flood of memories filled my head. The wind whistle from the CB antennae. The growl from the special air intake installed for desert operations. The air horns. They were all still there.
I considered how life had unfolded since that harrowing day in the dusty Kasuit Desert back in 1984. I thought about all the roads, the meetings, the inconceivable places. The people along the way. My family.
Then I remembered the fortune teller’s parting words.
“One more thing. You have strange job, yes?”
Garry Sowerby, author of Sowerby’s Road, Adventures of a Driven Mind, is a four-time Guinness World Record holder for long-distance driving. His exploits, good, bad and just plain harrowing, are the subject of World Odyssey, produced in conjunction with Wheelbase Communications. Wheelbase is a worldwide provider of automotive news and features stories.
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