Sailing The Poopship to Hell

Sailing The Poopship to Hell

My car keeps me honest. It’s an 83 Cutlass, and I call the Poopship. The front bumper’s wired on. One of the hubcaps is missing. The wheel wells are rusted. The a/c, power antenna, electric door locks, horn, and dome light have all decided not to work, and unless the car’s been running for at least 1/2 an hour, turning the steering wheel sharply in any direction kills the engine. The tires need to be reinflated twice a week, the rear axle makes a grinding noise when I brake hard, the suspension squeaks like a sorority bed, and every time I leave a tape in the cassette deck and shut the engine off, I have to strategically remove it with duct tape and a knife.

The Poopship eats alternator belts for lunch, and when an alternator belt goes, it usually takes a few other belts with it for dessert. This is especially fun to deal with on road trips. The battery light comes on, letting me know I have about an hour of power before everything dies. Not a happy time for a financially challenged young man driving through the vast stretches of nowhere that connect the somewheres. During one trip from Atlanta to St. Paul, I had the pleasant experience of breaking down in Rockford, Ill, where the mechanic shop I pulled into assured me, after checking out my Georgia plates, that I needed a new alternator. I stressed the fact that the Poopship does this all the time and all it needed was two belts, the mechanic said, “I don’t do belt work. It’s not worth my time. You want a new alternator? I’ll put belts on a new alternator, otherwise I’m not gonna touch it.” After telling him to fuck off and getting back into my car, the gods of sadistic humor smote me and the Poopship wouldn’t start. The bastard offered to sell me a new battery for $100 bucks so I could take the car somewhere else. I got a tow to a place across town that said they’d be happy to just replace the belts, but they couldn’t get to it until the next day, so I spent the night sipping weak coffee in a Denny’s, avoiding curious stares of senior citizens who were up for breakfast around the same time I should’ve been in St. Paul crashed on the warm floor of an old friend. The next morning I walked to the garage, watched a guy fix my car in under 20 minutes, and was handed a bill requesting $150 of the $200 I brought on my trip. “Oh, the belts ain’t the expensive part, buddy, it’s the labor.” I skillfully haggled the damage down to $143.95. If I ever get rich I’m gonna track down every mechanic that ever ripped me off and pay to have his wife and children beaten daily with alternator belts.

But, like I said, my car keeps me honest. No matter what shoes I wear, how nice my suit, how convincing my fake British accent, the Poopship, like a good friend, never lets me stray far from what I am. Any hopes of rubbing elbows with the upper class (or even the middle class) are decimated the second I have to explain to the valet parking attendant the exact way to drive the car to avoid making it stall. The black clouds of smoke billowing from the tailpipe smash any possibilities of convincingly smiling at the blonde in the convertible next to me at a stoplight. The hip-deep garbage on the passenger side seat keeps all but the burliest individuals from accepting a ride with me. All this is fine. And even better than keeping me true to my dirty roots, the Poopship pushes me personally and makes me consider the future. The fact that I must say a prayer to the Auto Gods before every journey greater than 5 miles suggests that I should possibly look into a more lucrative career, or at least move to an evolved city that has a workable public transit system

The Poopship wasn’t always in such terrible shape. My grandfather proudly drove it new off a lot somewhere in North Carolina. It was lime green with wire hubs that reflected the sun as he carefully drove down the country roads between his house and the nursing home where my bed-ridden Grandma stayed. He spent a few years with the car, carefully noting tune-ups, oil changes (which he always did himself), and other minor repairs in a small notebook that’s still crammed in the glove box. I’m sure the Poopship was very happy with my grandfather, what car wouldn’t be? The gas tank probably never got below half. It got a nice warm garage. It was washed once a week. It was never driven above 50 miles an hour. Not that my grandpa was a car freak, he was just of the generation that couldn’t be tricked into running something into the ground and then buying a new one. He was still cruising solo around the Blue Ridge Parkway at the age of 92, minus a leg he had lost a few years earlier, and when my grandma died he drove all the way up to northern Wisconsin to spread her ashes on the waterfront of the house where they lived together for 60 years. I don’t know many people my age who could make that drive straight, much less anyone over the age of 70; he was a tough old guy.

After he died, the Olds was left to my family, and after my little brother drove my beautifully souped (and uninsured) Duster into a tree, the Olds was passed on to me. As a peace offering, my brother paid to get the pea green Poopship painted an evil shade of black, and then he drove it into a fence post before I could get it out of the state. The damage was more cosmetic than structural, and I never bothered to get it fixed.

I can’t say I take quite as good care of the car as its previous owner did. There’s probably enough spilled liquor, dope resin, and other assorted drug residue on the seats to register it as a Class 1 Narcotic. The back seat’s a clutter of jumper cables, skateboard parts, and beer bottles. The leaking trunk’s filled with an inch of standing a water and supports more biodiversity than what’s left of the Brazilian rainforest. It’s oil changes are few and far between, I’ve never given it a tune up, and any repairs made were cheaply arranged to merely keep it from exploding. I never wash it, and if stranded on a desert island, I’m confident there’s enough food scraps and half drunk bottles of cola inside to keep me alive for at least a year. The car’s been slept in, fucked in, drag raced, towed, impounded, drunkenly smashed into a highway divider, and set on fire by a flaming potato cannon on the way to Vegas. It’s seen mean streets, given rides to questionable characters, and spent the night in places no human would last 20 minutes in.

But it’s also seen Memphis. It’s been driven to the edge of the Grand Canyon. It’s seen the sun rise over the Atlantic and set on the Pacific. It’s been raced through the streets of Tijuana. It’s been submerged to the floorboards in a Midwestern flash flood and lived to tell the tale. It’s parted the crowds of Mardi Gras more than once with little damage to speak of (unlike it’s owner). It’s battled taxis in New York City, suspiciously hung outside of strip clubs in the Florida Keys, moved armies of grateful snowboarders to Mammoth, and seen speeds that didn’t even register on its measly speedometer. It’s been abused, yes, but it has lived as well.

And when they tow that thing to the wrecking yard, all I can hope is that it will have some good stories to tell. The family cars might talk of love and commitment, but they will still have that longing look in their headlights. The business rentals will talk of wealth, but they were just carrying it, temporary transports left empty at the end of the ride. The utility vehicles may have exciting tales of danger and adventure, but they will be too removed from normal existence to be very compelling and all run together after the first few. The luxury cars will indignantly wonder how machines of their stature ended up at the junkyard. The rest of the cars will just shut up and become politely lost in the piles, identities consumed and erased. And maybe as the jaws come for the Poopship, just at that moment of utter destruction, maybe it will think back to a time. Not the most important event of its life, just something like a Sunday afternoon drive down Pacific Coast Highway when everything seemed normal, or a maybe breezy rest area off a northern Wisconsin freeway. Maybe it will think of that time, accept everything, and move on without so much as a whispered complaint. I know I’d want nothing less.