Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
The burble of the small block Chevy engine's exhaust note at idle was both hypnotic and exhilirating--this is in my '72 Vette. The crescendo of the revs building as the motor raced to redline as the Turbo-Hydramatic trans shifted, stirred something in my brain, the very same sensation shaken and stirred by my Harley 74. Which goes to prove one thing: I love to operate vehicles. This accounts for this specific psychological reaction, which is peculiar to humans who love to ride and drive. Mary (my Vette) becomes a red streak as she flashes down the deserted early morning highway, at least, this is the way she appears to the casual observer by the side of the road---a Red Flash, full of Chevy Roar and Panache Red.
The scream of the 350 inch motor as her Holley's butterflies flash open, the rush of air through the Harley's Super B as the stroker Shovel mill suck it in like a hungry vampire---it all creates a euphoria in my brain that floats like a symphony, and stings like a bee. Sing it baby! Sing hard and loud. I'm rolling down the highway in Patty's Ford F-150, reveling in her size and heft. Mass equals weight times prayer, producing a heavenly feeling as we wheel our way through traffic like the Queen Elizabeth with a Blue Oval leading us. She's impressive and it's fun to drive her. I'm riding my friend Mark's 45 trike. I'm not used to it, and I crash into some garbage cans in first gear. I reflexively expected the trike to lean, which it didn't. No harm done, and lots of fun. I'm blasting down a Connecticut road in my ex-brother in law's 289 AC Cobra. What a brutal machine. It consists of a chassis, a body shell without upholstery materials. It weighs two thousand pounds, and goes like Hell. Man, wotta ride. It's 1970.
I driving a '65 Ford Econoline van that my ex and I bought for $600 so that we could move to California, which we are in the process of doing. We would drive cross country, and stop in New Mexico to check out some friends in Santa Fe. We're somewhere between Albuqurque and Santa Fe on a mountain road, and make a wrong turn, resulting in the van being positioned nose-first toward the edge of a cliff. When I take my foot off the brake to use the gas pedal, the van rolls down to the edge of the cliff.
I put the van in reverse, and the little in-line 6 has trouble pulling us away from the edge of the cliff. I'm gunning the engine, the clutch slips like a horny harlot. The van still edges forward toward the edge of the cliff, fueled by gravity and bad luck.
The van struggles, and finally gains purchase, and we back away from certain disaster. It was adrenaline-producing, but memorable to this day.
I'm back in my '64 Sting Ray, the mechanical sound of the solid lifters and hot cam reverberating through the dumpers I have on the pipes. It is deafening when the dumpers are full-open. Hittin' the highway in fourth gear, screaming onto the Triboro Bridge at a hunnert 'n ten, the sensations in my brain are once again, shaken and stirred---just like Sean Connery would've ordered up. I'm sixteen now. I'm in my father's '53 Buick Super on the Belt Parkway, leaning into a curve at 75 while my father's freaking out as he teaches me how to drive. I took the curve too hot, and almost rolled the Buick. Man, was that cool. I'm driving my bother's Morris Minor on the Long Island Expressway as we head out to Bridgehampton in 1965, to see the sports car race. The dinky little Limey was super to drive, underpowered and all. I'm cruisng in my father's '64 Chevelle Malibu SS (this car followed the Buick), enjoying the feel of the 283 cubic inch motor pull, as the girl I'm with are going to Connecting Highway to watch the street drags. This little car is hot. It's a pale yellow convertible. I'm driving my sister's '52 ford with three on the tree, trying to sync my clutching and shifting, as I'm still learning this mysterious art. I think I fried the trans, but it was still fun. It's 1991. Patty and I are in a Ford Thunderbird that we rented at LAX, on our way to Anaheim. In the early California morning, I floor the T-Bird to see what it can do. It rewards me with fair zip. It's 1985 in San Francisco. I rented a cargo van to move some equipment. I hit the highway and rock and roll with the van. A man with a van, but without a slow-down plan. Cool. Flash back to 1969. I'm on my '68 XLCH, straight pipes reverberating off the walls of the buildings on 32nd Avenue in Corona, Queens. Better not break down here. Corona's a black ghetto where the brothers have been known to stomp invading outsiders. Keep that ten inch length of chain on my belt handy.
We're wending our way to the Grand Central Parkway at 4:00 AM just before sunrise. We're riding to Jones Beach out on Long Island. Both I and my girlfriend are coming off the peak of acid trips. We both had three tabs of Orange Sunshine hours before. The ride is unreal.
The list goes on, but that had to be the longest paragraph I've ever written. All good things come to an end, and this seems like a good a time as any to terminate the beast. The point I was making was, operating vehicles of all types is satisfying, if you like to ride and drive. I don't particularly discriminate against four wheelers like some bikers do. Oh sure, I've done my share of "rages against cages"---but those were the type of rhetorical flourishes meant to inspire in prose, much as Sonia Sotomayor presented with her "wise latina" remarks. My previous cage remarks stemmed from the recognition that four-wheelers in the wrong steering hands and accelerating feet, can cause irreparable damage to Harleys and their operators' bodies. It has nothing to do with the type of inherent hatred for cars that some in the culture harbor.
In truth, I've never hated cars like some in the biker subculture do. I have always as a matter of fact, loved cars just as I've always loved bikes. The love is the same, even if the number of wheels double.
Take my '72 Corvette Stingray, for example. I loved Vettes before I loved Harleys, so that passion will always be there for me. Back when I had my '64 Corvette Sting Ray (back then it was two words---"Sting Ray"---as opposed to the '72 "Stingray") and the new body style came out in '68, I was wild for the sensuous and muscular looks of the new Vette. What came in between the '64 Vette and the '72 Vette, was 31 years of strictly Harleys, except for the utilitarian Econoline van I bought to move to San Diego with. Fact was, I couldn't afford six wheels at one time, only two at a time. Doesn't mean that the passion wasn't there, just the means to an end. There is much to love about my 37 year old Chevy, the least of which is not the history and tradition behind this great old girl. In this day and age of disposable cars, Vettes like my Mary stand out like a proud warrior woman, breathing hellfire from her V-8. In these days of disappearing V-8s, there is another dimension to apreciating her righteous small block Chevy mill.
The small block Chevy motor, just like Big Twin mills, reside in historical generations. Just like the Knucklehead, Panhead and Shovelhead, SBCs had three generations beginning a half century ago. They too, underwent an evolution to this day. Pushrods rule, man.
Tell ya what bros and sisses. I'll always be a Chevy guy, just as surely as I'll always be a Harley guy. The loyalty to both runs deep, and isn't all that different. My Harley 74 rules. My Vette rules. They rule my life, too. I love 'em.
Here's a surprising admission for a Chevy fan, man: I also love Patty's Ford pick-up. Amy (short for "Amazon", bless her Blue Oval heart) is some great truck, man. The quality of her construction is just unbelievable.
This Going The Distance column may turn out to be a "rages for cages" type of deal. Come on out there. All of you closet car guys and gals in the biker subculture---admit yer love for those V-8s! They rule, too. Later.