Since then, I've only bought cars with
major cosmetic aberrations. As a result, I don't worry about hail
storms, guard rails, high curbs, or minor fender benders. I also
don't worry about "maintenance schedules," oil changes, timing belts, and
stuff like that. If you enter the world of the auto mechanics, everything
needs to be replaced soon. I prefer to live in the world of "good
cars" and "bad cars." Bad cars don't go. Good ones do.
Questionable ones have funny noises. I make a point of buying good
cars, and replace them if they go bad.
My wife's and my taste do vary a bit. I prefer a working sound system. I get by with only one channel working on the stereo, but I do miss some of the harmonies and guitar solos that are lost that way, on those old cassettes I like to listen to. My wife, on the other hand, has higher cosmetic standards than I do. She insists all doors open and shut, and remain shut while driving. I have to agree it is disconcerting to have a passenger door fly open and whack a pedestrian as you hang a left hand turn at rush hour.
Beyond that, mostly we just want a good car, and one that is easily adopted by us.
If I had the time and a ticket, I'd
fly to Florida to get a car given up by a retiree who's figured out they're
too old to drive. The nice thing about Florida cars is they're not
too rusty, unless they parked too close to the beach; they're likely to
have a few dings, which is what convinced the owner to give it up; and
they might have a great stereo system, and probably date back to
the last century.
Instead, I found myself bicycling around doing my banjo sales until I found a car beckoning me somewhere on my route. Indeed, that's when I saw the old lady getting out of a sleek sports car. Fiero Imbroglio, it said on the side. Sounds Italian, I thought. It was painted a lovely sky blue, with a few other colors giving it a sporty look. There was some question of which century it came from... It had the requisite amount of dings and scrapes. The curious thing was, that although I was sure this was the car, there was no "For Sale" sign on it. I decided to talk to the lady anyway...
"Excuse me, is that your car?"
"Some people would call it that. I reserve my opinion on the matter. Is that a banjo on your back, or are you just sprouting an antler?"
The mention of banjos triggers a knee-jerk sales reaction on my part... After ten minutes or so, she made it clear she didn't want to buy one, but not in a frenzied violent way, so I brought up the topic that had initially been on my mind...
"I'm drawn to your car. I've never seen an Imbroglio before. Have you ever considered selling it?"
"Have I? Ha!" She snorted and started walking away. Was she playing hard to get? Was the Imbroglio a rare collector's auto? Or was it, like the Bitar, a curse?
It turned out she actually was a secret banjo admirer, but also a tough cookie in the haggling department. That's why, in addition to spending more than I like on the car, she made me throw in a banjo to square the deal. The fact that she left the sales negotiation giggling loopily did little to make me feel I'd gotten the best of this deal. On second inspection, it did occur to me that the car was not a convertible, but merely lacked a roof and windshield. Given its potential speed abilities, I didn't think either would be missed much, unless it rained...
When it started raining I looked in
the glove compartment for anything useful. Indeed there were some
sprightly goggles and gloves, which, when I donned them, made the
wet parts of me envious immediately. Fortunately it was only a brief
shower, and when I got home I began to stuff the gloves and goggles back
in the compartment, when I noticed a map there. While maps tend to
accumulate in glove compartments, this one looked like it predated the
Imbroglio itself... The map showed a vast river, a ring of stones,
and a blasted peak, all drawn on some kind of animal skin.
Anyone from the Northwest might know these were clearly the Columbia, Stonehenge, and Mt. St. Helens. But the confusing thing on the map was a large nose, north by northwest of Stonehenge. In Idaho, we have a distinctive mountain named Roman Nose, but this nose looked, for some reason, more Egyptian than Roman. Perhaps it was the way the map was outlined with Egyptian styled drawings and cartouches and stuff. Fortunately my friend Larry went through an Egyptian phase in high school, so I drove over to his house to see what he thought...
Fweet! Time out. Stonehenge in the Pacific
I'm glad you asked... Railroad magnate Jim Hill built his wife Mary a lavish estate on the banks of the Columbia near Goldendale Washington. On a lark they built a smaller but well scaled concrete replica of Stonehenge. They probably wanted to know the dates of the equinox... I'll likely include a photo of it, assuming that the story ends up there, which is a pretty safe guess at this point.
When I got over to Larry's, he was just setting up for his latest extreme sport--juggling swords on a ladder. His son, who is thinking of going into public accountancy, was being required to hand up the flame baton.
"Let's talk this over, Larry,"
I said. "If you set yourself on fire while juggling the beach ball,
the swords, and the fire baton, there's a better than average chance you'll
fall down the ladder onto one of the swords and bleed to death as you burn...
On the other hand, if you translate this ancient treasure map, there may
be riches and glory for all of us." His son looked at me, a bit askance
I'd say, and went in to study market analysis or some other equally arcane
children's clap trap.
By holding the ladder steady for him, I managed to avert a serious accident for Larry--he only had a few cuts and bruises from the fall. I gave him the map to peruse as I bandaged his wounds.
"By Jove," he said, getting into the spirit of the thing, " I can't make heads or tails out of this... Of course it's a long time since high school... And I really was more into the Lord of the Rings... If this were Elvish... But here's some I remember--Ankh, Ankh, Dukh, Ankh, Dukh, Guhs! No wait, that's a children's ring game... Hmmm. This nose looks interesting..."
I asked him if he thought it looked Egyptian... "Sure, why not. A nose is a nose... Any other nose would smell as sweetly..." He whacked himself upside the head before I took the liberty of doing it for him... "Gotta stay on topic here... Okay, the X on the nose probably marks the spot. That's what X's do on these kind of maps..."
"But what about all these head-turned Egyptian people holding their hands out funny, and marching all around the outside of the map?"
"Well, I'm certainly no trained Egyptologist, but I'd say they were probably ads helping to defray the cost of the gazelle skin the maps are printed on..."
Soon we'd packed our bags and we headed
out the door. There was no question in Larry's mind that this was the newest
hot extreme sport for him.. But he paused dramatically when he came to
"So what's this?" he asked, suckering for the obvious question.
"The Imbroglio! The finest in handcrafted sports cars," I replied.
"When they built this, handcrafted was the only option available," Larry said.
I couldn't argue the point. After I produced a swimming mask with snorkel for Larry to use in case of rain, he acquiesced to my choice of vehicles. Actually, since Larry's car was in the shop getting the frame straightened from his foray into stock car racing, my car was the only choice we had...
Given the potential speed of the Imbroglio, the interstate with its 45 mph minimum was not a choice we could take. I'd consulted WayBackroads.com for the route, and had 37 pages of arcane instructions to follow to get us to our destination. When for a few miles we didn't have to look for "the 2nd driveway past the clump of 3 trees," Larry would pore over the treasure map.
"How could I have missed this!" he exclaimed suddenly.
"What, we missed a turn again?" I asked.
"This hieroglyph right here--it's the symbol for the Sphinx!"
"And this is exciting because?"
"The Sphinx has no nose!"
"Everyone knows that..."
"But we're looking at a map with a giant nose on it... This could be the Nose of the Great Sphinx of Egypt!"
"But Larry, how would a giant
stone nose get to the United States?"
"You know tourists, Phil. Someone snitched it. Probably back in the days before there were guards and stuff. It could have been Jim Hill himself, playing a little prank on Egypt... If we find this, it could make my career as an Egyptologist."
I could have argued that it was really my discovery, but I didn't want a career in Egyptology. Larry, at 48, had yet to settle on a career choice, so if Egyptology was it, I'm sure his wife, and possibly even his son, would approve.
As we drove along, I began to reflect on my family relationships. For some reason, I was reminded of Kant and Nietsche. Thinking of them always makes me sleepy, so I pulled over and let Larry take the wheel. I handed Larry the sheaf of instructions, and dozed off in the rumble seat... As I slept, I had the most lucid dream I can ever recall. I remember thinking my life was utterly useless, and that I wasted all my time and energy on frivolous pursuits. Mysterious voices encouraged me to consult Larry's son about investment and retirement opportunities. Fortunately I woke up before committing to anything responsible and worthwhile... These kind of dreams always shake me up for a while. I looked at the map and realized we'd reached the Hanford nuclear reservation, and the dreaded "Tricities vortex."
Geographically challenged individuals
are encouraged to avoid the "Tricities." They're rather like a game
of chutes and ladders, with the chutes being freeways, and the ladders
being huge bridges across the Columbia River, both of which tend to route
you where you'd rather not go. With the 3 cities so close to each
other, they are enmeshed in a most unhealthy transportation maze, reminiscent
of the Bermuda Triangle. What's more, all roads lead to them, but
none lead away in the right direction. The cities rather resemble
the bumpers on a pinball table, with you the unfortunate ball...
Through trying to use the WayBackRoads.com directions, we were on an old highway going through one of the towns (which one, we weren't sure...). We came to the Atomic Drive-In, leftover from the area's heydey in the 1950's, when Atomic was a positive attribute. Some of the cars pulled in still had fins in back, like the classic 57 Chevies... No one gave the Imbroglio a second glance, as we squeaked to a stop. I had the Mushroom Burger with a Radium Shake. Larry had a Tuna Fission Meltdown with Radiation Fries. We both felt a healthy glow when finished...
While eating, it grew dark, which happens
in the evening, but it also began to rain, which was rare in this desert
area. Since the Imbroglio was precipitationally challenged, we decided
to call it a night at the nearby Par-t-tar Motel. This motel, another
holdover from the 50's, promised to match our budget, which was lean until
such time as we might gain fame and fortune from discovering the Sphinx's
The room looked like it hadn't been remodeled since the 50's. The black and white tv had no remote. This, of course, made it impossible to watch television, since we would be stuck watching only one channel at a time... Besides, it only seemed to have "Leave it to Beaver" on it. We decided to go to the bar on the property, called the Parc Lounge. The place was fairly busy, so we sat at the bar, next to a guy who had "salesman" written all over him.
"Hey, I'm Milt Lumky," he said.
"Just passing through like you guys."
"How could you tell that we're just passing through?" I asked.
"The regulars all have greased hair," he said. "Say, did you wonder why they called this the "Par-t-tar Motel?"
"Not really," Larry said. "Some kind of ranch branding logo?"
"It spells Rat-trap backwards," Milt said. "The guy that started it had a thing about backwards words."
"Well, he must have been interested in French when he named the lounge... Parc is French for Park...." I added, brightly.
"Have you guys ever seen any of those cheap Japanese electric typewriters?" Milt asked...
"I haven't seen a typewriter of any kind for quite a while," I said...
"I know where you could get a load of them, cheap..." Milt said.
"You already said they were cheap," Larry pointed out.
"I mean really cheap," he said.
"You'd have to pay me to take one," I said...
"Aw, forget it. I'll find someone else to get in on this great deal..." He walked away a bit unsteadily...
We quit the bar fairly soon afterwards.
That guy Milt was right about one thing, the regulars were all greasers...
Back in the motel room, an old Groucho Marx "You bet your life" program was on...
"Jeez," said Larry. "They didn't pay contestants chicken feed back then."
"Say, Larry, I've been thinking. Did you ever see Brigadoon?"
"Yeah," said Larry, "I always wanted to go home with Bonnie Jean. I think I would have just called her by her first name, Bonnie, though..."
"I'm thinking this place is kind of like that..."
"What! I haven't heard a Scottish accent all evening."
"Well, same idea, only different. This whole place seems to be stuck in the 50's. Even the tv. It could be we've entered some weird time-space vortex..."
"Naw, that's just a tourist trap in South Dakota--I've seen the signs. Washington doesn't go in for cheap tourist tricks like that. Except for Leavenworth and Winthrop..."
For a while we discussed whether having a fake Bavarian village and a fake western town were in the same class as Wall Drug, and finally we both fell asleep.
Since we didn't know for sure which
way to go after the TriCities, we left it to fate as to how we really were
to leave the city. Unfortunately this meant visiting several of the
cities twice before finding a road that led away. But by noon we
were headed west on another back road. With the parchment map as
our only guide, we began to look for the signs.
"Well, I said, there's nowhere that you can see the Columbia, Stonehenge, and Mt. St. Helens all at the same time, because Stonehenge's view is blocked by the Columbia Gorge. So I'm guessing Goldendale is closer to the Nose..."
The closer we got to the supposed destination, the less detail there seemed to be on the map. By the time we got to Goldendale, we were reduced to showing the map to quick stop clerks and asking if they had any idea where a big nose might be... Considering that you don't get to be a quick stop clerk by your superior mental abilities, the results were, at best, mixed (of course, as they pointed out, they weren't lost and looking for giant noses, so perhaps I shouldn't be so hasty to judge their mental abilities). So, lacking a better plan, we went to see Stonehenge...
While walking around, we peered out
through the portals to see what we could see. Suddenly I had
the distinct feeling that if I stood here on the equinox, I could predict
where the sun would rise and set, thus telling other primitive Celts whether
they should harvest or plant... I could feel the incredible
power of Stonehenge surging in my veins. Then the feeling went
away and I kept looking for the giant nose...
While looking out toward the direction Mt. St. Helens would be, if you could see it, we noticed an unusual rock formation on the crest of the Gorge. Checking an area map we'd picked up in Goldendale, we guessed it was on Rattlesnake Road...
One time I stopped with my family to
see Sitting Bull's grave in Mobridge, South Dakota. It was a nice
granite monument, and there were a few wilted flowers, and no one else
was there to interfere with our communing with the spiritual leader of
the Sioux who provided the visionary leadership at the battle of the Little
Bighorn. I guess location is everything. In contrast
to the loneliness of Sitting Bull's grave, the Custer battle site is just
minutes off I-90 in eastern Montana, and the Custer monument gets many
thousands of visitors per year. The reason I mention this is, it's
the same for Washington's Stonehenge. If Hill had put it on the other
side of the Columbia, where the freeway was routed, Stonehenge would be
as visited as Multnomah Falls, which is just down river from it...
But my real point is that, if Stonehenge is on the wrong side of the river to be a major tourist draw, the Sphinx's Nose is up the Rattlesnake Grade, which cuts out another 99 per cent of tourists... Even the geniuses running the quick stop in Goldendale had never heard of it. BUT HERE WE WERE, NEARLY THERE.
I was pretty disappointed to see a
rusty sign at the highway--"Sphinx's Nose--turn here". So much for
discovering it for fame and fortune. Someone got here first, a long
time ago. We drove to the edge of the Gorge, and parked at an old
travel trailer, with a hand lettered sign on it--"See the Spinx's Nose--$2.00."
There was a crusty old lunatic inside looking at us avariciously.
Having come so far, we paid our $2 and started up a curvy walk around a
rock wall. And there, looming above the basalt columns that marked
the verge of the Columbia Gorge, was THE NOSE!
It did indeed resemble a nose. Possibly even the nose of the Sphinx. But it was of black basalt, and clearly attached to the underlying rock, and not stolen by a tourist from Egypt by any stretch of the imagination (and my imagination, as you've seen, has a pretty good stretch).
Larry got out his digital camera and took a picture of me standing by it, looking and feeling a bit like a post nasal drip.
We walked back to the "office" trailer. I waved my treasure map at the man inside.
"So do you know anything about this?"
"Say," he said. "I thought that car looked familiar. A lady came through here about a month ago, in that same car, and bought that from our knick knack display. I tend to remember most of our visitors. And their cars. I got plenty of time to think about them... That Imbroglio is a real piece of ... Anyhoo, the map's a real collector's item. We make them from fake skins, draw the map by hand with magic marker, and put it in the dryer to make it look real old... It wouldn't fool anyone though. The map looks a hundred years old, but we draw St. Helens the way she looks after she blew 25 years ago... Wouldn't fool a child..."
|7. The Ravine Runner||8.
|11. The Secret Six||12.
|13. The Old School|
Lost in the City
The Curse of
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
How I spent
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death