Welcome to my first car, a 1976 Chevy Malibu Classic. In case you’re looking at the picture and saying, “That’s an awful photo — it makes the hood look huge,” I feel compelled to point out that it’s not the photo’s fault. The car was a behemoth, and with a 350 V8 engine I was lucky to get 12 mph. But it took Montana’s mountain passes like a demon, which was important when I was a freshman in college, crossing the Continental Divide while driving the 340 miles from Missoula to Billings every other weekend. (In such a large state, a six-hour drive wasn’t that big of a deal.)
One winter I slid off the freeway near Bear Canyon Road outside Bozeman. The road was so icy that instead of making the turn, my car just skated straight horizontally off the road and landed on its passenger side, soft as a feather, deep in a snowbank and far off the freeway, invisible to other drivers.
I sat there stunned for a while and realized that I would have to undo my seat belt to get out of the car, but if I did, gravity meant I would fall against the passenger side door. And if I wanted to get out of the driver’s side, I would have to push the door straight up and somehow hold it there while I managed to crawl out. Maybe I could just sit there for a while and someone would see the marks and the car’s trajectory off the road, and stop for me? And while I sat/hung there, weighing my options, Dead or Alive’s “Nude” was blaring out of my cassette tape player. I blamed the music for my driving — with 144-BPM tracks blaring out of the stereo, no wonder I had been shooting down the road.
“If someone comes along, you are not going to be found listening to Dead or Alive,” I decided, “and if you don’t do anything, you’re going to die of cold here, and they’re still going to find you listening to Dead or Alive.” Which is ultimately what spurred my eventual action plan: Roll down the driver’s window, put down the middle armrest on the giant bench front seat, stand on that, and crawl out the window instead of trying to open the door. Once out, I marveled at how far the car had actually traveled, then hiked up to the freeway to hitch a ride to Bozeman, where I called my insurance company from a gas station.
It took two tow trucks 2-1/2 hours to get my car out, and they pulled the front bumper away from the driver’s-side front quarter panel trying to do so. (We temporarily affixed it for the drive home by looping my suitcase strap around it, since it was still attached on the passenger side.) But that, aside from a slight dent in the front passenger door, was the extent of the damage, and I drove home right after.
For a while, I couldn’t listen to that Dead or Alive album because it made me remember hanging by a seat belt, sideways, my mind furiously processing through what decades later I’d learn were called “decision trees” trying to figure out what the hell to do. For some reason, “Turn Around and Count 2 Ten” was the worst of the songs, I think because the tempo seems faster and the hits of synthesized strings seem particularly frantic and panicky-sounding.
I kept the car for a few more years, but when it was 15 years old the engine showed signs of bl0w-by. When my parents bought a new car, they offered me their old one, so I traded them the Malibu, which they sold for cash.
Years later, after I had moved to Grand Junction, Sharyn and I came across the Malibu in a Pizza Hut parking lot. I knew it was mine because of the rusted back quarter-panels, the dent in the passenger side door, and the outlines of my University of Montana parking stickers were still on the back bumper. We got out and examined it closer, and saw the custom upholstery we had put in when I was a senior in high school, and stood there discussing it for so long that its current owners came out of the restaurant to ask what we were doing. They had bought it from someone else in Wyoming, so apparently The Beige Bomb had spent years making its way south … toward me.
“That’s weird,” I told Sharyn when we got back in my car and drove off. “Like ‘Christine’ weird. I expect to wake up one morning and find the Malibu sitting in my driveway, idling, having pulverized the K Car into shards of scrap metal.” Luckily, that did not happen — I never saw the Malibu again. I wonder what I’d do if I did — and if “Turn Around and Count 2 Ten” would be playing, just to freak me out even more. (If you click on the photo of Christine chasing down a bully up above, you can watch the Dead or Alive video on YouTube.)
|WHAT SAM WORE: 2-16-11|
|The sweater: Merino wool V-neck from Gap.
The shirt: Cotton button-down from the Gap outlet store at Anthem, years later.
|The pants: Dark-wash boot-cut jeans from 7 for All Mankind,
from Nordstrom, Chandler Fashion Center.
|The shoes: Jack Purcell sneakers by John Varvatos for Converse, from Nordstrom Rack.|