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May 20, 2024

Victory Highway (Part XIII)

By John Trindle

Mark and Cliff are at the Illinois Railway Museum, in Union, IL.

This was the place where Mark drove a steam locomotive. It was part of the history of his love of transportation. He had piloted an airplane, and a Mississippi car ferry, as well as the normal run of cars, bikes, mopeds, a tank in Syria, and whatever He wanted to be able to drive anything. First it was because it was fun, but as a teenager, after a steady diet of apocalyptic science fiction movies, he started thinking it would be Wise to Be Prepared For The Worst.

A lot of Mark's thirst for knowledge was prompted by this motiviation. He really hated feeling ignorant, and knew by his parents and grandparents that it was a curable disorder. He knew that in an emergency ignorance could be fatal. He wanted to be the Calm Center. More importantly, he wanted to be self-reliant, and not dependent on anyone for survival.

In fact, during the hardest years of his high school career, he would fantasize that he was just like Charleton Heston in The Omega Man... alone with all the resources of the world at his disposal. Of course, not completely alone. There would at some point appear a large breasted neurosurgeon slash gourmet chef who would fall for him (since he was The Last Man On Earth), and they would boink like bunnies in the smoldering rubble, feasting from tin cans and breakfast cereal boxes.

His fantasies never extended to the end time, when there would be nothing left but cockroaches and Twinkies(tm), neither of which is of course edible by humans (a recent Gallup poll suggests that Twinkies(tm) are considered inedible by 9 out of 10 cockroaches as well. The tenth cockroach was undecided). The large breasted neurosurgeon would then of course saute him in in butter and eat him for dinner. But even if they had been that detailed, he would probably have considered it worth the cost all the same.

Mark drove automatically, his thoughts now focused on the aforementioned large breasted neurosurgeon, her moist lips moving over his body, down his chest and across his belly. Every now and then he had to jerk himself back to reality, swerving back into his proper lane. He hummed a warning to himself : "Keep your Eyes on the Road / Your Hands Upon the Wheel"

Jim Morrison. Mark hadn't thought of Jim Morrison in at least five years. In his youth, he had identified heavily with the Lizard King, feeling a deep similarity and kinship belied only by the small differences that Mark wasn't a rock star, a chick magnet, a poet, or a tragic hero (yet). He did want to be a rock star, of course, that was the dream of every red blooded American teenage boy, and not a few teenage girls as well. Rock stars had the life, partying and playing, never having to punch a time clock and rich as Croesus besides.

This train of thought, which left Union, Illinois almost an hour ago, brought Mark back to the spectacle of he and Cliff arriving back home. They had to stop unexpectedly in Ashland, Virginia the previous night, since weather had caused them to divert and ultimately land. As they approached Williamsburg, Mark radioed in to Unicom to request a conditions (weather) report. There was a fairly low cloud layer, over which the Cessna was flying, and he wanted to make sure that there was a break near home, or at least it was high enough to duck under with confidence. The reply from the airport was, "It's fine here, and if you hurry, you can meet Elvis!"

Well, both Mark and Cliff were pretty sure that Elvis had died in August 1977, and were a bit dubious of the accuracy of the rest of the report. However, they were able to duck under the cloud layer over the James River, and make an essentially normal approach to the 3200 foot strip. When they taxied to the ramp, they noticed a gentleman with dark hair and sunglasses, wearing a white, rhinestone studded jump suit. Elvis?

Then they saw another, similar man. And another. And another. In total, there were over a dozen Elvises (Elvii?) cluttering up the small terminal building. They were, in fact, the famous Flying Elvises, the world-renowned parachuting team. They were in town for the anniversary of the local amusement park's first roller coaster, the Loch Ness Monster.

There was another myth, thought Mark. He wondered who had been spotted more, Elvis after his death, or Nessie?

As Mark entered the Flight Services Room (really a converted coat closet) to close out his flight plan, the phone rang. A regular of the small airport, and former office resident, he was used to answering the phone when the FBO personnel weren't available.

"Hello, Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport," he announced. "Yes," said the voice. "May I speak to Elvis?"

Mark was dumbstruck for a second, his mind whirling with the absurdity of the question, but then asked the only question which seemed to fit. "Which one?" "Oh, any Elvis will do," replied the voice.

Mark opened the door, leaned out, and passed the handset to the nearest white jump-suited figure. "It's for you." "Thanks," replied Elvis, who then eased past Mark into the Flight Services closet. "I won't be but a minute." Mark closed the door gently and motioning for Cliff to follow, left for the parking lot. "Mark has left the building," he thought, and decided to close his flight plan from home. It was slightly less surreal there. He drove Cliff back to his two bedroom rental, and went home.

It wasn't the first time Mark had met someone famous, although probably one of the most crowded. He had met Isaac Asimov, in a men's room in a Washington DC hotel. He met Carl Sagan, when his business partner had buttonholed him after a speech to describe his UFO encounter. He had helped Martin Agronsky with his crossword puzzle, on a plane trip from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. He had even given technical support over the phone to Scott Crossfield and Richard Bach. Somehow he knew those things would never top being kicked out of a closet by Elvis.

One bit of trivia popped into Mark's head, about the Flying Elvises. A lot of newscasters, CEOs, and televangelists had a thin, immovable hairstyle he thought of as "Helmet Hair". Not the kind that you get form wearing a helmet, though, the kind that looks like a helmet. Or could be used as one, given enough extra hairspray.

The Flying Elvises had real helmet hair. Their black pompadour wigs were applied *over* their safety helmets, protecting their head while enhancing their resemblance to the King from a distance. Naturally, the chin straps were concealed beneath the sideburns.

Mark had his own motorcycle helmet. Despite his obsession with the machines symbolic of true, unbridled freedom and passion, he had never owned one or even ridden one. A moped doesn't count, of course, and they had only had the one they found in the dumpster for a week or two right before the wedding. No, he had a helmet for driving the Fiat.

At some point he had decided he didn't have enough frustration in his daily life, herding computer code words into a semblance of order. No, he'd have to drive his car to the point of breakage. Not fast, down the highway, as he was doing now. No, he'd have to drive it in a parking lot, through tightly spaced cones, and not even shift beyond second.

In order to complete the package, he needed a car that wilted under the slightest bit of stress. After all, he didn't want to risk his reliable Japanese daily driver. He had to get to work to make the money to support this new affliction. The Italian Sports Car, subspecies Cheap, fulfilled his requirement beyond all hopes and dreams. Also, he needed to "race" it at least an hour away from home, so he would be stranded. Autocross fit the bill.

After he got the car, and started racing, he started hanging around the specialty parts store where Crazy Mike worked. Crazy Mike was a transplanted Californian, who drove an Austin Mini-Cooper. He was fast, one of the fastest drivers in the area, and destroyed parts of his car on a regular basis. Mark befriended him, and they spent many a long hour in back of the store, working on their respective vehicles. Crazy Mike taught Mark a great deal about driving, too, making the odd sport of autocross make sense to him. Mark responded by writing tutorial articles for the club newsletter. After a while, Crazy Mike got the wanderlust, and moved back to California, where he met a girl as crazy as he and fell in love.

Mark worked for five years on his racing, spending silly amounts of money and amazing amounts of time on his back, on the ground, with oil dripping into his eyes. He became intimate with the festering rash his skin took on when exposed to too much dirty lubricant. He did learn about cars, though, although there was one lesson he never quite mastered. Two, really.

First lesson: use the right tool for the job. That mean going out and buying the special tool needed, instead of trying to substitute vice grips, a standard screwdriver, and a rock. It also meant keeping track of the location of the special tool after you bought it, and keeping it clean and rust-free.

Mark never mastered that, and it showed in his slashed knuckles, loose bolts, and mangled screw heads. It showed in his frustration level and was even reflected in his poor performance at the track.

Second lesson: know when to give up. Though it was a hobby and a learning experience, there were many times when he would keep beating on the situation, trying to force a solution, long after it would have been cheaper to seek professional help. A mechanic, that is.

Mark chuckled as he realized that this last lesson was the hardest to apply to areas outside of auto mechanics. He always wanted to go it alone, in philosophy, and in mental health. He didn't start therapy and medication until decades after they would have had their best results. Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn.

Laura was like that too. That may have been part of the attractions. The saying goes "Opposites Attract", but in real life, it was more likely that "Birds of a Feather Flock Together". He and she had many, many traits in common, more than they cared to admit sometimes.

Article © John Trindle. All rights reserved.
Published on 2003-08-18
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