This essay first appeared in the Park County Weekly in August 1997. It still seems funny.
Now that the weather appears to be almost summer-like, my wife, Geri, is out zooming around town in her Mustang convertible, driving in what seems to me to be in neither a reasonable nor prudent manner. (For the record, she disagrees with my assessment.)
Geri knows enough about cars and their inner workings that at once upon a time would not have even been considered proper. I learned this about her on our first date, when she told me about her car: “It’s a ’71 Mustang convertible with a 351 Cleveland engine—a racing Pantera—with a factory-installed Hurst tranny.”
She actually said “tranny.” I was too proud to ask what a “tranny” might be.
Geri’s idea of car travel is to aim in the general direction of where she wants to go and slma the gas pedal all the way to the floorboard, not letting up until she arrives at her destination. The Legislature was singing Geri’s song when it said, in not so few words, “Go for it!”
I have altogether different philosophy of driving that results in my having to pack a lunch if I leave for the 26-mile distant Bozeman any time after 9:00 a.m. I’ve actually had friends complain about speed driving up the Valley. “It’s not a school zone, pal,” one was so rude to say.
Despite all of that, I have been in charge of all of our cars’ maintenance, which is as unapt as Geri, the Irish lass, being put in charge of dinner. My idea of maintenance usually involves my opening the hood, looking down at all that metallic stuff that blocks the view to the surface below, and somberly announcing, “I think it needs to go the shop.”
My diagnoses are always met with, “Just check the fluids, dipstick.”
Many years ago we were driving a Dodge Caravan through Utah when the car stalled and died on the side of a country road. It magically started an hour later, and we drove another hour until it stalled and died again. Again, it magically started, and we drove on for another hour. This annoying pattern repeated itself until we arrived in Nephi.
It was a Sunday, and it was 104 degrees.
I wandered around the truck stop looking for somebody with admirably dirty hands. The guy I found responded to my tale of woe by shouting at me: “Fuel filter! Replace it!”
I could more easily perform an appendectomy, I remember thinking.
A car parts store guy with admirably dirty hands delivered a new fuel filter, but didn’t offer to spend the rest of the afternoon changing it for me. And so I began: I crawled under the car, located the old one, took it off, discovered the wonder of having a gallon or so of gasoline pour directly onto my face, and then gave my young children their first exposure to some really nasty words in a loud, clear voice.
I was afraid to light a cigarette for three days, lest the gas fumes lingering about my face ignite.
We got as far as Provo, following our new driving protocol—an hour on, an hour off.
I had a friend in Los Angeles, who I’ll call Dale, which seems only fitting since that was his name. He might have been the real-life role model for the original MacGyver, a mid-’80s television program that co-starred a roll of duct tape. Dale was as serious a car guy as one could be, even going so far as banning his family from the house each Memorial Day so he could drink Scotch and watch the Indy 500 in peace. I called him and explained our situation.
“Vapor lock,” he said with such conviction that I could picture him in his STP cap. “Got any wooden clothespins?”
“Of course,” I lied, although I could see from the telephone booth a store that would sell them.
“Clip one every four inches along the fuel line. It’ll take the heat out of the line and you won’t vapor lock.”
The next morning we made it to Layton, about an hour away. We waited the perfunctory hour and drove to a dealership.
“Fuel pump,” a young mechanic announced. As the van went up on the lift, he noticed the fifty-four clothespins grasping the fuel line. He called over the other mechanics in the shop and they all started pointing and laughing at the sight, offering no sympathy even after listening to my sad story.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
Sausage & Cabbage
1 lb. kielbasa smoked sausage
1 1/2 tbsps olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium head cabbage, cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces (about 2 lbs)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
Halve the kielbasa lengthwise and then slice it into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a large deep skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add 1/2 Tbs. oil and the kielbasa. Toss to coat and then cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the kielbasa to a plate.
Return the pan to the stove and reduce the heat to medium low. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened. Add the garlic, cabbage, salt, and pepper. Toss well to combine. Cover and cook, stirring every 4-5 minutes until the cabbage is wilted, about 12 minutes.