[This is how new writers at CC are made: their comments are turned into a post; sometimes, without them even knowing it. But this is way too good to leave as just a comment. Thanks, Sean, and welcome to the club.] (first posted 2/9/2013)
Christmas Eve, 2002 – I was extremely mentally effed up this winter. Just dropped out of college (again), just got dumped by a girl I was sure I’d marry, my dad just had a massive stroke and was in horrible shape, stuck in the hospital, looking like he might not be able to walk or talk ever again. I had a horrible job delivering pizza, working for some absolute schmuck who won the lottery after already being a Wall Street hot-shot. Oh – and remember, this is 2002! There was that whole 9/11 thing, an anthrax thing, a still ongoing “War on Terror” thing – which was driving everyone into a state of hyper-paranoia in the NYC area, where I live. I know we’re not supposed to talk politics here so I’ll just not comment on all of that, but I’ll say that nothing about it or the reaction to it made me happy. As a 19-year old the future looked pretty fucking bleak!
All I could do was smoke a ton of weed, and I ran a lot – few miles every night. Those two things kept me from punching every single person I saw walking down the street in the face.
So it’s Christmas Eve and wahh wahh I’m feeling sorry for myself. So I hop in the car and start driving, East – no destination in mind. I just wanna light up a bowl, listen to Christmas songs and look at the lights. I love Christmas, even though I’m as godless as a person can be, always have and still do. A few miles out it started snowing, pretty hard – excellent! I love the snow too, a “white Christmas” was perfect. It’s about midnight and the roads are deserted, the snow is sticking. After I had driven probably 20 or so miles I come across this dive bar all lit up and it’s got an interesting wedge shaped vehicle with a “For Sale” sign on it out front. Gotta pull in and check it out…
Aha – it’s an X1/9! I had only seen a few of these before. This was a later one, a “Bertone X1/9″ which I believe was one of the Malcolm Bricklin ventures along with the “Pininfarina Spider” (aka Fiat 124). It was red, and very shiny once I brushed a little snow off of it – obviously had been loved by somebody, but it had been slammed in the rear. Only cosmetic damage, and the car was still driveable – but I’m sure it was enough to total it out. The asking price was only $800 – wow!
Two guys stumbled out of the bar – which I must stress was the dive-iest of divebars and I was in the heart of Suffolk County, NY – which is as rednecky as it gets for the New York metro area.
“HAY MAN U LIKE THAT CAR?”
“Yeah, is it yours?”
“ITS A FIAT!”
They walked across the otherwise empty parking lot and introduced themselves. The car was not theirs, it belonged to “some asshole” who knew the bartender – who was the taller gentleman of the two. I don’t remember what their names were or even what they looked like, except they were white and probably mid-40′s – but they were extremely loaded, loud and thought the X1/9 was “real gay looking”.
“You wanna buy this thing?” I did wanna buy it, but even at $800 I couldn’t afford it at the time. Even at $100 I couldn’t afford it back then.
“Yeah!” I said, “but $800 is waaaaayy too much, he’s gotta come down on the price”
“Come inside, I’ll get you the number” – it was written on the window, but whatever. I thought maybe I’d get a free shot out of this or something too.
“Hey man you want a drink?” Why of course!
“Wanna do a line of blow?!?!” Nahhh…
“Oh hey – you wanna drive the car??” Hell fucking yes I do!
The bartender didn’t like this idea. He was a little closer to sobriety, but still far away enough from it to not really care. The other guy, who had suggested this plan, was all about it. He seemed like a maniac and the kind of person that loves doing dangerous, irresponsible shit just for the sake of doing it. There was now a good 5-6 inches of snow on the ground and no plates on the car, this was a really stupid idea. I loved it too, so much that I didn’t even touch my freshly poured Budweiser.
We hop in the car and the keys are already in the ignition, doors unlocked. For a moment it seems like it isn’t gonna turn over but then it finally goes. Ahhh… it’s real loud, and has a cold idle around 2,000rpms. It’s either got a hole in the muffler or a really crappy aftermarket exhaust. The lights glow dimly on the dashboard, the brake pedal goes almost all the way to the floor, the clutch pedal is ridiculously hard, I hit the wipers to get the snow off the windshield – screeeeeeeeeeeech! There’s barely any rubber left on them. Oh well! I give it a minute or two to warm up and kick the idle down to it’s “normal” speed – about 1,500rpms on this one – and we’re off.
Oh wait… this clutch pedal doesn’t want to go down. Fuck… slave cylinder is probably frozen up. Dammit… press it as hard as possible and the shifter JUST slides into first with a little hollow grind from behind me. There’s only about two inches of travel on it and so much as taking all but full pressure off results in the car lurching forward. My co-pilot is yapping about “YEAH MAN SO MY OLD LADY IS A REAL BITCH” and blahablahblah such and such. I give it a ton of gas and let the clutch snap back out- ERRRRRRRRRRRRRR erererererererer.
“WHOA MAN, HAHAHA ROAST THAT BITCH YEAAAAAHHH!!”
And now we’re really off! I turn off of the main road onto some side streets and feel it out. Shifting by rev-matching is a nightmare with this vague, rubbery long-throw shifter but I get it down somewhat after a few trips around the block. At normal speeds the little Fiat is surprisingly planted in the fresh snow, but it’s very easy to kick the rear end out if you get on it just a little bit – and once it’s going sideways it wants to stay that way! First time I’ve ever driven a mid-engined car, of course. These are pretty narrow suburban streets so at low speeds the lack of power assist comes into play when trying to counter-steer very quickly. Only one solution – go much faster!
“HEY YOU KNOW JOE KLEINOWICZ WHO WORKS DOWN AT THE BAIT AND TACKLE SHOP MAN THAT GUY OWES ME TWELVE DOLLARS AND IF HE DONT HAVE IT NEXT TIME I SEE EM BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH”
Oh my god this guy needs to SHUT THE HELL UP. At least he’s lost in his own world of drunken bullshit and reminiscences of antics from his senior year of highschool 25 years ago. He’s not noticing that the Fiat is now traveling progressively faster and sideways-er. Oh good – this car has some ghetto blaster Panasonic stereo – lemme turn that on.
“ZIGGY PLAAAAYS GUITAWW JIBBIN BLUE WIT JIM AN BUUJIEE BLARGH DA DADA”
VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM THUNKJ THUNK VROOOOOOOOOOOOOOM
“SO WE JIBB ABOUT BLARGHBANT AND CRUMP HIS FEET HAAAAND”
After about 10 minutes I’m comfortable really, REALLY beating on this thing. The roads are deserted, we’re in a pretty good subdivision of curvy, wide streets and there’s no sidewalks (I think) in case I really get in trouble. All I had to do to keep my partner pacified was thrown in a “yeah” or “wow, really?” every time I was prompted for a response and I had free reign to be lost in winter wonderland Fiat bliss. The car was slow but so much fun, so easy to throw around all over the place. It might’ve been slow for an automobile, but it was super fast for a go-kart and that’s what it felt more like. A go-kart with a subwoofer and a drunken moron belching in my face.
Why not push it to it’s absolute limit? There’s nobody out here – no cops, no pedestrians, very few cars parked on the street. This guy is in la-la land, I don’t really care about my own personal well-being and this car belongs to “some asshole” who is practically giving it away. And what does it have anyway? 65 horsepower? Can’t really get in much trouble with that. I head back to the “best” of the streets we had driven through and put the pedal nearly to the floor around a long bend – hands flying back and forth to keep it pointed the right way.
VRRRRRRRRR RRR RRRRRR RRRRRR RRRRRR
The wino braces himself with one hand on the dashboard and the other clasping his Bud bottle close to his chest…
“EASY MAN!!! BRING US BACK IN ONE PIECE!!”
“Don’t worry about it, I race those midget cars out in Riverhead – this ain’t shit!”
“WOW REALLY DO YOU KNOW TOMMY SHERIDAN MAN HE WENT TO WEST BABYLON CLASS OF BLAHLBALHLBLAHLAH”
Faster and faster the X1/9 spun – it’s engine screaming, wipers screeching, snow flying, gearbox grinding accompanied by godawful staples-of-FM-Classic-Rock karaoke from the passenger seat belted out drunkenly off-key. Sadly enough this was the most fun I’d had in months, maybe even more than that. Christmas Eve with some wasted vagrant in a rattling Italian deathtrap that was essentially stolen. Plus, I was just killing it – for a solid ten minutes or so I swear I could have ran circles around Tommi god damn Makkinen in that creaky Fiat. We came up to that first corner I had nailed flawlessly a few times now – this was it, I would ice this move right here and bring us back home safe and sound.
“HOLD ME CLOSER TOOOOOOONY DAAAAAAAANZAAA”
VRRROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMM THUNKKKKKKK CRKK VROOOOOOOOMM
“COUNT THE HEADLIGHTS ON THE HIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHBALHGWAHG WAY”
Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck OH FUCK!!
I lost it – right at the “apex” of this sidestreet the ass end came around and it was going, going GONE! Brakes? Nada, nuthin. Steering? Pffffft. We spun around and rocketed towards doom, backwards-ish. Nothing left to do but brace for impact and hope it’s something soft. The back tires caught the lip of someone’s finely manicured lawn and the car popped up, then continued spinning with the driver’s side coming back around to the direction of travel. All of a sudden a wire-mesh light up reindeer was right in front of us and with a THUNK it flew up in the air – I looked back towards the way we were sliding – OH FUCK OF ALL FUCKS! We’re on a collision course for a Dodge Caravan parked right in some poor bastards driveway! One last shot – wheel, brakes — NOTHING! It’s hopeless!!
I didn’t even shut my eyes or yell or anything – but somehow the edge of the front bumper missed the back of that van. I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually slid under it, or even if a vortex opened up in the fabric of time-space and somehow sucked us through to safety. Somehow, someway the little Fiat dodged it, no thanks to me, and landed safely on the van owner’s neighbor’s lawn.
“Yeah, you ok?”
“YEAH! FUCK MAN FUCKKKKK!!
I smelled the beer that had spilled all over the passenger footwell and heard the turn signal clicking – my hand must’ve hit it. The engine had died. I jumped out quick to inspect the scene. OK – no noticeable damage on the body (that wasn’t there already) – whew. Lemme check the wheels that jumped that ledge – looks straight, OK! My partner stepped out, “DID YOU SEE THAT FUCKIN’ DEER!” Somebody’s poor Christmas decoration was laying about 30 feet away, I walked over and picked it up – it was still in one piece! The leg was a little bent, but I quickly bent it back as best I could and left it approximately where I thought it had been. Kicked some snow over the treadmarks that had been left on the lawns (sorry whoevers lawn that was), and told my “buddy” to get back in the car.
I hopped in and turned the key. Oh pleaaaaaase for Christmassake start pleaseplease please.
CHHHH CH CH CH CH CH
CHHHHHCH CH CH CH CH
This is the last thing I need, pleaaaaase start. I was sure the entire local police department was already on their way over to toss me in the slammer and throw away the key. How in the hell would I possibly explain this one? And my poor, long-suffering mother ohhh jeeez it would just kill her. Not here, not now – please Fiat please PLEAAAAASE GET ME BACK TO THAT BAR!!!
CHHHH CH CHHHH CHHHVROOOOOOOM
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!!
I grinded the shifter into reverse and high-tailed it outta there, very slowly. My oblivionated co-pilot had been shaken up and came back to sobriety slightly, growing a little bit of a conscience worried about the guy this car belonged to. I assured him nothing was wrong with it, which I’m nearly positive was true. It looked/felt much worse than it really was, we just slid along flat ground. Plus – I was gonna buy it anyway! That worked. I pulled back into the bar parking lot, politely declining an invitation to grab another drink and saying I’d be back tomorrow. I hopped in my nice, safe, warm Saturn and made sure I got the hell outta there before the other guy came out of the bar and never looked back.
Down the road a little bit I roasted up another tannenbaum plant and realized that what had just happened that night was fucking awesome. It was dangerous and stupid and I shouldn’t have done it – and maybe I even messed up some dude’s lawn and Christmas lights, which I feel bad about – but facing near-certain doom and coming away unscathed can be a pretty god damn cathartic experience. I slept well that night, with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, and woke up Christmas morning feeling pretty good.
A few months later, when things were a little more normal, I drove out to that bar again to see if the X1/9 was still there. I did actually want to buy it, and maybe I could swing $500 – but it was gone, and the bar looked closed. I happened to go out that way again a few months after that and the building was torn down. There’s a Chase Bank there now… how lame.