(first posted 12/8/2013) I was walking down the street in Bellingham, Washington with an old friend of mine when I spotted this 1950 Plymouth. This car had rolled out of the factory over 60 years before, but it looked like it was only two or three years old.
We were on our way to our favorite Thai restaurant. It was late afternoon, and after a very eventful day, we were both tired and very, very hungry.
Most people would have just kept on walking; after all, these old Plymouths weren’t exactly exciting cars, even when they were new. But as hungry as I was, I had to take a second look at it. It was in such incredibly good shape!
I stared at the car for a long moment, and something odd started to happen. Everything looked so strange; almost like a cartoon.
But then I blinked, and everything came back to normal. At that point, I noticed a well-maintained Ford Pickup parked behind the Plymouth. Was Paul Niedermeyer visiting Bellingham? We could invite him to come along with us! But then I remembered that Paul’s truck was yellow, and that it was a year or two newer than this green one, which looked like a ’65.
But then the colors shifted again.
I blinked and blinked, but the scene in front of me still had that odd, cartoonish quality to it! In fact, it was getting worse every second!
Then, the color went away completely! Again I blinked repeatedly, but to no avail. How could somebody go completely colorblind in an instant?
I turned to ask my friend Tom if he was seeing the same thing… But he wasn’t there! I looked back at the car, and it was still in black-and-white. Everything was in black-and-white.
The unpleasant odor of cigarette smoke suddenly reached my nostrils. There was a man standing in front of the Plymouth, but it wasn’t my buddy Tom. It was a short, dark-haired man dressed in a dark two-button suit with very narrow lapels. He took a deep drag from his unfiltered Chesterfield, exhaled through his nostrils, and intoned in an oddly-familiar baritone voice, “Submitted for your approval: Mr. Michael Hayes, aged 53. A life-long bachelor with no wife, no kids, no attachments of any kind. A lost and frightened man in search of a carefree, simpler time…”
I started to tell him that I wasn’t lost, and that I hadn’t been frightened at all until my eyes started to play tricks on me! The last thing I needed was some jerk blowing smoke in my face and telling everyone within earshot that I was some kind of a loser!
But then all of a sudden, I was paralyzed. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, and my vision was very blurry. I could still hear, but I was completely helpless and nearly blind. Then, another man began to speak. He talked about the importance of brushing your teeth regularly, and recommended using Crest toothpaste in an over-enunciated manner that struck me as being pretty insincere. When he was finally done, a woman took over and with glib determination, she recommended that I try a Lilt Home Permanent for my hair. The fact that I was a balding, middle-aged man didn’t seem to bother her at all.
At long last, they were done talking, and I could move again. My vision cleared, but I was again confronted with cartoonish surroundings. It was much worse than before; the world was now nothing more than a series of (admittedly well-executed) line drawings.
I heard a hissing sound, and I looked over my shoulder and saw another old car, one that I hadn’t noticed before. It looked like a 1947 or 1948 Ford, painted a regrettable shade of pink. But the sometimes less-than-stellar work of Mr. Earl Scheib wasn’t this car’s biggest problem at the moment. Boy, was that Ford overheating! (Those flathead V8 motors were notorious for overheating, you know.) The driver, an odd-looking young man with a rather prominent cowlick, ran up to me, shouting, “Professeur Tournesol! Professeur Tournesol!”
He then unleashed a torrent of words at me, which sounded vaguely like French, a language that I do not speak. I waited for a pause in the parlez-vous and advised him that my name was Michel En Fait, and I would very much like him to leave me alone, since I had problems of my own which included being forced to listen to old commercials, being ridiculed by Rod Serling and most of all, being trapped inside of a cartoon. That’s enough for anybody in my book.
But my new friend was very persistent. After a while, he took the hint and switched to English:
“Professor Calculus! You must help me!”
“What?” Man, that kid was clueless. “My name is actually…”
My earnest young friend interrupted me, saying “Professor, you really are quite deaf. You really should…’
It was my turn to do some interrupting. I’d already had enough insults from the late Mr. Serling. Besides, I’m only a little hard of hearing in one ear. “I suppose you want to use my car?”
“Yes, Professor! I will drive, since you cannot…”
After advising him that he didn’t need to shout, I let him know that I and only I drive my car.
“Very well, I will ride shotgun! But we must hurry!”
I decided to go along with it. I guess you could say that this kid was good at getting me to suspend disbelief. We ran over to my ’60 Corvair, and just as the kid was getting in, a small dog that I hadn’t noticed before hopped in after him. I normally don’t allow dogs in my car (even when I’m trapped in a cartoon) but I have a soft spot for fox terriers.
I don’t like to brag, but the kid (and the dog) seemed very impressed by my car.
To my new friend’s continuing amazement, I demonstrated that I was no slouch in the driving department. I’ll have to admit that the kid turned out to be a good navigator, once he calmed down a bit. Soon, we were well outside of town, headed over the mountains towards the eastern part of the state. I looked over at him and I realized that I’d seen that odd, earnest face and that prominent cowlick somewhere before. He was a character from some comic books that I read when I was a child!
“Is your name Tintin?”
“But of course, Professor! We have to…”
I let him talk, but I didn’t really listen. There was someone who needed to be rescued and some tragedy that needed to be averted, and for some strange reason, we were being chased by some villain or another.
The villain in question was driving a beautiful but rather ancient Buick.
We were really starting to pull away from the Buick when I got stuck behind a slow-moving old Chrysler. What was he going so slowly for? That car probably had a Hemi under the hood! But after I finally overtook the Chrysler (just in the nick of time), it was smooth sailing and we left that Buick far behind.
But then, from out of nowhere, I saw a black Traction Avant in my rear view mirror. The driver and the passenger looked very familiar; they were my old friends Officers Thomson and Thompson, cleverly disguised as each other. It didn’t take me long to get away from those bumbling “undercover” agents, but I really had to wonder why they were sticking their noses into our business. Why didn’t they just leave us alone? Those two fools didn’t stand a chance trying to catch me! After all, I was driving my new Corvair; it was downright futuristic compared to any other car on the road, including that old Citroen! None of it made any sense.
I looked over at that bright-eyed kid and I said as gently as I could, “Listen Tintin, it’s been fun, but I’ve really got to get back to what I was doing. We both know that none of this is real. I don’t own a Corvair; that’s the car my parents drove back when I was a child. I haven’t seen that car in almost fifty years!”
He looked out the window for a long, thoughtful moment and then he said, “So I’m just an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese?”
Actually, he was an excuse to try out some of the features of the new photo-editing software that I purchased while shopping for Christmas presents, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.
And then, of course, I came to my senses. I wasn’t even behind the wheel of my car; I was sitting on the sidewalk, and my buddy Tom and a bunch of people I didn’t even know were clucking over me. One of them had her hand on my forehead, like a worried mother testing for a fever. Apparently, I had fainted. I got up to my feet and thanked them all very much. Then, I went back to my regularly-scheduled life. After all, I was pretty darn hungry.
If you’re a fan of Tintin or you’d like to learn more about him, I recommend Paul’s article on the cars of Tintin:
All Tintin images in my little adventure are taken from Francois De Dardel’s wonderful Cars of Tintin website: