COAL: 1964 Dodge Dart • Greasing the Grief

On the trip back up I-5 to Seattle, I stopped being able to convince myself the car was enjoyable to drive. The rattles and creaks were irritating, though I quieted some of them with folded bits of paper stuffed between interior trim and the metal it wasn’t quite secured to. But although this car was substantially similar to the ’65 D’Valiant I’d happily driven for many miles, certain that it was the best car ever (and working to make it even better, though sometimes my efforts landed well wide of the mark), I really didn’t like driving it in highway traffic. I’d become professionally involved in traffic safety research, and this car’s near-total lack of crashworthiness was no longer something I could blissfully ignore—especially not with all the death and loss on my mind at the time. The car had no head restraints, no side-impact guard beams in doors barely held closed by Chrysler’s improved-for-’64 door latches, which can vividly be seen doing their not-good-enough best here at 1:32:

No crumple zones, a marginally effective defogger, a small area swept by the windshield wipers, a small left sideview mirror and none on the right. Only lap belts, so in a crash perhaps my bottom half might stay more or less put while a solid steering column speared my upper half. And more important than my lower half or my upper half was my other half, whom I was subjecting to my choice of car with all its implications. There hadn’t been that to consider when I was driving D’Valiant.

So in 2010 I sold the car to a college professor in Oregon, who, with his son, drove up to Seattle to fetch it. I met them downtown, pulled the plates, swapped keys and title for money, and off it went. That set the stage for something of a complicated international game of musical cars, which will take several instalments to describe—starting next week!

* Whether you wondered if I’d ever get around to explicating that asterisk in the second graf of this post, or you forgot it, here I am. The house, which my grandparents put up between 1950 and 1952, and where my father and aunt grew up, was a magic midmod on a hill. There are four multi-page galleries here; Before and After refer to its 2013 exterior colour change, the first since about 1965. Toxics Gallery is the home and garden chemicals grandpa sequestered in the garage because household hazmat wasn’t a thing yet and he wasn’t about to pour them down the drain or on the ground. Go see the galleries if you like; it’s going to be a long time before I can bear it. I bought the house from grandpa’s estate in 2011, and Bill and I split our time first between Toronto and there, then between Vancouver and there. This had its delights and rewards, but it was costly and exhausting. We came close to moving in full-time, and started getting a Green Card for Bill, but then events made Canada our wiser choice. That, in turn, made it clear we couldn’t keep the house or it would drag us down and drown us. A developer bought it, subdivided the lot, bulldozed the house and gardens, and put up two vulgar McMansions for vulgar McPeople. This felt just like losing grandpa and dad; I’ll probably not ever get over any of it. This has been an unusually sadness-heavy post; sometimes life’s been like that.

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