Spoiler alert: In my last COAL submission someone died at the beginning. In this one, someone dies at the end. That was unplanned, and I hope it is not a trend. I will be more diverse with my future topics.
I took a shortcut and drove through the local high school parking lot, rather than around it. Doing so was at my risk- The school seems to be in a years-long process to film footage for the next installment of Red Asphalt. Pedestrians went extinct here long ago, so I was careful to look out for traffic. I wondered if the kids remember all the slimeballs in ‘Stranger Danger’ videos drove Camaros, and were trained to recognize and avoid them. Then I might stand a chance, as long as I don’t get mistaken for someone’s dealer.
I was pleased that among the burdens of sophomores, still counted are: beat up 60s trucks, second-tier clap-trap domestics and old Accord beaters from the 1980s. But a plurality of vehicles were three to five year old Benzes and BMWs; things to expect in a slightly upper class area of SoCal. I walked by a fresh looking sixth generation Camaro V6 : “Spoiled brats.”
But the math reminded me: the Camaro I drove in High School was just as new as that one, at the time. I sure felt the difference though; a ’98 V6 Camaro dated itself in a way no present two year old car does. So on being handed the keys I was disappointed. I saw its social baggage, and I knew the cliches: ‘Interior falls apart. Rattles. V6s are slow. They’re boats. Mullets.’ I conditioned a strict image of ‘Camaro person’ in my head: Black primer, spring shackles and cherry bomb mufflers seeping carbon monoxide into the cabin. Stereotypes held out of fear: Metallica and Skynrd on Radio Shack cassette decks in the days before Napster. Speaker magnets stuck on rusty bodywork rather than mounted. Listening to those tapes on the way to a Valentines’ date, with your cousin- off to the demolition derby.
I didn’t equate the ‘Camaro guy’ image with my father despite his being the only real example I had of someone who actually bought one in the first place. Dad wore perhaps enough Brut cologne to rouse suspicion, but otherwise was a CEO who used the car on his commute from the suburbs to his work near the California State Capitol. He bought it in full mid-life crisis, but the purchase was still in character for him: cheapest left-over 1998 on the lot, at the end of the model year. A V6 five speed slicktop in Bright Green Metallic which he was proud to state was not a base model (as it sure appeared to be.) After all it had chrome wheels (vs. hubcaps or painted alloys,) power locks & windows, and the first CD player he ever had. ‘That optional Monsoon stereo!’ was his constant non-sequitur, mentioned in discussions as diverse as ‘what’s mom making for dinner,’ to ‘pressing issues regarding my mostly failed adolescence.’
My first memories of the car are in the passenger’s seat on freeways around Sacramento, usually going to the airport through the Summer scorched rice paddies. He bought our first DVD player around the same time, so he could watch the Eagles’ ‘Hell Freezes Over’ in the same high quality as he saw demonstrated in Costco. In my head that’s usually what’s playing when I remember those times. I was a dorky teenager, so that was enough for the Camaro to come off as just a bit cooler than the mullet-mobile stereotype.
Then again eight year old me liked the 1993 version; at least I made half a dozen Revell models of it. But the years were unkind. The platform was old and I was jaded. It wasn’t ‘Fast and Furious.’ It didn’t have overhead cams, IRS, turbochargers, or any thing magazines told me I should go into sub-prime debt for, and I didn’t even like the facelift- giant sleazy porn moustache bumper and peanut-like Malibu headlights. I wondered why my dad didn’t get something better; a Z28 at least? In a couple years I turned sixteen and got my answer when Dad replaced the Camaro with a 2001 Corvette coupe in Torch Red. So the Camaro, at about two years old, was handed to me as my first car.
Overhang, but not overhead cams- Misheard prayers, I supposed. Having the Corvette nearby didn’t help; compared to it, the Camaro cornered like it wore Nickelodeon Moon Shoes. I openly despised the Camaro. My sole point of pride was pointing out its (often fictional) merits compared to my friend’s ‘99 Mustang automatic convertible- polar opposite of my car. Even during my worst days I never saw why to prefer the Mustang’s upright, stubby look, even if it was the faster, better handling V6 car. But despite what anyone says about Camaro interiors, the Mustang’s fell apart first; and he actually cared about his car whereas I did not (I’m pretty sure I’m faking washing it in the top pic.)
Less than a year in the clutch slave cylinder leaked. I felt a tremendous bit manly opening the hood every morning to top it off with just enough fluid to get to school. I repeated the same exaggerated gesture before departing school as well. As my slave cylinder failure became more catastrophic, I was proud to bang-shift when clutch fluid ran out entirely; my Old Navy Tech Vest burst forth with coarse stuffing, but my parents forced me to get it repaired.
I perfected driving with my foot planted on the gas, and piled unsafe amounts of people in the back. I had fun but by college I was finished. It got infested by mice (probably from Uncle Gary’s Triumph TR7.) They chewed the carpet; my final impetus to be rid of it. I eBayed it to a guy who flew in from Montana to drive it back for his son; he said he couldn’t find one that wasn’t rusty in his area, which confused me. The mouse smell went un-commented as I picked him up at the Ontario airport and the gentleman stated he’d never seen palm trees before, which also confused me. Proceeds from the sale purchased a replacement car; a stupid fanboy-mobile magazines told me to buy that will go (for now) un-mentioned.
For fifteen years I only thought of it during infrequent, LSD-like Pepsi Blue/Linkin Park flashbacks. But in 2016 someone totaled my 2004 Z06 . Dejected I waited over a year to replace it and drove my wife’s dented, 300k mile ’04 Prius without functioning AC in the meantime. Driving it made me re-think every automotive mistake I ever made: Wasn’t it cool my dad in retrospect *probably* only bought the V6 to hand down to me to begin with; and because he knew I liked the ’93 Camaros? Don’t I miss having an engine under my dashboard? Shouldn’t I be rowing gears through a giant, grapefruit-sized leather shift-knob instead of playing with an idiotic navigation system that thinks my neighborhood is still a cemetery?
Shame hit me; I owned a Camaro but never allowed myself to be a Camaro driver. It wasn’t perfect- but I only hated it because I was told to by untrustworthy sources. I never knew what I thought of it, and was never grateful; a Camaro, free! Maybe the car is a stand-in for a girl I talked to while I owned it; the plain but sort of pretty one I could talk about ‘Ocarina of Time’ with for hours, but who was ‘too dorky’ for me to kiss. Maybe I don’t miss the car as much as I miss KWOD 106.5 , or being stuck in traffic with friends, laughing at how much ‘Sagwa: the Chinese Siamese Cat’ sounds like a low budget porno when broadcast as an audio only track. Maybe being at an age where I’m a bit too old to hang around Hot Topic is catching up with me to the point where I cannot be trusted with car buying…
…But to reduce the nagging sentiment that the worst of all my moral failings might have sprung from selling a freaking rat-pissed soaked Camaro, in January I grabbed a quite nice 2000 Z28 6 speed. The grapefruit shift knob isn’t there (Hurst,) it’s not lurid green, and it’s no Z06 … But damn is it fun. The catback and slight mods to the suspension don’t hurt.
Full disclosure- I began this post in January after purchasing the car, and paused on submitting it. As a result, the ending needs a bit of an update. My dad only saw this car twice. The last time was in February, when I parked next to his near-new 2017 Stingray, purchased in almost the same color combination. He got a chance to poke around the interior and down memory lane, though he declined my offer to drive it. It’s a blurry memory, because I didn’t think it would be my last one- my final view of him must have been through the windows. His last view of me was heralded by the cackling Borla exhaust on overrun, and the squealing of cheap used car lot rubber.
I never told Dad he was right. I never used words to say that after all, I am a Camaro person. He knew it when I didn’t. I guess he made me one. And I never told him thank you- for my first Camaro, or anything that came after. But I hope in the end he kind of got the message. Dad is with his brother now, my Uncle Gary- and if heaven is as boring as it sounds, I’m sure they’re waiting together with bated breath on my next stupid car related decision. You don’t need a mullet to drive a Camaro; but sometimes driving one puts one on your chest.