What If? Quick Take: 2001 Lincoln Transatlantic
Welcome to What If? Quick Take, a new feature from imaginative illustrator Abimelec Arellano and Hagerty. While the cars shown in our regular What If? features are full 3D renderings and can appear in any number of images, the Quick Takes are off-the-cuff expressions of Abimelec’s imagination. Each one is accompanied by a short story. Enjoy! — Jack Baruth
In his dream, Bob was a child again, fighting with a boy on the playground who had spent all of fourth grade bullying him, shoving him around, taking his lunch money. It was 1955 and he was ten years old at Saint Louis School, his back in the wet dirt of the playground, the nuns who were so omnipresent with a slap of the ruler when he was inattentive in class now seemingly vanished into thin air, and Billy Thompson shaking him hard by the shoulders, yelling in a Puerto-Rican-accented woman’s voice, “They’ve attacked New York City!”
He woke with a vomit-tasting gasp of apnea to see the face of his wife, Juanita, just inches from him. She repeated herself: “They’ve attacked New York City!”
“The Russians?” It was all he could come up with, this close in his mind to a recollection of a childhood spent hiding under desks and hearing his parents agonize over Cuba.
“No,” Juanita keened, “the terroristas! They flew two planes into the World Trade Center!” He blinked and looked around. They were still in the grand suite at the Bellagio. In the years since the money really came, when his mild and somewhat predatory insights into the real-estate business paid off and he started banking more in management fees than he did in his own rental income, the Bellagio had become a third home for him, Juanita, and his trio of sullen, obese adult children. They had the spread in Sewickley, the second home in Naples, but it was often easiest to pull the NetJet share and drag the whole family to the Bellagio. It was pre-packaged, like his condominium builds for investors. You paid one check. Almost everything could be charged to the hotel.
And did they ever charge! His son was a coke addict with a taste for expensive bail-bond incidents, while his daughters had both married grifters whose repugnance at their appearance and behavior was easily overcome with make-work six-figure jobs in the family business. The grandchildren were listless, unlikely to succeed, the detritus of two first-rate private schools. When they all met at the big house for parties Bob would look at their grubby hands fingering various electronic devices even as they shoved more food into their mouths, and he couldn’t help but be depressed at the contrast between his own hard-luck steel-town youth and how his progeny lived. And Juanita! She had been hard as nails and twice as sharp, a lithe beauty who shimmered in beads and dashiki at concerts by the Dead or the Allman Brothers. Now she was old and grizzled like him, but twice as loud.
She was in his face, screaming about the terroristas. It was too much to bear. “Are they coming for Las Vegas next?” he asked. “Because if not, I’d like to go to sleep.”
“You cannot sleep!” she screamed. “We are at the top of a building!” It was true; they were on the Bellagio’s highest floor, far above the gambling rubes and the Chihuly ceiling. Were they actually at risk? He thought not. “Then go downstairs,” he snapped, “and leave me be.”
Around noon he woke up again, the remnants of last night’s wine gone from his head, to find a family council taking place outside his bedroom door. It was Juanita, Bobby Junior, Janie, Felicia, and Felicia’s two kids, aged five and seven. Thankfully, both the husbands were back home in Pittsburgh “taking care of the business”, a euphemism for harassing the female apartment-complex managers, because Bob could only imagine what sort of deeply stupid ideas and comments they would have had in this situation.
“Dad, Mom and I called NetJets. They …” and this is where Felicia started to sob, “… won’t take us home. They say all the flights are grounded. It could be weeks, Dad. Aiden and Cooper need to be in class on Monday! What are we going to dooooo?”
“I don’t understand. Why can’t we get the plane?”
“Because,” Janie screamed, “nobody can just GET a plane, Dad! Our country is under assault!!” There was visible spittle in the air between his two daughters.
“Everybody just SHUT UP,” Bob commanded, and they did. “Okay. Listen. We’ll rent a couple cars and drive home. You kids won’t like this, but plenty of people drive home from Vegas, and most of them even get home alive. Your mother and I drove all over the country when we were young.”
“We have already tried that, Bob!” Juanita was as agitated as the kids. “The rental cars, they all disappear while you sleep!” There was a long quiet moment in the suite, with only Felicia’s shuddering tears audible. What to do here? The idea came to Bob in an instant. He was famed for his decisiveness in meetings, for his unfailing adherence to his idea of the moment.
“I assume,” he snarled, “that we can still get a cab, so one of you should try being useful for once, and call for one.” Four hours later, he wired $60,396.20 from the little “merchant bank” that he’d set up to grind another half-percent in credit-card fees out of his renters and investors, thus becoming the owner of a new-but-leftover 2001 Lincoln Transatlantic, which he drove back to the Bellagio awning with no small sense of satisfaction. He’d actually had his choice of five Transatlantics, all of them a sober livery-ish black. Two of them had the standard-equipment 6.8-liter Triton V-10, but he chose the best-equipped of the diesel-powered ones, figuring that demand for diesel fuel might actually decline on the roads in the days to come while that for gasoline soared.
The Transatlantic was obviously a light makeover of the Excursion that had debuted for 2000; when the public reaction to the oversized, Super-Duty-based SUV had been positive, the Lincoln dealers had screamed for their share of the cut. The resulting vehicle was basically an Excursion Limited with the Navigator grille and not even a chance to take the overworked 5.4-liter V-8 that was the miserable base engine for Excursions. Given how well the Navigator printed money for the Ford Motor Company, the Transatlantic was expected to swell the coffers even more …
… but it hadn’t. The people who bought 3/4-ton SUVs thought the Ford name carried more equity than Lincoln, particularly in Texas and other blue-collar states, while the Lincoln buyers didn’t see the point of spending another ten grand over a Navigator for something that wasn’t as pleasant to drive. Perhaps it had been a mistake to bring it to the market with the full F-250 suspension, but the market research had talked a lot about people towing really big boats or Airstreams.
There was also a bit of socioeconomic and possibly racial animus involved, something that Juanita wasted no time in expressing when she caught sight of the Lincoln truck outside the door of the remarkably chastened and quieted casino. “You couldn’t get a Lexus, like we have at home? This looks like something that would be driven by—” Bob cut her off firmly.
“—something that can get seven people home in comfort, and their luggage, unless you want to leave that behind, princess? Our LX570 can’t hold the kids and the luggage. Don’t make me choose. Now let’s get loaded up and on the road.” With the third seat up to hold the already-whining grandchildren, the cargo area was packed floor to ceiling with Louis Vuitton bags, bulging at the seams from the pressure of having been shoved in by two hale and hearty Bellagio valets while Juanita cursed them for every perceived scuff or scratch.
They had about 2200 miles between them and home. The directions were absurdly simple—take 15 to Route 70 then drive to Pittsburgh—but Bob thought it would take the better part of three days. “Call the travel agent from the road,” he barked, “and let’s get going.” It was a relief when the Lincoln’s hurricane air conditioning blew some comfort onto their seven large-ish bodies under the Vegas sun. At least this Transatlantic had no moonroof, which was not unusual. No Excursion had a sunroof, since it hadn’t been engineered into the SuperDuty platform, so in its haste to get the thing to market Ford hadn’t bothered to make it work, and that lack of interest continued into the Transatlantic. The headliner was a depressingly cheap beige mouse fur, and the interior was a mess of massive plastic knobs in the same beige, with rough-feeling white labels printed on where appropriate. Bob wished Lexus made something this big.
Juanita’s travel agent never answered the phone. It was dark by the time they got to Colorado. Their two truck-stop fill-ups so far had been disastrous, diesel fuel spilling over Bob’s loafers and pants while Bobby Junior offered courtside commentary. The grandchildren had bladders the size of walnuts and they needed to snack constantly. Their parents had been scarcely better; nobody could agree on what to eat for dinner, while Juanita had been furious that there didn’t seem to be time for proper-sit down meals. The Translantic’s interior already stank from a half-dozen kinds of spilled fast food.
“We have to find some rooms and stop now,” Bob declared. He pulled off at the exit just east of Vail and they struck out at two hotels before getting lucky at the third. It was nearly midnight. Felicia had been crying for the better part of two hours, while Bobby Junior kept demanding extra bathroom breaks over and above those wanted by the kids, returning from each with a manic gleam in his eye and a rapid-fire monologue about ideas that, you know, Dad, you could take advantage of if you wanted to be a little more on the cutting edge of what’s happening in real estate in other cities, places where people are really on top of things.
They took four rooms for a total of about two grand and tucked in as best they could. That evening, Bob once again dreamed he was back in the playground of his childhood. Billy Thompson would push the back of his head into the dirt, screaming at him that he was a total jerk and didn’t deserve to be at the school, because he was a charity case and everyone knew it. In his dream, as in real life, he had been paralyzed by fear and unable to fight back.
He awoke again to Juanita in his face, with a thousand questions. How close were they to Sewickley? Thousands of miles. Did he understand that Aiden had special meal needs that were not being met? Yes, he did. Was he really going to let Bobby Junior treat Janie that way, bringing up her husband’s indiscretions in front of the children? What could he do? He shaved and dressed in silence, then left Juanita behind him in the room with the intention of finding some breakfast.
The hotel restaurant was nearly deserted and the service people looked listless, scared. Two more days of this, Bob thought. Then the phone rang in his pocket. It was Felicia, already screaming when he answered.
“DAD! Cooper is having some sort of peanut allergy reaction to the room service, and Aiden won’t come out of the bathroom, and …”
“Please hold,” Bob said, and flipped the phone shut. Walking briskly out of the hotel, he caught the eye of the doorman. “Get me a taxi, now. Tell them just to start driving once I get in.” Once in the back seat, he called Juanita. “Honey,” he explained, “I love all of you so much, but this is just a little more than I can bear. You and the kids just get home whenever you can, and I’ll see you there.” Stretching his long, heavy frame in the back seat, he motioned for the driver’s attention. “Say, pal, what do you folks have around here in the way of a Lexus dealer?”