Jonathan L 1962 Ford Fairlane 500 4dr Town Sedan

Disasters make for good stories later in life.

One February day in 1985, I convinced my friend Squirrel (not his real name) to drive from Rolla, MO to Des Moines, IA. I had a map with the route highlighted weeks in advance. I was excited. Squirrel was too. He was excited because I promised him parties. I was excited because I was smitten with a high school friend’s college roommate. (I’d say she dumped me, but I never escaped the friend-zone. I digress…)

After class on Friday we set out in his 1963 Chevy Corvette. By “set out” I mean “getting a tow to garage” because the engine wouldn’t stay running after jumper cables were removed. Oh, and by “1963 Chevy Corvette,” I mean “1962 Ford Fairlane.” Seriously, this car fit the very definition of “classic. It was “a motor vehicle, but not a reproduction thereof, manufactured at least 20 years prior to the current year which has been maintained in or restored to a condition which is substantially in conformity with manufacturer specifications and appearance.” Other than that, it had seen happier days.

We arrive at the shop and they decide to try to charge the battery, test the alternator etc. The alternator was fine. The battery was like peacetime infantry in the sense that it couldn’t hold a charge. Much later we were on our way. Much later I realized I left the map at the garage. Oh well… I knew it well enough from looking at the map. We had to go a lot north and a little west. We spent the entirety of Missouri on US-63 (with the exception of gas stations and a McDonalds drive-thru in Columbia MO.) We spoke of things we knew little about; this includes (but is not limited to) women, alcohol, lies about our experience with women, our respective futures, religion, and calculus. The only moving police vehicle we saw the whole time drove by us just after passed the Macon County line. Yes, it was Missouri, and not Georgia and nothing of consequence happened. It’s still funny. Shut up.

We finally rolled into Iowa, (a place to grow) (corn). Squirrel noticed we needed gas. We were near Ottumwa, IA, the home of fictional character, Radar O’Reilly from the long running series, M*A*S*H, and my music fraternity “big brother,” Aardvark (not his real name). They never met. I made sure that I asked Aardvark. (I did not ask Radar because, coincidentally, I never met him either. I digress.) While we were filling up, I bought a map of Iowa and some snacks.

We figured out the navigation plans, and immediately took US-34 West instead of continuing North on the optimal US-63 to IA-163 route. I blame Squirrel. I didn't notice, but HE was the one driving. We re-gathered as I found IA-5 North a reasonably suitable correction. It would have been had we not missed it. Ultimately we ended up going north on I-35. Yeah… Just about equidistant between Osceola and Des Moines the engine quit running properly—surging and hesitating. I don’t really know how, but we managed to limp into Des Moines to meet my friend and her roommate. We found spark plug wires the next day.

It was cold we went nowhere except to eat and buy alcohol. Pretty much, we drank the weekend through. Sunday we woke up late and hung-over. This meant leaving later than we anticipated. It wasn't long and winter said “hello” to IA and MO by way of snowstorm. Now as much as that heap was trouble, I’ll give it this. It went through the weather with amazing control. Ultimately we found ourselves behind a state snow plow. It was slow, but it was calming. We made it to the MO-IA border! Then the IA snowplow turned around back into I and did the Northbound lane.

We slogged through the unplowed snow and as we progressed the downfall lightened and we came upon more recently plowed pavement. We were finally getting somewhere! That is, until it sounded amazingly like a flat tire. We pulled over to investigate. As it turns out, we, in fact, had a flat tire. After changing the tire to the spare we were on our way. We had one tire with a whitewall stripe, but we were on the road again.

We were managed to hit Rolla a little after 10pm. When I say “hit,” I mean this figuratively—unless you mean the rim of the spare tire and the road. Squirrel limped his (technically classic) car into a school parking lot (for which he had a permit), and we walked the last mile home.

There are three lessons to be learned:

1> GPS is a good thing. It would be better if it was readily available in early 1985.

2> Don’t take a #$%@box on a multi-state misadventure.

3> If a 20 hour road trip combined with two nights of drinking doesn't get you out of the “friend zone,” nothing will.

I haven't seen Squirrel since 1987. The last time I saw him, was on TV diving for a Jack Clark Home run ball in the bleachers of Busch Stadium (the previous one.) Where ever you are my friend, I wish you well

For full disclosure, I guessed at the specific "select a vehicle." It is a story of my unforgettable journey in his car. I was doing good to remember 1962 Ford Fairlane!

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