Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Midnight Oil: Shellski

Shellski with Sheila the Wonder Dog. Shellski's definitely the better driver of the two.

This April, my girlfriend Shellski and I celebrated our sixth year together. Most of those have been the best years of my life (understatement), but there have been some wild rides. She’s an unlikely match for a knuckledragger like me. Being an artist, she was already somewhat acclimated to edgy characters and when she discovered that I’m a writer and a musician, she figured she had me pegged. I figured I had my foot in the door. When it started looking like we might actually be going somewhere, we had the Here’s Who I Really Am talk. I was shocked and disgusted by revelations such as: The day Shellski refused to go to school (for the whole day!); the time she… well, that’s it, really. Then it was my turn. I took a deep breath and blurted out my horrible dark secret: “I’m a lifelong hot rodder!” I closed my eyes tight and braced for the reaction of a Berkeley-bred intellectual. She was smitten! It turns out, Shellski has an adventurous side and has always been intrigued by power and speed. I must’ve exhaled for a good twenty seconds. For the first time in my life, I knew the true meaning of ‘Love’ and ‘Peace’.

The vehicle in question ('61 Morris Minor): 2100 pounds, 550 + horsepower. You do the math...

The next few days were spent rumbling around town in the little hot rod. We slowly worked up from quick-tease throttle blips on surface streets to extended wide open banzai blasts down deserted country roads. The first time I really laid into it, I could barely hear the exhaust over her screaming (and that’s some LOUD exhaust). I glanced over to find her in a pre-orgasmic state of delight. I can only hope that memory stays with me after the last brain cell calcifies. We drove home that day with a trail of pink cartoon hearts trailing in our wake.

About a month later, we were returning from another “test session” when Shellski asked me (with her eyes) if she could drive the car. Just when I didn’t think I could be any happier. I dropped anchor right there and began the expert tutorial: “Squeeze this lever while pulling this one back to find first gear. This switch turns on the main power. Pump the throttle halfway, once. Hold down the starter button with your thumb, while using your pinkee to trip the ignition switch. Etc, etc, etc”. She was a natural! Within minutes, I was confident enough to strap myself into the passenger seat and we pulled out onto a two way city street. What a glorious moment! Bliss. With 3.90 gears and short tires, it didn’t take long (about 50 feet) to reach the top of first gear. Even when moseying along like this (just off idle), the 1-2 shift is an event in this car and I braced for it. Good, because next thing I know, we’re sideways in a cloud of rubber smoke and crossing over into oncoming traffic! “What the?!” A blur of frantic maneuvering got us pulled over to the shoulder, where the adrenaline-fueled questioning commenced:

Scotty: “What the?!”

Shellski: “You already said that”

Scotty: “Yeah, but… what the?!”

Shellski: “I think something might be wrong with the clutch”

Scotty: “What?!”

Shellski: “Well, it felt like it was time to shift into second”

Scotty: “Yeah, it was, but…”

Shellski: “So I pushed in the clutch before I shifted and man, it’s stiff! I couldn’t push it down much. Is that what made us slide like that?”

That’s right. Mr. Expert Driving Instructor had failed to inform the ‘natural born hot rod pilot’ that this car had an automatic transmission. And a brake pedal on the far left side. With the violent manually controlled shifts (full manual valve body, not to mention a trans brake and 5800 stall converter), Shellski had kept her eyes on the road (survival skill #1) and assumed I’d been clutching away like Ronnie Sox during those test runs. She assumed it was a stick. I assumed she was impressed with my race automatic. Valuable assumption lessons learned. It’s served us well ever since.

Within a week, Shellski was making full throttle passes and threading through traffic like an old pro. I swelled with pride, watching her wheel the car into coffee shop parking lots, as her baffled friends stared slackjawed with shock, suspicion and concern. Alas, the car is gone now, but Shellski’s still here. And we rarely make assumptions.