Ever wonder what it would be like to go for a ride with one of your literary heroes? Ever wonder what they drove? Here’s how I picture it:
Hemingway (Because no lit-list is complete without Hemingway): Land Rover or perhaps one of those “Technicals” – Toyota pickups with heavy machine guns bolted in the bed that are the favorite of 3rd-world insurgents everywhere. “It is a good truck” he tells you, patting it’s flanks. “Strongly built. Well made. It would be a shame to lose it.” You know then that it will be lost, because no lit-list is complete without some minor-league bullshitter/hack loosely paraphrasing Hemingway’s style.
Flannery O’Connor: Bus pass, or, possibly, a 2004 Chrysler Mini-Van with a handicapped parking sticker, driven by her mother, or the devil.
Ian Fleming: Aston Martin. Of course. Driving gloves are mandatory. Supermodels fall over with their feet in the air in the wake of your passing but you don’t have time for that shit, you’re driving an Aston Martin. “Don’t touch any buttons,” Fleming tells you. You don’t dare.
Arturo Perez Reverte: “Get in” he says, picking you up at the hotel. He’s driving a rental, a tiny compact of some sort. He leaves your bags at the curb. “I can speak English but don’t want to,” he tells you. He drives you around the city then, through stop signs, across traffic, the wrong way on one-ways, oblivious to the screams of pedestrians, other drivers, law enforcement, (such as it is in these European cities.) He is telling you something in great detail in Spanish. He looks at you intensely when he talks, which makes for some nerve-wracking directional corrections. He drops you back off at hotel without saying good-bye. A few months later you see him in another country, in a cafe with an older woman, very well dressed, very beautiful. He pretends not to know you, but she pretends she does. You wonder, not for the first or last time, what he told you in the car.
Milan Kundera: Used Mercedes. Black. 80’s? 90’s? Early 2000’s? Who knows? They all look the same. Reeks of cigarette smoke and sophisticated ideological digression.
Gus Hasford: Mid 70’s Chrysler. A boat. Trunk is full of stolen library books and an M79 grenade launcher. “A souvenir” he tells you, and that he can’t find ammo for it, which seems to bum him out a bit. Car is unregistered, uninsured, and illegally parked.
Charles Bukowski: VW. He tells you he paid cash. There is a half a mickey of Cutty Sark in the glove box and a 6 of Heineken on the passenger seat with only 3 cans still in the webbing. It’s cleaner than you thought it would be, and you think that he must have a woman now, a good woman, not wolfish, or mad, or of temporary hire. Some carefully typed poems that were on the dash blow out the window as you move down the boulevard. “Don’t worry kid, I’ve got lots,” he says, and then “Crack one of those Heinies and hand it to me, will ya?”
John Irving: A big ol’ tradesman’s van. White. No windows. The back is piled with gym mats. He asks if you want to pull over and wrestle a bit. You decline. “Don’t be a pussy,” he says, and asks again. He’s not that big, and you’re pretty sure you can take him, but he does seem intense.
Stephen King: You didn’t actually get to ride in his vintage Pontiac GTO. You were hitchhiking and he blew by at 90+ and then stopped a hundred yards down the road and waved you up. Huffing and puffing and you ran up to the car only when you got within 10 yards he matted it, spitting gravel all over you, and flipped you the bird out the window. Fucker. But you think about and think it probably for the best not to get in a car alone with Stephen King.
Joan Didion. ’82 Vette – T-roof. Almost empty. There are 3 loose cigarettes rolling around the floor along with some medication. You look, She sees you looking. No one says anything. You get out to use the bathroom and when you come back there are 2 loose cigarettes. Your briefcase/bag is open – did you leave it open? You don’t think you left it open. She sees you looking at your bag. She makes a note. No one says anything.
John Steinbeck: ’49 Fargo. Black. It’s rusting a bit but still runs, for now. Needs new tires badly. There is a family of four living in the truck bed, sleeping on beds of rags with steadily depleting piles of firewood for pillows. Soon they’ll have only each other for pillows. Soon there will be less of them. They are cooking a thin soup made from tiny grains of sand and a beet leaf (one beet leaf, no plural) over a wood fire. The kids are too skinny and have runny noses. The wife has a persistent, dry cough and won’t make eye contact. The father seems alternately despondent, or, very, very angry.
Margaret Atwood: “Magnum P.I.” era Ferrari 308 with truck nuts and a bumper sticker saying “Don’t blame me I voted NDP.” She drives it through a puddle and splashes you as you wait for the bus. But still! Margaret Atwood! Almost a month later a package arrives in the mail. Its an Atwood T-Shirt and a lovely handwritten note: “Sorry I splashed you but I just had to. Like the car? I found it on E-Bay.” You think Hey! Margaret Atwood!
Cormac McCarthy: No car. He’s standing by a dead mule covered in flies, holding a hatchet. You take the long way around but you know, somehow, that he saw you. You know. You walk faster, your ears pricked.
Jean Rhys: A Rolls-Royce, chauffer-driven. It’s not hers, it’s his. Bought with his wife’s money, not his. Jean is not the wife. A few months later you see the Rolls again, same chauffeur, but it’s not Jean in the back. It’s a different woman, younger, prettier, happier … for now. Suddenly you notice Jean herself, standing just behind you, looking at the same car, the same scene. She looks a little wobbly, slightly disheveled, and maybe even a little high. Awkward.
Umberto Eco: A Fiat. For sure. He asks you if you pray and after a half an hour driving though Milan (or Rome, or any place in Italy) you do pray. You pray like a 14th Century Dominican Inquisitor, although your reason does not jibe with what Eco tells you about semantics and the meaning of prayer and stuff that doesn’t seem that important when you’re driving in a Fiat with Umberto Eco, your fingers firmly embedded in the dash and roof.
I am sure you can think of a few more.
By the way, the picture’s not mine and I’d take it down if sued. But I always liked it.
Stay young and cool forever, blog readers.
I shall return,