Lost in the fold

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Grant's latest in his fleet of auto acquisitions is "Gold Digger," an '80s model Chrysler Fifth Avenue that comes complete with shag-ass carpeting and a velour front seat so plush he's actually lost entire appliances in its folds. OK, it was just his cell phone, but still. His cell phone had been missing for a few days, and he found it when, finally, the rings from all the calls of all the people trying to contact him began to reach his ears after spending days trapped in the cushy continuum of his "champagne" upholstery.

"Bitch, I see there are 14 messages from you," he said to me over coffee that afternoon. "What the hell do you want that you have to leave me 14 goddamn messages?"

"I'll give them to you in a nutshell," I huffed. "I was calling to tell you I need to borrow your truck. Then I was calling to tell you I REALLY need to borrow your truck. Then I was calling to bitch you out for ignoring my calls because I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY need to borrow your truck. Then I was calling to tell you to fuck off. I don't need your truck; I can do it myself, goddammit. Then I was calling to tell you how goddamn lucky I am to have friends like you who ignore me when I need help, because it enlightens me as to how self-reliant I really am. Then I was calling to tell you I don't need your help anymore, you shit-eating dickfuck, so you can finally pick up the fucking phone when I call. Then you finally picked up the fucking phone, fucker."

"Glad to be of help," he said, and I would have strangled him but for the entire birthday cake I ate for breakfast that morning, which had me moving slowly.

Grant, though, is not moving slowly, not with this Fifth Avenue. I worry about it a little, because the last car he had like this one, a 1987 LeBaron convertible he dubbed "Joan Collins," really brought out the road demon in him. He'd barrel through tiny side streets popping curbs, barely missing mailboxes and, in all, garnering more speeding tickets during the six weeks he owned the thing than he had in the entire decade prior. Fishstick, the '70s model, rust-pit of a truck I was trying to borrow from him in order to complete my move, has a more calming effect — probably because if you try to drive it over 50 mph it starts to shake like an ancient heroin addict overdue for a fix. But Grant wrecked Joan Collins last year — wailing to everybody that he went through her windshield, when really it was the top half of his head that did — so we don't have her to worry about anymore.

But now, here comes Gold Digger, so soft and pillowy, with recessed interior lighting, ornate handholds inspired by Venetian balustrades and, in all, so metal-heavy you could dismantle her and reuse her parts to construct an entire Apollo spacecraft. He drove me home in it from the coffeehouse, and I must say I felt safe in that thing — disconcertingly safe. Now I see why people think they can careen at will while driving these cars, because it's like being in your bedroom on wheels. I mean, you feel like you're suspended in a cocoon of personal packing peanuts, for chrissakes.

Last year, when Grant crashed Joan Collins, he learned soon enough that all that cushion was really an illusion, because that steering wheel hurt plenty when it broke his ribs and kept the rest of him from going through the windshield. But, I must say, it seems like Grant won't forget that anytime soon, as he's been driving Gold Digger in an almost responsible way.

For example, he pulled over very respectfully when the ambulance and fire truck commanded the road. Their sirens were no doubt blaring at ear-bleeding decibels outside in the real world, but inside Gold Digger, after working its way to us through all that plush and comfort, the sound was much less shrill. Then there was the resident panhandler who impersonates a street preacher at the freeway onramp — the one who wears a red dress and demands money at the top of her voice, or else all us heathens will go straight to hell. I could see her lips moving, but from the front seat of Gold Digger she was as silent as a lab mouse inside a bell jar.

We journeyed on, past the burned-down drug house, a couple of meth heads and a crack whore, all separated from us by a few inches of metal that might as well have been miles, for all we sensed. I must say, it was a great ride. Why feel the road when you can float like this? Why even know that the road is there, hard and surrounded by other hard things that would hurt if you hit them? Why bother yourself with those dangers when Gold Digger is waiting with her champagne interior, glowing like a sun-dappled sensory-deprivation tank? Somewhere in the back of my head, I knew the only thing more dangerous than the world outside is the invented sense of safety we construct in futile attempts to separate ourselves from it, but whatever, is that a six-way, power-adjusted seat recliner? Somewhere in the distance, I heard a ringing sound. What was that sound? It was my cell phone, but I didn't answer it. I was lost in the fold.

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Slut and Other Love Stories and Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales from a Bad Neighborhood. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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