The Demise of Sally
It was 7:30 in the morning and it was already hot.
I have no idea what our motivation. My friend EED (yes that is how you spell it) and I decided to drive down to the Peachtree race. I believe it was an idea I came up with while reading Runners World. Back then Runners World was like the bible to me. We were living in Norge, Virginia at the time. It was a town where people park their cars on the lawn. I have no idea the hatred of the sidewalks in that town. It was a long weekend and we stayed up late over imbibing the night before the trip. We woke way too early and the next day we headed down to Atlanta Georgia for one of the largest 10k road races in the United States.
To avoid distraction, I should rather quickly relay how Ed became to be called EED. He was at a formal gathering. Ed was not the formal gathering type of person. It was a simple meeting of two people. The gentlemen, Ed was speaking with, spoke with a deep distinguished accent. The gentleman said to Ed.
“Hi my name is Mujibar.” With the cue, Ed decided he should speak slowly to be understood.
He spoke loudly and unusually slow. And said these immortal words. “Hi my name is EEEEEED.” Ed could take a simple interaction and make it ridiculous.
We decided to take EED’s aged yellow VW for the ride. It was an old semi reliable car. I drove a semi more reliable Ares K at the time. That is an argument for a different day. The deciding tiebreaker was that the bug had a radio. We headed west on I-64 as EED pioneered the car expertly. I fell asleep for a while and woke up surrounded by skyscrapers in Richmond, Virginia. When I awoke, I felt refreshed and back to my senses and EED confirmed we were Atlanta bound. I informed him that we had taken a wrong turn. I am glad I woke up or we may have ended up in Arkansas. I got us back on track. An hour or so later, we decided to stop for breakfast in Henderson, North Carolina.
The south has always been weird to me and this town seemed stranger. We pulled into town in Sally and noticed all the restaurants had signs advertising Salad Bars. EED said to me, “I think we are in Salad Bar North Carolina.”
I was starting to feel pretty good and I had glancing thoughts about the race tomorrow. In the back of my mind, I secretly wanted to break 40 minutes for the 10K. It was a goal we rookie runners set or maybe it was a Runner’s World prophecy.
We walked into the nondescript dinner in Salad Bar, North Carolina and it seemed like everybody was talking about Tar-Heels basketball. It was early summer and six white guys with thick accents that is what they talked about. This was all over a cup of coffee, a slab of bacon and grits on the side. I was new to the south, and the one thing I detested was that Tar Heels basketball preempted Cheers on a Thursday night. I was not a meat eater yet I had to admit the smell of their breakfast set my stomach to churning. I was famished.
Without even looking at the menu, who really needs to do that in the south, I asked the man at the counter “How far is it to Atlanta, Georgia?”
He looked me straight in the eyes and spoke slowly and deliberately, “You are halfway there.” I thought to myself, he has no idea where we even came from. It was a weird Mason-Dixon line math. We finished our breakfast peacefully and started our journey to Atlanta. We were halfway there.
We made it into that shiny bastion of civilization before sunset. We were hip before our time. We had dinner at a bar and went to a hotel we had reserved from an ad in some running magazine. It was not exactly a hotel. We slept on wrestling mats in the Peachtree YMCA downtown. And you know what sleep came easily. It felt like luxury.
July the 4th in Atlanta, of course it was sweltering. The next morning we got up early and surprisingly ready for the race and I looked through my scant travelling bag for my running shoes. As a result of my crapulous state, from the previous day, I had neglected to pack them. Obviously disappointed, I could not change that. I walked to the starting line bare-footed. I also realized running under 40 minutes was not going to happen on this day, I liked talking to people especially people I did not know. We had time to kill and a random stranger was putting on a pair of new shoes for the race. I politely asked him if I could borrow his discarded shoes.
He grinned from one ear to the other. He said if you wear size tens go for it. I wore a smaller size but at least I had shoes. I ran the race in those borrowed battered discarded shoes. It was a steamy hot day and I finished in a respectable 41 minutes. Given my experience, the crowds and circumstance it may have been one of the better races in my career. The race was one big party but I kept on task. I didn’t even get a blister.
After the race some people we met invited us to a party. I remember the guys name was Tony and he gave us directions to his house. Back then we wrote down directions on pieces of paper and put them in our sweaty pockets. My partner in crime at the time, EED, decided to buy some chicken to take to the party. We bought chicken at the local Pigley-Wigly. I didn’t eat chicken but that was EED’s thing. Our trusted Volkswagen, Sally navigated the streets of Atlanta with aplomb. Unfortunately, the scribbled directions did not help us find the party at Tony’s house. I was frustrated as we now had uncooked chicken in the car. I hate wasting food and especially if an animal died for it. But I had an idea, and at the time it seemed logical. We pulled up to a Wendy’s drive through window. Back then, they took payment and handed out “food” at the same window. The over-friendly person in the window asked us what we would like to order.
I told the gangly teenager, we would like to give you something. I promptly took the package of chicken from EED and stuffed it in the window where they gave you food. I asked him to cook this perfectly fine chicken and give it to your customers. We drove off and decided to head back to Norge.
Sally worked fine up until this point, and in retrospect she was not happy with the navigators of the car. Quite possibly she didn’t like the stench from our discarded running clothes. We were considerate and kept the windows open, who knows the inter processing of a VW beetle. Sally decided to stop running soon after we left the Perimeter. EED knew Sally much better than I. He said to me “Sally would soon break free”. He assured me we should just wait her out and she would be fine in a half hour.
Much to my surprise, that strategy actually worked. We sat by the side of the road for thirty minutes and started Sally up and she was eager to head north. We made it all the way to Dinwiddie, Virginia and Sally got into one of her moods. At this time we were driving back roads because Sally was now a spot of bother. We knew she was no longer meant for the streamlined I-95.
We sat on a deserted, dusty back road of Virginia with Sally completely broken down. Out of nowhere there was a man walking down the road in our direction. He looked like an epic larger than life comic book hero. You could see his smile a block away. He must have noticed that we were looking at the engine of Sally with a collective look of not knowing a thing about motors. We did know the motor was in the back. I remember one thing about this kind man. He wore a bag over his hair waiting for his hair to look it’s best. It was rather impressive.
He walked up to EED and slowly said, “I can be fixing your car”
EED replied and asked him to go for it.
For some reason he had an impressive wrench in his pocket. That was the only tool he needed. We had no cell phones back then, so we occupied our time by watching him work. He took most of the engine apart and put it back together again. There was certain poetry to his work.
He proclaimed “This Be Being Fixed”
We thanked him and offered him money for his services. At this point we were duly impressed and anxious to get home. EED reached into his pocket for his checkbook and wrote him a check for Thirty-Five dollars. I don’t recall his name but for now I will refer to him as Mike the Mechanic. He certainly was not the Mike type through his living years.
EED politely handed him the check and Mike looked at the piece of paper for a quiet haunting thirty seconds. I did the same for different reasons because EED never had enough money in his account.
He had no idea how a check worked. I wish I understood the rural south at the time. We explained to him how a check worked. We pointed him to a country store we passed previously as Sally was losing steam.
We started up Sally once again and after about twenty minutes she shut it down again. We repeated this for the next few hours. Once again we stuck to the back roads. We took State Rd 31 to Surry where there was a ferry to take us to Jamestown. We looked rather ridiculous pushing Sally off the ferry. We immediately found a payphone, you remember them, and EED called his mechanic and they asked him to leave the car in the parking lot with the keys. And that is exactly what we did.
I went to work the next day, reliving the weekend in my head, and gave EED a phone call to see if he needed a ride to pick up Sally.
He responded glumly that there was no need for that and he informed me Sally was Dead.
“So they couldn’t fix her?”
Apparently that morning the trash removal company, servicing the Garage, lifted a dumpster. It was a routine trash pick up. It was reported, the dumpster suddenly fell off of the lifting device smack dab on top of Sally. Sally had no more miles in her.
It was then that I remembered, I still had those borrowed running shoes in the back seat. Mike’s check cashed six weeks later.