08 September, 2011

1969 Corvair Monza: The Testing of the Patience

MHH bonds with the Yellow Bomb
At nearly midnight in the parking lot of the Boise Airport, after more than ten hours of delays in Singapore, Hong Kong, and San Francisco, MHH finally got his first look at the Corvair. He circled it excitedly, poked around inside, and exclaimed repeatedly how fantastisk it was. 

Now, driving an old car draws a lot of attention, a reality that had never crossed my mind. Around the time of the Orchard incidentI entered a parking lot which had two sets of very stiff speed bumps over which I crept at a snail’s pace, causing a pileup of cars behind me. I cleared the bumps, parked in a remote and deserted section of the lot, and then looked over to see the mini van from behind me on the speed bumps pull up right next to me. I tensed as the window slowly slid down. Was I going to get yelled at? Or shot? ‘What year is your Corvair?’ The sweet voice of a middle aged woman drifted from the van. I started laughing.

So when a guy in a large truck paused next to us in the airport car park, I didn’t panic. ‘’68 or ’69?’ He yelled.

‘’69,’ I called back.

‘Ha! I told you!’ He slapped his buddy on the shoulder, pleased to have won their little bet.

Posing at Lake Abert
Thirty-two hours later, we were cruising across arid eastern Oregon on Hwy 20. Coming from the tropical confines of Singapore, the dry, open desert and rock formations of the West seemed gloriously vast and foreign even though I had driven this route many times.  

I introduced MHH to my favorite places from family road trips of the past such as the Burns Safeway; the Hwy 20-395 junction at Riley; Wagontire, where Oma had spent nights on her way to visit us; and Lake Abert, a large and bleakly beautiful alkali lake I only recently learned was called Lake Abert.

After lunch at Tall Town Burger and Bakery in Lakeview, the Corvair refused to start. You’ve got to be kidding.

‘You know, MHH, even though it’s an automatic, I read something in the manual about being able to push-start if you can get it going 20-25 mph…’

‘You read the manual?’

‘Why, yes, I did.’

‘You really are strange sometimes, Potato Woman. Well, don't just stand there, start pushing.’

If you happened to be driving out of Lakeview on Hwy 140 in the early afternoon of July 3rd, you just might have seen us attempting and failing enormously at this exercise. Sigh.

MHH then peered into the engine cavity, decided that the battery cable connectors should be replaced as they were very old and corroded, and set off on foot to check the nearby Chevron for some tools.

If you drove past at this time, you might have seen a forlorn girl baking in the sun next to a Corvair with a raised hood. You might have even waved. At what point do you decide to wave at someone having car trouble? I wondered. The rear engine must be confusing.

MHH trudged back 45 minutes later armed with a pile of tools and parts from True Value, and in a showing of skills I didn’t know he possessed, changed out the cable connectors. We crossed our fingers—

The car still wouldn’t start. ‘Let’s ask for a jump,’ I said, just wanting to get out of there, to be anywhere but that spot on the road in Lakeview where people continued to wave at us as if we had simply been gazing into our trunk and digging through our luggage for over an hour.

We flagged down a likely fella driving an old rig that looked bound to contain jumper cables. Sure enough, he had cables and was willing to give us a jump. A good ol’ boy of few words, he smiled in quiet amusement as he set the cables, then motioned for MHH to start the Corvair. It turned over, and over, and over, and over—and finally, like a child being forced to wake from a deep sleep, came to life with great resistance.

Elated, we thanked the quiet man and quickly put Lakeview in the rearview mirror, driving straight through to Klamath Falls, which is where I was born and where both of my parents are from. 

Visiting Oma
I wanted to visit our old house as well as my Oma’s old house, but as our 5pm deadline to reach Jacksonville had been tightened by the Lakeview incident, I settled for a drive-by of Oma’s house. If you saw two people with a yellow Corvair skulking around outside your house in the late afternoon of July 3rd, it was only MHH and I, and I lived in your house in 1985. You’ve kept it up nicely, and your 4th of July decorations looked great.

We arrived in Jacksonville with no further incidents. Though we were already late for the 5pm family reunion dinner, a change of clothes was essential after eight hours without air-con in vinyl seats. My mom, dad, and sister, who were all sitting in the same room together, kept calling and texting me independently of each other, wondering where we were, if we were coming, and how long we would be. And now how long? How about now?

Feeling refreshed but slightly harried, we hopped back into the car, pulled onto the main drag, and promptly died. You've got to be kidding.

My patience for the Yellow Bomb was very slim at this point, so I walked to the restaurant and let MHH sort out the car. The dinner with my mom’s whole family was very nice, and MHH showed up shortly, having stashed the car somewhere off the road.

Everyone smiling and looking at the camera with eyes open--amazing!
MHH and John retrieved the car after dinner. More peering into the engine compartment revealed some loose pipes that MHH secured with a zip-tie so they would stop interfering with this other thing that needed to move. That may or may not have been a problem, but the car started, so I was happy though still somewhat distrustful. 

We didn’t have to drive much the next two days, so we were able to concentrate on having a good time hanging out with the fam.

Later, MHH and I talked about how driving a car like ours is really driving. You have to have your foot on the gas and both hands on the wheel. You don't drive to adventure, you drive for adventure. You really get to know a car like ours.

Yes, we were getting to know the Yellow Bomb, but it was not without the testing of the patience. 


Amanda Silver said...

I think the guys from Top Gear would really appreciate the performance of your '69 Corvair Monza

Laufenem said...

Sooooo, just wondering when we might get the next installment!

Potato Woman said...

I love Top Gear! They're welcome to call me up anytime.

Funny you should mention the next installment, Em. I wonder about it as well. Jk, I really have intentions to do it soon. Which do you want first--blog or Christmas thank you?