It’s time to introduce you to…The Animal. Part I:
The Animal was a friend of mine through jr. high, high school and college. He received his nickname as he was predictable as hell – three beers in, he’d jump on a table or chair and imitate a chimpanzee. He was the human equivalent of the muppet Animal.
Animal had the common sense of a chimp. His ability to go stupid at the drop of a hat was legendary, his antics barely seem plausible over 30 years later.
He had a ’78 Ford Pinto – fully loaded with a white vinyl roof, factory five slot mags and the much sought-after Sport package – a 3.08 final drive, tach and a tiny gauge cluster centered in the dash. A 2.3 liter automatic with 3.08 gears? Anemic doesn’t even begin to describe the Animal’s steed. His parents paid $1000 more than blue book, as, in their words, “We want our son to have a good car.”
The apple didn’t fall far from the lack-of-common-sense tree.
Truth be told, the Animal was a good and loyal friend. My Dad had built a summer home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is where I spent most of my free time growing up. It’s no accident I live amongst the trees, 40 years later.
It was our first year of post high school “freedom”. The Animal was taking classes at U of M Dearborn, I was at Larry Tech – the engineering university for Ford. We had time off; we weren’t working anywhere important. With time on our hands, I invited him up to our place for two weeks. It was 1980. We were underage; not that such things were important in da UP, as if you were known, the UP drinking age was around 14.
We passed the time drinking beer, eating ham sandwiches (the Animal’s mom sent five pounds of lunchmeat up; the Animal ate it all in the first five days) and, well…abusing the Animal’s Pinto.
The Animal treated the operation of his car as binary code – WFO or pending lockup. He only knew how to mat the pedals. Fortunately that Pinto was soo goddamned slow that most passengers never knew he was trying to hammer the accelerator through the floorboard. He asked me repeatedly to make it go faster – I refused. “You’ll kill yourself.” It was a true statement, and his mom was mean enough to kill me afterwards. I liked her – I was astute enough to realize she was part of an IRA sleeper cell, and gave her a wide berth.
We’d been wasting time for about ten days when it was time to go adventuring. I was going to teach the Animal how to drift. I’d been drifting for years on Sherman Road (yes, there is such a thing – go Google Sherman Rd – Curtis if you think I make this shit up) and I thought I could teach Mr. Binary the finer points of throttle modulation.
Fuck me. The Animal did a donut and nearly took out a telephone pole at the intersection of Long Point and Sherman. I smacked him, told him to gethehellout and I’m drivin’.
We drove down to the Grade by the Metcalf’s and I took him around the south end of the lake. Now this is about 15 miles of abandoned railroad grade and logging trails – stuff that normal folk with SUV’s avoid. We were bombing it inna vinyl roofed, whitewalled, automatic Pinto.
About three-quarters of the way through, I took a hard right to explore a trail I’d not been on. We made it about a half-mile in and encountered this black peat muck which disables the most competent of off-roaders. I’ve buried trials bikes axle deep in the goo, tossing cantaloupe-sized muck balls over my head and landing ten feet in front of the bike. It grabbed the Pinto like Velcro and refused to let go.
We were stuck. Hard. 15 miles from anything remotely looking like civilization. The blackflies flew into any orifice they could find on our body. We had a choice: a five hour walk to retrieve help – or just quietly rot deep in the wilds of the North.
As we contemplated our doom, I heard a noise. A noise I could identify. It was the sound of a VW Beetle. I ran down the trail, hoping to make it to the intersection before the Beetle passed.
I did. Sure enough, there was this old VW Beetle, filled with Mom, Dad and the kids out for a holiday drive. They’re a half an hour away from potable water and pit toilets, but yet – here they are. I explain our predicament and they follow me to the car.
The entire family – Mom, Dad and the kids – get out to help the Animal push his blue bastard from the axle deep muck which has it imprisoned. With a few tries, we get it free.
We never see them again.
Up next – bodysurfing a Pinto in the Great Lakes.