Wednesday, March 30, 2005


In Which I Sing A Song of Jimmy...

Jimmy is dead.

My parents nursed him along for years, doted on him, took him everywhere they went.

This year, he just couldn't make the trip with them.

His whole damn body was falling apart, nothing was working right. I think everyone knew it was the end.

Poor Jimmy. He was only 28.

Here he is, in better days:


We bought Jimmy brand new in 1977. He cost something like $7,000, a princely sum back then, even for such a massive and adventuresome vehicle. It was the first 4-wheel drive we ever had (you had to get out and lock the hubs first). He was great for road trips because he was so big. And we had a state-of-the-art 8-track tape deck installed in it, so we were riding in style.

My dad was less interested in style, though, and ALL about making time on our family vacations. He once welded together a reserve gas tank that he bolted to Jimmy's back bumper and had rigged a siphon thingy that allowed him to tap the reserve with the mere flick of a switch. We drove across the desert that way on a trip to the Grand Canyon and didn't stop once for over 7 hours (we kept a lot of empty Coke bottles handy, if you know what I mean. I have no idea what my mom did. Maybe she had really great aim. I don't really think about it, so stop asking). Of course, at the time we thought nothing of strapping a 20-gallon black metal tank of gasoline onto the back of Jimmy and driving across the 120-degree desert. Looking back, I marvel that Jimmy didn't turn into one giant Molotov cocktail out there on the highway and turn us into matchsticks. But you never thought about dangers like that because Jimmy seemed so strong and immense on the road.

His size translated into great comfort for us. When we drove through the night (which was often) my brother could stretch out on the bench seat in back, and there was enough space that I could sleep on the floor between the front and back seats (which was great fun, up until my dad would have to stop suddenly and my big fat brother would roll off the seat and squash me). We also had the "way back" which was, well, the very back of the vehicle, where we stowed all our luggage. But my mom was a master packer and always loaded the way back so that our suitcases and sleeping bags made a soft, flat space where we could lay and look out the back window, waving at drivers, or using the universal pull-the-cord sign to try to get truckers to honk. Many did. We also had a CB radio (of course. This WAS the 70s), and many times, after a trucker would honk, we'd hear the CB crackle: "Breaker 1-9 for the westbound red Jimmy. Is that a giant tank of gas-o-leen on yer tail, come back?"

Over 17 years, we took Jimmy to 44 states. When I became engaged to Her Lovely Self, it was decided that her parents and mine should meet over Thanksgiving. My dad was delighted because it meant taking Jimmy to one of the few states it hadn't yet visited.

At this juncture, it's probably worth noting that Her Lovely Self's dad made a good living working for an airline and her family lived in a very nice middle class neighborhood not far from Detroit. Big houses, well-manicured lawns, and a Mercedes in every driveway.

So when those in-laws met the, er, out-laws, it was an EVENT from the moment the Jimmy rolled into town. That alone caused quite a stir. By this point (and this was over 10 years ago), Jimmy's paneling had rusted through on one side. Plus the muffler was gone. And by that time my dad had taken to gluing the manifold to the engine with furnace cement, which worked great...until the cement burned away. So coming into that neighborhood, it was loud in pretty much every way a 1970s era proto-SUV with 457,000 miles could be. When my parents puttered into the driveway and parked next to the Mercedes--where I like to imagine my open-mouthed future in-laws were standing--my dad unhooked the bungee cord that was holding the driver's side door on, leaped out and, holding the loose door in one mighty hand, announced, "By Gorry, you didn't know your daughter was marrying into the Clampetts, didja?!?" My in-laws didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Jimmy made several more trips in his old age. The highlight of his golden years was when he carried my parents south the day my son was born. It was the longest road trip he'd been on since the historic in-law/out-law meeting. By this time, he had passed the legendary 500,000 mile mark and was feeling his age. It was a rare thing for my dad to get Jimmy up above 50 MPH. But on that trip, everyone was highly motivated to get to the hospital as fast as possible. Not only did my dad actually drive through cities, on an interstate, but he averaged 80 MPH and got to our place in less than 6 hours--a fucking land-speed record for him. For Jimmy too.

Poor Jimmy was never quite the same after that and he spent his final years hauling firewood and tearing up back fields, a great horse put to pasture. So I shouldn't have been too surprised recently, when my dad called to announce plans for their latest visit, and mentioned in passing that they had decided at the last minute to rent an SUV for the drive.

"Jimmy's not coming?" I asked, a little stunned. "He's that bad off?"

"Ayuh," says my dad. "Cawse, I've always said the only thing wrong with that Jimmy is the oil cap. You screw a new car under that cap and it'd be just fine, by Gorry." It's an old joke, but I was a little sad to hear it for the last time.

Of course, when my parents arrived in the strange new (and decidedly small) SUV, my kids didn't even notice. And it would be hard to explain to them the fondness we all had for that great old Jimmy, with its death-trap gas tank and its floor where kids could sleep with no seatbelts. It's harder still to imagine my parents buying a new car, although they'll have to when they get home.

Tonight, when I was coming to the computer to post this entry, my dad was online already, clicking slowly, laboriously through the strange, alien world of the Web. He was looking at online car dealers, something I had suggested. But he wasn't looking at the sites I had pointed him to.

"What is this?" I asked, looking over his shoulder. It was a site for classic and restored cars. And Dad was scrolling through the 1970s model GMC trucks. He pointed to one of the Jimmy listings.

"Do you think I could get away with putting a reserve tank on one of these?" he asked.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

That was great! ROTFLMAO. They certainly don't make them like that anymore.

Great post man.

This had my laughing hysterically,

"By Gorry, you didn't know your daughter was marrying into the Clampetts, didja?!?" My in-laws didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Reminds me of Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation.

R.I.P. Jimmy
Brilliant. What a great story... I can just picture your father at the computer looking for old Jimmys.

Poor Jimmy. At least he lived a good life.
What a great story! I was laughing so hard! Gosh I wish I had the gift to tell a story like that! I'm envious.
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