Originally published February 25, 2013
“Say, Rodney,” I inquired via phone, “I wonder if you might be interested in helping me look at a Town Car in Pataskala for a guy in Czechoslovakia.”
“I wonder,” Rodney responded, “if you might be interested in bringing a pair of motherfucking McChicken sandwiches over to where I’m staying at so that it might lubricate my willingness to perform this inspection. And remember, I said two McChickens, you cheap cracker.”
The circle of my acquaintance is not completely unlike the Mafia; just when you think you’re out, I pull you back in. I’ve known Rodney for going on two decades now. His antics made selling Fords seventy hours a week for twenty-two thousand dollars a year just about tolerable back in the day. Trust me when I say that I haven’t even scratched the surface of the stories I could tell about this guy.
Tales of sex-for-Thunderbird scandals aside, however, the man has plenty of genuine virtues. One of them is an unerring nose for bodywork deficiencies and sloppy mechanical fixes. He grew up in a Cleveland family that earned its bread doing bodywork, detailing, and hot-rodding. He knows his stuff and I’m glad to count him as a resource as well as a friend, some eighteen years after we last stood on a dealership floor together.
Czechoslovakian car writer Vojtech Dobes loves Panthers as much as any red-blooded (The United States Of) American out there. His pal and fellow collector Petra (no relation to the second-tier Christian rock band of the Eighties) owns a pretty decent Cartier, as seen here:
Problem is, the “fat Panther” has been rusting itself thin in the Eastern European winters. Time for a replacement. It so happened that a dealership about forty-two miles from my house had an identical-looking Cartier with 76,000 miles on it available for $3700, so Vojtech asked if I’d be willing to check it out for him. This is somewhat of a TTAC tradition, insofar as our illustrious alumnus and current Motor Trend advertorial writer Jonny Lieberman bought an old Chrysler for him a few years ago.
I wanted to make sure Vojtech’s Cartier purchase experience went more smoothly than that old Chrysler transaction did, so I took the radical step of arranging to inspect the vehicle before the purchase, not afterwards. Thus the call to Rodney. I figured I would be able to diagnose any major flaws in the way the Town Car drove, while Rodney checked the thing for crash damage and unusual wear. We would be a great team, just like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney. Minus most of the blindness and all of the musical talent.
I arrived at Rodney’s current crib just in time to see two Somalis in the parking lot of said crib accidentally drive into eachother while attempting a fairly standard jump-start between two decrepit Hondas. My friend’s personal relationship with the growing African refugee community in his neighborhood has been somewhat fractious, in the sense that a Somali recently rammed his front door at thirty or so miles per hour, using a 1995 Lexus ES300.
“You know,” Rodney noted as we walked out to my own Town Car and he made some casually disrespectful gesture at a young woman in an outfit remarkably similar to that worn by the Jawas when they captured R2-D2, “it took me no small amount of effort to re-hang the front door so it would open and shut correctly.”
“How,” I asked, “did the Lexus fare?”
“Oh, it was fine, with the exception of some damage to those dumb-ass styrofoam-backed fins under the bumper.”
“Why did the guy ram your door again?”
“I made him move his car. He was parking in my mother’s spot.”
“I didn’t realize your complex had assigned spots.”
“My mother’s been parking there for ten years. I had to tell his bitch ass to move his car. So he moved it, then he rammed my front door with it.”
“Where were you standing at the time, if I might inquire?”
“I was standing in the doorway.”
“So it was less a case of him senselessly ramming the door and more a case of him trying to run you over.”
“You know these motherfuckers can’t do anything right. Quiet is kept, they make me slightly ashamed to be a Black man from the motherland of Africa.”
“It’s a tribal continent. Your lineage might be from a better and braver tribe.”
“I bet you it was a tribe where they knew how to use a fuckin’ toothbrush, which is more than these simple fools know how to do. You remember that I told you two McChickens, right?” Thirty minutes later, we arrived at the eighth-acre gravel lot on which the Cartier was parked. The office was locked and the shades were drawn. I’d feared as much; the dealership phone number had rung to a cellphone voicemail when I’d tried it earlier. Still, he’d responded to Vojtech’s emails during the day and had agreed to meet me here.
Luckily, the Town Car had unlocked doors to go with its four severely underinflated tires. To my surprise, there was a 302 Windsor complete with Fox GT-style intake sitting under the hood, but it was there legitimately; the magic year of 1990 combined the new bodystyle with the trusty old five-liter. It would surely be the one to have; although the mod-motor is bulletproof in later Town Cars, it was not always thus and it was certainly not thus in 1991, when it appeared to be an unfortunate step backwards. Interesting to consider that the descendant of this engine makes more than three times the original rated power, in the Shelby GT500. My reverie was interrupted by Rodney’s demand that I come look at the front fender.
With uncanny precision, Rodney proceeded to tell me the story of the Cartier as it was written in bent steel, paint drips, and body filler. He made acerbic comments about the way the passenger-side doors were hung and contrasted the condition of the rear carpets (immaculate) with the front-seat leather facings (beat to hell). As he narrated the Lincoln’s failings, I chat-messaged them to Vojtech. There’s something miraculous about that, really; a guy across the world finds a car in the next town over and I can give him the play-by-play as it’s inspected.
“Twenty-five hundred bucks, tops.” That was Rodney’s verdict so I called the lot owner’s cellphone one last time. I got lucky and he answered.
“I could be out there in, maybe, half an hour.” For a moment, I truly envied this fellow, this titan of rural industry who could afford to take Saturday off and mosey on over to his lot whenever he felt like it. I wish I could run my own life that way.
“We have some concerns about some of the panels on the car—”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I know that car. Know its history. It’s never had any bodywork.” That tore it. He was a liar, or stupid, or both. Thousands of miles away, in the home of the excellent CZ75 pistol, Vojtech agreed and we aborted the mission.
“Honestly, the owner of the store probably lost interest the moment he heard ‘Czechslovakia’,” Rodney opined. “Still, he’s on the Internet with the car so he had to figure that it might be somebody besides these dumb hicks out here who might want it.”
“You’d think,” I offered.
“I used to think the Internet would just end up being something people used to shop. That the promise of it would be lost, you know?”
“But here we are in the year 2013 and it turns out that it’s more than that. ‘Cause you have a lot of these young white girls who use it to meet someone to create a chocolate fantasy and make their parents angry. It’s often happening that they pay for dinner as well.”
“At our age, Rodney, shouldn’t we be doing more with what we have available to us, this technology, these shoulders of giants on which we stand, than just using it to meet scandalous bitches?”
“You’re the last person I know who should be able to ask that question with a straight face.” As we droned back to Rodney’s place, I wondered if we hadn’t been too hard on the Town Car. It was twenty-three years old. If I’d been able to find a ’67 Lincoln in that kind of shape, for that kind of money, in 1990, I would have pulled the trigger with no regrets. But this wasn’t a kick-around car for me to operate in the Midwest, surrounded by AutoZones chock-full of Panther parts. This was going overseas. So it had to be right. And this car wasn’t right enough.
Viewed in that context, I felt good about sentencing the Cartier to live out the rest of its life in Ohio. I can relate. There are days I feel that I’ve received the same sentence, and with more caprice in the judging than I showed that car. It’s harsh, but it can be borne with dignity.
Back in the parking lot, three dark figures were haggling over some small package and they yielded the right of way reluctantly. “Just let them disrespect me so I can beat some ass,” Rodney implored some vague higher authority. “Just let that happen.” We parked without drama next to his mother’s car and I shook his hand earnestly.
“I appreciate your taking the time to look at the car, brother,” I told him. “I mean, you’ll never meet the guy you helped today.”
“Why,” Rodney replied, laughing as he carried his third McChicken of the day towards his severely dented front door, “would that matter?”