THREE CAR PANELS
If you are going to have a head-on collision, have it at as low a speed as possible under the circumstances—that’s my advice. This was how my red 1972 Datsun came to an end. It was the first new car I ever bought—2,500 dollars, with money from a novel I optioned to a film maker who never did. So here I was, at or really nearly at my familiar drive from Vancouver to Oliver, to see my mum in the late seventies, I guess. This would be at her new place, with her second husband the mother’s boy Bob, up the hill a little from Oliver’s little old airstrip. I was on the only straight stretch in the southern part of Highway 97, getting ready to turn right, when a car coming south turned into my lane, no signal or anything, you know that nightmare. I stepped on the brake as hard as I could, thanking some being or luck that I was alone, my wife and daughter back in Van. Well, he didn’t seem to share my attitude toward braking, and if I went left I’d be in a worse head-on, and to the right was a deep ditch and probably this guy still coming. Well, I can tell you, the sound of a collision is hateful. But there we were. The inside of a 1972 Datsun is not commodious, and I banged my forehead against the metal strip at the top edge of the windshield. Still, I was conscious enough to pick up the outside rear-view mirror that had been inside for a while, and drop it out the window. So the guy in the other car is also alive, and glory-be, he was to blame a hundred percent. He was a thin guy in his eighties. I thought there was a side-road there, he said. Well, I said, there isn’t, and even if there was, you are required to wait until I am gone before you turn left across the highway. Now it turns out that he has no driver’s license because he did this kind of thing too often, and had it taken away from him. Even better—he turns out to be a retired dentist who years before had led a campaign including letters to the editor against me and my Oliver Chronicle column because I was a Communist agent and he was the local leader of Ron Gostick’s Canadian Intelligence Service, a religious Cold War outfit that warned against communists, atheists, Jews, homosexuals, feminists, intellectuals, and hippies. Boy! My brother took me to the new hospital to check out my head, and took my picture in the waiting room, and I used that picture in an anthology the next year. The insurance people gave me about 2,000 dollars for my car, but now it was years later and any little Japanese car would cost about 10,000 dollars. But the only sad part was that the radio in my Datsun was famous for its ability to pull in radio stations from half-way across the continent. My brother and my friends Dwight and Paul said I should have gone to the wrecking yard in OK Falls and snagged that radio.
As the mercury climbs in the South Okanagan these days, such as August 11, 2001, people are awfully glad they can take their air-conditioning for granted, though of course I havent had air conditioning in my 1990 Volvo for three summers. What does it matter? But in 1959 there wasn’t any air conditioning in the South Okanagan, but there were Fahrenheit degrees, lots of them. What you wished for was a convertible, and while you were at it, why not a Cadillac convertible? My buddy Willy would say to a girl from Osoyoos, maybe, want to go for a spin in my snappy red convertible, and what he had was a 1954 Morris Minor with the top sawed off. This was the best joke going in the South Okanagan that summer, and to tell the truth, I was envious. A year later his step-father had some more sawing done, well, he used to have a machine shop, and it became the smallest pick-up truck in that part of the valley, and Willy used it for everything. Imagine, sitting in a red Morris Minor pick-up truck, ogling girls we knew.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that George Stanley does not or did not drive like the wind. He drove like an unmarried older lady going to the Safeway parking lot. I hope he doesn’t mind my saying so. Well, he once got his revenge for all those nights whizzing home from Pub Night at
the Cecil. He was a teacher of some sort, an English teacher plus whatever else those community colleges get a person to do, up north, mainly Terrace, where my dad went amazingly by car for his first teaching job, but maybe I will get to that story another time. A lot of my car stories are dad stories, of course. And in the Sequel to Pub Night there were Tads and dads, and that is yet another story. Now, George Stanley’s revenge. The only place I know of where George Stanley ever had a car was up there in Terrace, and if he had to go teach in Stuart he would go by plane if it wasnt socked in, but closer campuses he could reach by car. I was up there for a number of poetry readings or prose readings, and George was my host; that is the kind of wonderful thing that used to happen when there were poets at all the community colleges in the province. George was in charge of my getting to other places, one of those places that start with K, and at least one of the Hazeltons. So he has a not by any means new or even all that recent big USAmerican-type car, like most other people up there in that time, those who did not have a pickup truck with a toolbox, a broom and a German shepherd in the back. Out on the road he took me, and I am wondering: when did George learn to drive, or do you really have to learn up here? And I swear. He is looking out the windshield along that long hood all right, but he is looking from lower than the arc of the top of the steering wheel, if you know what I mean. Heh heh, he says in that wonderful humorous George Stanley voice you have to have heard to know what I mean, I can drive like the wind, and he followed that with a string of exclamation points. He had been waiting years to say this. I quaked in my passenger seat but I did not pee my pants. Boy, it was wonderful in those days. I even looked out at the Skeena River from time to time.