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Collected written works  |  Gary Marx

“Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”


The Old Maverick:

Best Car I Ever Had

Every time I head out into the cold and slip behind the steering wheel I have the same thought: “Thank God for combustible engines.”

A reliable vehicle can get you out of many bad situations, such as walking miles in the middle of the night in the icy tundra between Carbondale and De Soto.

As many of us know, noncombustible engines can lead to combustible tempers. And, as that wise sage Yoda once said, Anger leads to Hatred, Hatred leads to Mechanics, Mechanics lead you to the Dark Side.

I know. I once owned a 1973 Ford Maverick.  The year was 1976.

I’d just been hired to work for a newspaper in Wabash, Ind., a little daily where Mike, my best buddy, and his wife, Debbie, were already working. It was a cozy setup. I got an apartment across town and was about to begin work. All I needed was a car.

I spotted the Mav and liked it immediately. It was only a few years old, didn’t have any rust, and it had only 32,000 miles on it. So I threw some money on the table and it was mine. And everything was great for about a week. That’s about how long it took to figure out that odometer miles on a Maverick are like years on a dog. You’ve got to multiply it by 7.

Now, I know there are many demented people out there who harbor romantic visions about Mavericks. They swear by them. Well, I swore by my Maverick, too. And I swore in it, and I swore at it and all around it. Usually I did my swearing on the roadside, while on assignment on deadline.

It was in Wabash that I learned all I needed to know about northern Indiana winters and all I needed to know about Mavericks. It was also where I learned about the versatility of a Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil, standard equipment back then for journalists.

After many false starts and many trial and error adjustments to the engine of that Maverick, I stumbled upon a trick that seemed to work every time.

Whenever I turned the key and heard that plaintive cranking sound, “RRRrrr, RRRrrr, RRRrrr,” I knew I just had to pop open the hood, remove the air filter and stick that Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil down the throat of the carburetor to hold the butterfly valve open while I jumped back into the car and turned the key again. Worked every time, but it was a pain in the butt.

My relationship with the Mav improved only slightly that winter, reaching its high point around Christmas when another college friend came into town for the day. Her name, well, we’ll call her Jayne.

Jayne was a pretty lass, and not entirely unpleasant to be around. I must admit to some attraction. But she was also a tad psycho. Not in a pathological sense, but just wacko enough to make you wonder if she was in complete control. You were never quite sure when the man behind the curtain would suddenly pop out of the top of her head and say, “It’s show time!”

Well, the four of us had dinner at Mike and Deb’s place and we partied into the night. It was getting kind of late, like really late. We were all sleepy and Deb was dropping heavy hints that it was time for the company to leave. As a matter of fact she just went upstairs to bed.

This was one of those awkward moments. I knew Jayne didn’t have a motel room, and she wasn’t actually offered a room at Mike and Deb’s, and when I asked her where she was staying, she just kind of shrugged.  So, being the chivalrous sort, I suggested she come over to my place across town. She agreed and I was immediately filled with fear.

My mind was racing. What have I done? What’s going to happen now? How will I feel in the morning? What if she goes wacko on me? Worst case scenarios played in my head. Oh, God, how am I going to get out of this?

She said she had had too much to drink and didn’t want to drive. It was one of the coldest nights of the winter, and we were shivering when we got into the Mav. I turned the key.

“RRRrrr, RRRrrr, RRRrrr…”

I looked at Jayne. Her breath was steamy in the cold. I turned the key again.

“RRRrrr, RRRrrr, RRRrrr…”

I looked at the Ticonderoga No. 2 pencil in the ashtray. I thought about it a minute.

“Jayne,” I said, “it won’t start.” And for emphasis I added: “Damn.”

So we piled out of the car and dashed back to the house before Mike locked us out, and we slept on separate ends of the couch that night, and just before I dozed off, I had to smile. 

Thank God for noncombustible engines. A reliable vehicle can get you out of bad situations, but sometimes, an unreliable one can too.

— 30 —

AFTER THE TOAD RUSHThe Southern Illinoisan collection

A HAT FULL OF RAIN — The Good Living magazine collection 

Journalism, Commentary and Stories

— Features, essays and creative nonfiction 
FROGTOWN DAYS — Stories from a suburban pioneer  

— Scratchings in
the prairie soil