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Disposable Cars by Mr. Nabisco

josie3.GIF (34536 bytes)

Anybody can drive a car to death. The trick is to keep driving a dead car.

I've had quite a few disposable cars, vehicles that I paid no money for and put as little as possible into. These rides were meant to be driven as long as possible, so basic maintenance was crucial, but repairs were limited to low dollar, absolute necessities; using wire, duct tape, found objects and whatever parts would fit. Rarely did I ever have insurance or legal registration. Wherever I went, I had to be prepared to either fix or abandon these cars. Tools and parts had to be on board, but I also had to travel light in case I ended up hitching or riding the bus.

The following are tales of two cars, Frieda 3 and Josie.

Frieda 3 was a ‘76 Superbeetle. Bleached metallic blue. This was a car that my friend didn’t want to fix, so he gave her to me. The wiper motor was dead, so instead of paying something like $90 for a new one I put ‘Rainex’ (the stuff that puts a silicon film on the glass so water runs off) on the windshield. It worked pretty well on the Superbeetle’s curved windshield so long as I drove 35 mph or more, otherwise I had to stick my head out the side window to see. The floor had holes where water came in and of course the muffler was held together with wire and tape around a coffee can. I never bought the parts to fix the brakes either, so I had to start pumping the pedal pretty early to stop in time. A new Superbeetle muffler was too expensive. Superbeetles suck, but she got me around. The day before I went on a roadtrip to Ohio I found an abandoned Superbeetle on the street. It had a good wheel and tire which I took and put on Frieda 3.

On a July 4th I drove off to a New Order concert in Cleveland, in order to pick up a friend and come back to New York. But before I left I went with some friends to see a flag burning demonstration in Washington Square Park. It was the first fourth of July since flag burning was legalized and some people were there just to torch Old Glory. Well, a whole bunch of right-wing skinheads were also there intent on beating the fuck out of whoever they felt was being un-American. New York's Finest were also there, but they mainly just stood around the park’s perimeter and let the skinheads run amok. A few people were pummelled. People were yelling and running around in circles. My friend and I got caught in the middle of all this craziness. We were trying to leave, when a mob of skinheads came running after me because they thought I had burned a flag. I stood and watched them coming. A leader thug pulled his handkerchief mask down and spat in my face while this other leader kept asking me, "Did you burn the flag? Did you burn the flag?" I said, "No" (I hadn’t). He then told me to walk away slowly, and the fuckheads went off after another victim. If I'd have run they would've jumped me. I walked out of the park and stood next to a cop for awhile.

After the fireworks that evening I got into Frieda 3 and headed West. As I crossed into Pennsylvania a heavy storm hit, dumping tons of water. The Rainex worked. I kept moving and arrived in Akron the next afternoon. I hit some thrift stores then went to the outdoor concert, met my friends and sat barely tolerating the New Order show. PIL opened up with Johnny looking like a clown wearing a day-glo yellow suit. The show ended and my friend and I decided to drive all night back to New York. That was fine. I stopped for a nap or two, and we ended up at the Miss America Diner in Jersey City by dinnertime.

By nighttime we were in Brooklyn. Later we drove into The City and met friends at Thompkins Square Park, driving into the aftermath of the big riot there. Smoke, garbage and police were everywhere. Camps of protestors under the trees holding their ground. It was tense and very weird. Welcome to New York. All of this in 36 hours.

Frieda's death came at the hands of vandals. kids. At that time I lived in a restless Spanish ghetto. I came home from work one night to find all of the tires slashed, all of the windows and head/tail lights smashed, and all of the wires and hoses in the engine compartment cut. They just killed her. Nothing was taken from the inside. I guess I just parked in the wrong spot. So I took off the plates and went home. The next day I saw some kids playing around on the car, and by the end of the week she was gone.

Josie was a ‘77 Toyota hatchback that had been sitting in a parking lot for over a year. "If you can get it to run you can have it," he said. I bypassed the starter switch and drove off, putting thousands of miles on the car before she burned up.

Every time I made a road trip of any distance in Josie I would give her a new layer of paint, so she ended up with mottled layers of spray paint (purple, seafoam green, peach and some white) on top of the stock yellow, creating a finish that melted into a neutral grey under sulphur pink street lights. She also had some fine racing stripes running across the hood.

Matt and I made several trips between New York and Ohio in Josie, doing some drunk driving around Yellow Springs and Dayton. But the last road trip I made with Josie was a perfect example of driving a disposable car.

Some friends and I had just seen My Bloody Valentine perform at the ‘Ritz’ on 54th street in New York City. Our heads were full of droning electric noise and we couldn't sit still, not knowing what to do with ourselves. Pete suggested we go for a drive. Where to? We debated this during a seemingly eternal wait for the L train to Brooklyn, where Josie was, and decided to go look at art in Philadelphia. We got in the car and headed off through the expensive tunnel to Jersey.

The summer sun was rising as Pete, Eddie and I drove the Turnpike South. We started to feel a second wind through the open windows. Josie was just humming along, my fucked up box delivering a fine warbling version of a tape of Pere Ubu that mixed with the burbling exhaust and singing tires. Eddie, who was in the back seat, had to pour water on the carpeting once in a while to keep it from catching fire because the muffler was right up against the underside of the floor. This created a slight misty sauna effect inside. A couple of hours later we were down in Philly, where we had some breakfast and killed time until the Barnes Foundation opened.

The Barnes Foundation is an amazing collection of art housed in an estate building outside of Philadelphia. At that time, the pieces in the collection had never been outside the building nor photographically reproduced, so I was going to see things I’d never seen before. It sort of blew my mind. All these Picasso’s, Modigliani’s, Cezanne’s, Van Gogh’s, eclectic objects, artifacts, on and on and on... It’s something that has to be seen to be believed. We got burnt out and crispy, falling onto the comfy grass of the grounds and took a nice long nap.

By late-afternoon we were back on the road heading home. On the turnpike I suddenly smelled rubber burning and seeing the temperature gauge quickly rising, I realized the fan belt had blown. Pulling off at the next exit I asked the toll booth clerk for the nearest auto parts store. His directions put us in the middle of Jersey mall culture on a hot and hazy Saturday afternoon. It was hell. There were hundreds of cars and thousands of people. At a busy intersection, with shopping malls on all sides, Josie's manifold pipe fell off. We cruised on up to the auto parts store amidst a solid roar of exhaust. I got a new fan belt but the alternator bracket had snapped (hence the broken belt). This meant I had to construct a makeshift bracket out of a piece of wood and a bungee cord. All it had to do was keep the fan moving until we got back to New York. The exhaust pipe was a complete bitch. The manifold bolts were stripped and the only way I could jury-rig it was to wrap a coat hanger around the pipe and manifold to hold it in place. It worked.

The rest of the drive back to New York went smoothly enough. With Eddie asleep in the back seat, Pete had to reach back and put water on the carpet every so often, and we only had to stop a couple of times for me to tighten up the exhaust wire. We didn't make it back in time to go to the Mermaid Parade, however.

Later that week I walked out of my building to find some guy peddling crack on my front steps, so I chased him off with my roommate's pitbull. The next day all four tires on Josie were flat. They'd been punctured on the side making repair impossible. I used about eight cans of fix-a-flat to get just enough pressure in the tires to drive Josie down onto the East River waterfront. There, I pulled off the license plates and set her on fire. I stood and watched her burn for awhile, then went home.

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