Jun 23

Beautiful Day for a Murder

It’s early morning and I pile Gracie and Joker into the van and race the sunrise to the park, two miles West of here.

I don’t see any wildlife as I pull into the park entrance with my high beams on. The road winds past the fenced-in baseball field on the right and the lake on the left. No dogs are allowed in this part of the park. I open my window and the dogs and I sniff the air. Me, for skunks. Them, I’m not sure. I’ve caught lovers – and sleeping cops – this time of day, too, but this morning both the air and the parking lot are lacking any predawn drama. The eastern sky burns away the night as I drive to the far end of the parking lot and pick a spot closest to the footbridge. It looks like a magnificent sunrise is about to be born. Easily, this is my favorite time of day.

I use my mega beam flashlight to spotlight what I know will be the dog’s first stop; the holes under the bushes by the footbridge. Various wildlife use these holes because of their proximity to the river, so there are always fresh scents for the dogs to explore. There is nothing lurking around bushes that I can see from here so I trust my nose and let the dogs out, then follow them at a much slower pace.

As they run, their tags jingle like cowbells that act as an early warning system. That’s not by accident, and I use the flashlight to scan the tree line for beady red eyes or critters running away.

Suddenly my ballcap, which I wear backwards, flies off my head and I feel a breeze through my hair, but that was no gust of wind! My heart races as the silhouette of a large bird drops my hat from its claws then flaps up to the sky. I watch it turn around as the clouds set on fire, and I get excited.

Gracie and Joker start growling and I turn the flashlight just in time to see my white dog, Joker, dart down the bank towards another hole. I can’t see Gracie. I turn back to the sky to see the clouds turning from burnt-orange to bleeding-red, but no crow. It is one of the richest sunrises this summer and wish I could enjoy it. But I spot my hat and then shine the light around for Gracie.

Three loud shrills cry out from overhead.

I turn to see Fred in his pickup truck pulling into the parking lot, but no sign of the crow. Fred is usually the first one here. He owns two dogs, too; Sadie and Taco. Both are female and get along great with my dogs. Sadie’s tan and as big as Gracie. Taco is a Chihuahua.

The crow swoops just over my head and flies straight at Fred’s truck!

I flash back to when Fatso cut off the squirrels’ retreat in my backyard and suddenly have more concerned for that stupid bird than my dogs. I run towards the parking lot waving my hands and yelling, ‘Stop!’ thinking the crow doesn’t know a truck from a squirrel! Behind me, I hear cowbells and Gracie growling something fierce, but I keep running, shouting and waving my arms.

The crow soars only a foot or two over the truck’s cab then flies up. The sky is already fading to blue.

Fred stops, lowers the window and casually says, ‘What’s up?’ He looks over my shoulder, adds, ‘Oh.’

I turn to see Joker and Gracie playing tug-of-war with a critter! ‘Gracie! Joker! Stop that!’ Gracie growls louder. I shout louder and with more growl in my own voice, then take off towards them. After a few more calls, they come to me.

Fred’s dogs listen when he lets them out and tells them to heel.

I scold my dogs as soon as we’re back in the parking lot, then look them over for bite marks or scratches, and say to Fred, ‘Did you see that crow flying at your truck?’

‘Saw somethin out of the corner of my eye. I was watchin you wavin your hands an figured Joker got skunked again. But it looks like a rabbit from here.’ He reaches into the bed of his pickup and pulls out a five-gallon bucket. But before we can take a step, a few common crows fly in and start to feast on both halves of the rabbit, now separated by about ten feet. More crows are overhead. Fred says, ‘Watch this.’

Before he can sic Sadie, I grab his arm and tell him, ‘Don’t do that! That’s what the crow was trying to tell you!’ My voice sounds strange to me and I have no idea where the statement comes from, but I say it with certitude. ‘That crow got Gracie and Joker to kill it for them!’ I nod towards the massing crows. Fred stares at me.

Fred’s an old farm boy from Minnesota; a man of few words. He just nods back and lights a cigarette.

Sunlight is just hitting the taller trees as I tell him how Gracie and Joker killed a squirrel for the same fat crow that just attacked his truck, and how I let the crow feed it to its flock. How it took almost an hour. ‘Look at the dogs! Gracie and Joker were just that calm the first time, too.’

All but Taco are down on their haunches and ready to spring into action if necessary, but they’re just sitting on the grassy edge by the pavement with their ears up, watching the birds. Taco is at Fred’s feet. There is an entire murder of crows now, too many to count, coming from every direction.

Crows are not a quiet bunch when they eat, or friendly. More and more land and all ferociously fight each other off for a piece of rabbit. There seem to be more losers than winners with some crows stealing from others in midflight.

As morning breaks, a few more dog owners drive in and I tell each to leash their dogs and just watch.

When there is nothing left, the crows fly off as fast as they flew in.

As we walk up to the battlefield, I say to Fred, ‘You only got here, what? Fifteen, twenty minutes ago?’

‘Crows don’t waste time,’ Fred says as the dogs sniff and piss. We kick the rabbit’s head and a couple of attached bone-and-pelt bits into the river, they can be dinner for some other scavenger. Mother Nature will have to take care of blooded grounds, and there isn’t much else to clean up. We set off on our morning walk through the woods with four other folks and a half dozen other dogs.

Fred and I were the only ones who saw how the rabbit died and he agrees to play dumb. It’s not something I’m proud of. Not something you boast about, especially to other dog owners. After a few minutes, the ferocity of the crows and their dazzling aerobatics are old news, and conversations drift to other things.

Fred and I fall behind the others. While our dogs play and scout as dogs do, I tell him, ‘This is the third time that crow has paid me a visit.’ I tell him about the second time, when the crow dropped the charm on my deck. I make my wife the scapegoat and tell him the fact it arrived on the twenty-seventh anniversary of the date on the back freaked her out. ‘It had the name Jeremy on the other side.’ I don’t tell him what that meant to her, or how she deduced the date to be 05/??/1990.

‘Crow’s tellin ya his name,’ Fred says. ‘Greeks worshiped crows. Egyptians made em gods in the afterlife.’

I start to feel all sweaty under my long-sleeve tee and jeans even though it not even sixty degrees yet. I still haven’t told my wife, but after this morning, I’ve got to tell someone before I go crazy.

‘He talked to me, Fred. I heard someone say leave it and when I looked out my window there was only that big, fat crow. Just staring at me. I swear, he spoke to me. He told me three hours before the dogs killed the squirrel; he said leave it – twice! He knew what was coming!’

After a long pause, Fred says, ‘Crows can talk.’

‘I’ve read that. They can mimic certain words, but I didn’t say that first.’

We walk on in silence. Fred starts to chuckle, then says, ‘Tell ya somethin even funnier.’

I wonder if he thinks I’m making it all up.

He lights another cigarette, says, ‘When I waza kid, growin up on my uncle’s dairy farm in Minnesota, I once saw a lone wolf chase down and kill a sick ol moose. About an hour later, a pack of coyotes chased off the wolf. A while after that, dozens of buzzards chased off the coyotes an got that moose all to emselves. Until hundreds of crows attacked the buzzards, in waves, an chased em off. Crows are social in that kinda way, but once they got the moose all to emselves, it was each crow for emself. Just like we seen here.’ He chuckles, ‘I never heard of one crow feedin another. Maybe in a nest…’

We walk on without conversation. I’ve never known Fred to bullshit, but I feel like he’s playing One-Upmanshit with me. I don’t defend my position any stronger than, ‘Tomorrow, I’ll bring the charm.’

When we get back to the parking lot, Fred says, ‘Growin up, there use to be this ol boy, Indian guide, who talked crows into huntin for em an to bein lookouts for em. Remember seein em, maybe thirty years ago, walkin along a dirt road an sure enough, there’s crows flyin over em.’

‘I’ll look him up on the Internet,’ I say, sure I’m getting more upmanshit. ‘What’s his name?’

Fred shake his head, says, ‘Owe Cousin Tom a call, I’ll ask em.’ With that, he drives off.

Maybe he does believe me, I don’t care either way. I know what I saw, what I heard.

I use a tattered bath towel to dry off Gracie and Joker before I let them get in the van. As I do, I hear three quick caws. I turn expecting to see Fatso, but it’s only a small common crow up by the pagoda. He’s not even looking in this direction.

Driving back home, I realize Fatso knows our morning routine, too. I wonder how long he’s been watching me, watching my dogs. I mumble, ‘Smart bastard needs a better name than Fatso.’

Joker comes forward in the van and I say to her, ‘What about Alfred? Or Hitchcock? He’s every bit as smart as those birds.’ But further thought of those birds is chilling. Then I remember Fred’s comment; He’s tellin ya his name.

Jun 21

Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale

Everything We Keep is Kerry Lonsdale’s first novel. It came out in 2016. It tells the story of Aimee Tierney who lives in a small town in California and works in her parents’ restaurant. She’s expecting to marry James, who she’s known since elementary school, and eventually have a restaurant of her own.

Then life intervenes. On what would have been her wedding day, she buries her fiancé who died on what was supposed to be a business trip. Aimee’s waiting to leave after the church service and funeral when a woman approaches her. She says, “I’m here about James… I have information about his accident… James is alive.”

 

Aimee doesn’t believe her. And the story takes off from here. She meets Ian, a photographer in town, opens a restaurant, travels to Mexico and meets Carlos. Then, one day, Carlos wakes up and reads the letter that concludes, “I am you.”

This story has a lot of secrets that Aimee learns about along the way: who Phil Donato really is; whose family the business actually belonged to; why James really went to Mexico; who paid Aimee’s lease while she was fixing up the restaurant and before she could open; why Imelda, who owns the hotel in Mexico, sent Lacy to find Aimee and why Thomas, James’ brother, did what he did.

There are a lot of themes in this book. You’ll have to read it to see which one resonates the most with you—letting go, healing, forgiveness and love.

Everything We Keep was a top Amazon bestseller of 2016, a Wall Street Journal bestseller and Barnes & Noble begins their review by saying “A luminous debut with unexpected twists…” Goodreads says 62,592 people rated “Everything We Keep” and 3,319 people wrote reviews. That’s a lot of readers!

This was a very nice reception for a debut novel!

Jun 18

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 2

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

Now that I have a seat, I’m restless.

It’s March, and far from feeling like winter. I settle into my cushion bench seat and look around the room.  This is still the only place to sit.  I reach for my writing bag when my for-here mug of Columbian coffee is brought to my table restaurant style.  What unexpected service.  Coffee shops are usually more self-serve.  I already know I’ll be back.

Time to look busy.  First thing, set up the tablet.  While it boots, I’ll look even more productive with my Happy Planner calendar on the table.  It has my blog schedule in it.  Next, my yellow notepad, a few colored pens and voila!  I’m all set to do work.

I don’t feel productive.  I feel cluttered.  I’m restless.

I always carry a few distractions in my workbag.  The item I’m craving to use is my Café Bingo game.  It was a gift from my writerly friend, Kelly, who said, “I thought of you instantly when I saw it.”  Yep, she got me right.  The idea is to Bingo with coffee shop stereotypes.  There are 12 cards, but I can play by myself.  I wonder: can I cover the entire board, or at least get a bingo?  There’s 0nly one way to find out.

These cards are reusable.  Cool!  I wasn’t sure how that worked.  When I read “pushing back” the squares on the package, visions of pieces popping off onto the table, never to be replaced again filled my head.  With this, you fold the cardstock squares back while playing and then refold them when you’re done.  I’m set to play with only one rule: I can’t count myself in any of the squares.

— Barista

That’s the center square and a gimme.

— MP3 player

Who carries these anymore?  I amend that to seeing a cell phone with headphones.  I see a hipster guy plugged in over in the comfy chair corner.

— Tip Jar

There’s one at the register where I ordered.  I don’t recall the handwritten note on it, but I’m sure it’s something like “Fear change? Leave it here” or “Tipping isn’t just for cows.”

— Newspaper

Sure enough, there’s an older man in a comfy leather lounge chair in the corner.  He’s reading a real newspaper, buried beneath an umbrella of inky pages.

— Laptop

Uhhh…yeah.  Who doesn’t come to a coffee shop without a laptop?  You have to look hip and trendy and productive.  Okay, I’m two for three right now, but my Surface has a detachable keyboard, so it would count for that square, if I included myself, which I’m not.  I’m still hipster-ette.

— Briefcase

There’s a guy in business clothes–a suit, maybe–with a speckled tan bag next to him.  I can’t see it exactly because it’s sitting on the floor and I don’t have a clear shot.  I count it.  I wouldn’t expect to see one of those hardcover square boxes with a latch and handle, and I’m surprised I think that.

— Cell Phone

This is another gimme.  A more challenging square would be “No cell phone.”

— Reuse of Cup

Remember, I can’t count myself.  A lot of people have for-here mugs on their tables.  Some people don’t.  What a waste.  Unless it’s tea.  Tea almost always needs a disposable cup.

— Date

I’m not sure how to count this.  The square shows two stick figures holding hands with a heart between them.  It’s just past lunchtime, so there are no caffeine kisses here.  There are lots of people sitting together in twos, and I’m sure someone is on some kind of date.  Meeting a friend for lunch, I count that.

— Iced Drink

I don’t see ice cubes anywhere, nor a dome lid cup sitting on any table.  Straight ahead there’s a woman with what looks like an icy blended drink.  It’s a shade color different than the store’s cardboard cups, but that’s good enough for me.

— Bulletin Board

This is a local coffee shop. Of course, there’s one.  Heck, even Starbucks has them.  The Fine Grind has theirs on the back wall between the bathrooms.  I saw that the first time I was here, but I found it awkward to peruse while people pee nearby.

— Spilled Drink

I didn’t expect to see this, but within five minutes of pulling out this game, a patron sloshes something on the floor.  It looks like water, but I feel rude staring at him.

— Meeting

There are no poster-board graphs or carpet swatches anywhere in here.   There’s no table of suits. There’s no cluster of notepad papers.  I bet some of these couples are in some sort of business meeting.  I glance at Briefcase Guy and wonder, can I count him twice?

— Rushed Patron

There’s one person walking deliberately to the door, so I count him.  He’s walking with a purpose not trudging along.

Now even the game is making me restless and bored.  I don’t think I can find the rest of the squares right now.  I can’t see outside the door, so I’m not sure there’s a Dog Waiting, another game square. This coffee shop is smooshed in a strip mall, not stretched on a quaint, tree-lined street among boutique stores, so I doubt I’d ever find one.  The woman at the high-top table against the wall, she may be dressed in All-Black Attire, again another game square, but I can’t tell if those are black pants or dark blue dress pants.

The other items I can’t find now are: Book; Menu Typo; Foreigners; Student; Latte Art; Goatee; Political Debate; Pastry Crumbs; and Artiste Glasses.

What I can’t wait to find is a friend to play this game with.

Jun 16

The Truth About Golf

I understand why some people give up on golf far too soon—before they develop a passion for the game. It challenges even the most seasoned players, requires lots of practice, and can be quite costly. For instance, Callaway’s Great Big Bertha Epic driver will set you back $500. If you want to put the club to use on a prestigious course, such as Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, you’ll have to pay another $500 for green fees. But there is ample opportunity to contain costs. You can purchase less expensive clubs; and you can play public courses in hometowns like mine for $15 a round. So considering that the financial outlay can be reasonable, I believe it’s basic intimidation that most often squashes love for the sport before a devotional spark has the slightest chance to ignite. Understanding the truth about golf may help you approach the sport with greater affection.

Golf Truth #1: It takes skill to get that little white ball flying in the air. Practice.

My first golf experience was with friends during high school. Mark was the only one of our foursome who knew how to play, and he was a patient teacher to the rest of us. Margie, Lisa, and I were athletic, so Mark probably thought we would easily learn this sport too. But taking three beginners out on a course is not the best way to introduce newbies to the game unless you’re looking to play the longest round of your life. Because Mark was dating Margie, I think he was okay whiling away the time.

The girls and I struggled to transform our softball swings into anything useful. Heck. We would have just liked to have gotten out of the Whac-A-Mole ground-pounding mode that was beating our confidence into oblivion. We were A-W-F-U-L. So bad that I’ve blotted out most other memories of that day.

But there was that one shot . . . when I struck the ball just right. It didn’t roll across the ground like it had every other time I hacked at it. This time it took flight, sailing skyward.

Personal triumphs, like lofting that little white ball for the very first time and sinking a pitch from seventy yards out, are what keep us golfers coming back. We hit the driving ranges and work on our long game. We find our putting strokes on the practice greens. And we test our fortitude by chipping out of six-foot bunkers. We want to emulate the pros, who make it all look so easy.

Golf Truth #2: It takes positive thinking (and an impressive outfit) to build a good game. Believe in your ability (and wear something that boosts your confidence).

The view of Lake Michigan from Arcadia Bluffs is as spectacular as the golf course.

Arcadia Bluffs is the number one ranked course in Michigan, where my husband booked a Memorial Day afternoon round for the two of us. That springtime day in The Great Lakes State was partially cloudy and projected to reach sixty degrees at best—chilly for me. If I had my way, all golf days would be eighty degrees and sunny, but northern Michigan isn’t known to bend to my will. So, I dressed in five layers of clothing to help me deal with the brisk air and fluctuating winds that would make the atmosphere feel ten degrees colder.

Trust me when I say that it wasn’t easy deciding on all those layers. My slacks and shirts were running a bit tight at the time, and I refused to invest in new pieces of clothing to accommodate my expanded waistline. I was counting on losing the ten pounds I kept complaining about.

I opted out of getting a propane heater for the golf cart even though I was shivering. “It will warm up,” I hoped. Standing beside our cart and waiting for our tee-time, Greg and I admired the seemingly endless and beautifully blue Lake Michigan, lying beyond the grassy bluffs and rolling terrain of the course. The view rivals that of Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, whose own gorgeous shoreline constrains the massive freshwater lake and prevents it from inching farther west.

There were several groups of men on the grounds but no women that I could see until a couple came in from their round. The model-gorgeous young lady loudly talked about how pleased she was with her 46. Whether that was her score on the front or back nine, I didn’t know. I was sizing her up and observing how attractive she was in her stretchy, black, Nike golf pants and matching jacket. Black is a great choice when you want to look slimmer, but she didn’t need the help. I wondered how she could possibly have been warm with so little to wear.

The only other woman on the course, besides me, looked like an expert—as if she could appear on the cover of Michigan Links Magazine. I compared myself to her and realized my silhouette resembled that of the Pillsbury Doughboy, plump and round. I wore a black sleeveless golf shirt just in case the temperature rose; a long-sleeved pullover because I was pretty sure it would not; and three jackets of varying thicknesses for extra protection.

So, there I was: at a mental disadvantage for golf because I didn’t feel comfortable with my weight, let alone with what I was wearing, and I had never golfed a 46 in my life.

Whether blessing or curse, the sky released a downpour. It wasn’t supposed to rain. Greg and I rushed into the clubhouse to see the storm cell on radar and ask the pro-shop attendant if we could delay our start because of the wet and cold conditions. Ideally, the rain provided me with the opportunity to change my negative mindset and prepare to golf my own best game.

Overly-critical thoughts about ourselves can have disastrous outcomes in golf. Adversaries trash-talk to mess with our heads and destroy our confidence. We shouldn’t crush our own spirits with self-condemnation. Knowing this, however, didn’t prevent me from beating up my real opponent before she had even taken her first swing.

Greg and I got a reprieve. The storm cell moved quickly, and there was a half an hour before another group was scheduled to tee-off. With no one pushing us, I expected to be able to relax.

We teed off, and I plowed through first-hole jitters by hitting a decent drive. Still, the ambiance of the exceptional course overwhelmed me. My next shot landed in a seven-foot-deep bunker and I had trouble chipping out. I took a nine on the first hole and berated myself for the embarrassing start. My focus during the next few holes was just as much on the mental battle I was having as it was with the physical trial to strike the ball well.

Once I gained control of my nerves, I began to see good results. The day progressed, layers of clothing came and went, and I shot a 100 for the round. Overall, not bad. I celebrated by buying a black and white, stretchy, athletic jacket and vowing to start my diet the next day.

Golf Truth #3: It takes knowledge of the sport to earn respect from other players. Study.

Even if swinging a club and striking a ball comes naturally, we need to acquaint ourselves with the rules governing play. Otherwise, we won’t make it past the driving range without alienating ourselves from seasoned players. They may forgive innocent mistakes made by beginners, but they have little tolerance for ongoing rudeness.

The Rules of Golf are long and daunting, and I’m not sure anyone knows them all by heart. Even golf’s greatest pros sometimes ask for clarifications from officials. The rules book is commonly tucked into golf bags and pulled out during competitions. But it rarely sees the light of day during more relaxed and friendly rounds.

If we care about the spirit of the game, and we should, we’ll grow in our comprehension of golf’s long history and honor the sport through fair and honest play under all circumstances. Golf’s two governing entities want to make the rules easier for golfers—of all levels—to understand and apply. The United States Golf Association and The R&A hope to achieve this goal by revising the rules. This is a unique opportunity for those of us enamored with the sport to directly influence the game by reading a draft of the proposed rules and providing feedback by August 31, 2017. Our suggestions could be the ones that are settled upon in the finalized rule book, expected to take effect on January 1, 2019.

Golf Truth #4: It takes patience to find the swing and strategy that work best for you. Pace yourself.

Watching a video of me hitting my driver, I was surprised to see how slow my backswing is. I’m tempted to swing faster but worry that I would lose accuracy with the change. It’s not worth that risk to me. There are other areas of my game, like putting, that I can benefit from improving instead of a major overhaul in my long game.

Being in a hurry on the course can be as big of a mistake as letting intimidation influence our confidence. The last time Greg and I were being pressed by another twosome, he and I evaluated our pace of play. We were coming in under time, as designated by course policy and indicated to us by the starter at the beginning of our round. As such, we could have defiantly held our ground and made the twosome wait at every hole. But the pace of play rule indicates that we should allow faster players to play through. This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Why deal with tension if you could instead alleviate it by simply being polite?

In our case, Greg and I waved for the guys to move past us and then patiently waited as each teed up, swung, and sent their shots flying forward. We watched as the second golfer searched for his ball 100 yards farther from where it was actually lying. I felt really badly telling him that his ball never made it past the forward tees. Haste makes waste, as the saying goes; and in this case, a hasty swing off the tee made for a bad shot.

So yes, it takes time and commitment to develop a love for golf. You need to approach it like you would any other relationship. Get to know its history. Who are the greats that loved it first? Regularly focus your attention on it. Is one night out a week too much to ask? Invest in it. How much better could the two of you get along if equipped with the right tools and some counseling? Shake off the tense moments and bad results. Can’t you just see how spectacular you are together too?

Control the way you think and behave, and soon you’ll be head over heels in love.

Jun 15

Bug-eye Sprite

I needed a car to commute to Flint, Michigan’s General Motors Institute after high school, but had yet to earn a paycheck from my sponsor, Cadillac Motor Car Division. All I had from teen year’s odd jobs and newspaper deliveries was $1500, so a co-op educational program would be the only way to attend college. I also needed starter money for books, room and board, and expenses, which left little for a vehicle. So my father and I began looking at used cars along Michigan Avenue, not finding anything that fit. Like all first time buyers, I needed something cheap and reliable, but everything cost more than I could afford and I didn’t know how difficult GMI would be or how long I would last.

We finally found an old two-door Mercury with a banged-up front end that we repaired over a few weekends, replacing a fender, hood, and bumper from a salvage yard. It wasn’t too difficult taking parts off and bolting new ones on before having the car repainted an eerie, silver gray by an Earl Scheib paint facility for $29.95. Which, by the way, in no way matched the existing yellow and black interior. But this was before I thought about color coordination, and Earl wasn’t in the business of matching exterior and interior colors; they just wanted thirty bucks, and the customer was left hoping they didn’t let the wet paint dry in a dusty parking lot. I drove that Mercury back and forth for two years before it needed new tires, brakes, steering, and coolant work. Even the radio was beginning to sound a bit foggy from its ancient vacuum tubes leftover from WWII.

So, with a small but growing bank account, I began looking for a replacement. Dad said I shouldn’t buy another used car since it usually meant owning someone else’s troubles. But just west of Schaefer on Warren, an imported car dealership featured a new British sports car called an Austin Healy Sprite sitting on its lot. It was the “Bug-eye” model, as the motoring press labeled it, because its hood-mounted headlights were perched above a surprised-looking mouth of a grille. The car was tiny, weighing a third of domestic cars at 1,328 lbs and powered by a one-liter, raspy-sounding 48 hp engine. The Sprite was good for 70 mph with a tailwind. Actually, the engine was less than a liter in displacement, at 948, and I’m exaggerating its top speed, too. But, it was new, which supposedly meant less trouble than a used car, but this was before I began understanding an oxymoron; English build quality.

It was both a joy and revelation to drive but, best of all, cost less than $2,000 out the door. So I said good-bye to the Mercury and leapt into the Sprite. How much, exactly, Sir Donald Healy had a hand in its creation and execution doesn’t matter as it was instantly wonderful and strange.

After a few months of enjoying fall drives in the winding countryside, Michigan’s winter hit, as it is wont to do on occasion, and it felt like the Sprite was seeing snow and cold for the first time. It was almost like a new-born puppy staring out at winter snowdrifts and the wonder of it all for the first time. In its first cold, blustery blackness of 6:30 am blowing snow, its nervous, hesitant engine shook and trembled like the puppy pushed out the door into the cold to do its thing. Unlike family Chevrolets I’d grown used to, this tiny thing seemed to be asking, “What’s with this white stuff and bone-chilling cold I’ve never seen in jolly old England?” The first time it saw 15 degrees, it needed a jump-start because, apparently, the British had never converted Celsius to Fahrenheit and its tiny battery simply couldn’t cope. It’s a good thing the Battle of Britain took place in the summer of 1940 because Hurricanes and Spitfires would still be on the tarmac never having started.

But, ah, the British, in their attempt to figure out metric to English conversion, had also forgotten to change the polarities of their electrical systems. Connecting normal red-positive to red positive terminals, the American way, began melting the electrical wiring harness to great shouts of dismay, alarm, wisps of smoke and burning plastic, along with acrid smells of ozone. Now, who would have known that a people who drive on the wrong side of the road would get their electricity backward, too.

But the car endured itself. It was a delight of differentness with its strange mix of rubber floor mat smell, engine oil aroma, harsh ride, and incredibly quick steering, all propelled by a snicky-snick four speed manual transmission. The doors lacked door handles, requiring un-snapping and opening of its plastic side windows to reach inside and release a catch. So, there was no way to actually lock the car, perfectly fine for the stately British Isles where no one ever steals cars, but rather inadequate for the crime capital of the Midwest, Detroit, Michigan. Once seated inside, the view out through flexible plastic side windows revealed wavering Monet-like images one could only guess at.

The Sprite was so low and tiny, it should have been called Tinker Bell. From the driver’s seat, top down, one gazed up at Chevrolet door handles, pedestrian trouser pockets, and ladies handbags, altogether providing a new perspective on life. No one at Cadillac seemed to mind a new co-op student employee bought himself a British sports car because, I suppose, they weren’t sure what it was as long as it wasn’t a Ford. Besides, expecting a student to buy one of our products like a Cadillac Sedan DeVille would have been like asking a Boeing co-op student to begin payments on a commercial airliner.

Three days after driving it off the lot, I ran into the back of a co-worker’s car in front the Cadillac Administration Headquarters Building when I pushed the clutch pedal instead of the brake pedal. I’m sure the General Manager never even glanced up from his coffee, but most of the first floor came out to stand on the entrance steps and stare. There was no damage at all to the other car, but it took a few weeks for my forehead bruise to fade and an entire month for a repair shop to get a new Sprite front end from England. When they were done, it was still bug-eyed.

 

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