My 1987 Acura Legend didn’t want to go any further west than Waynesville, North Carolina.
She had a bad transmission when my ex inherited it from her uncle. He bought it new. For cash. Found the receipt one day about three years after she dumped me. It was as much as I made that year.
This year, I’ll be lucky to pull in $15K. Life’s funny like that.
I remember driving around Gainesville, Florida, with her back in 2005 or so. The damn thing didn’t like to accelerate, then would jump. I told her to get it checked.
A few months later, the car was mine after my Celica’s transmission also went out.
A month later, she was in North Carolina with me. New Year’s Eve 2005. She finally met all of my North Carolina friends. It was the best night I’d had since 2003 when she went to Florida to get her PhD. I was supposed to follow along in a few months. A few months turned into a couple of years. Fast.
That New Year’s was great. The next couple weeks were great. We saw each other a couple times and she got into her No. 1 internship program in Baltimore.
“I just applied for a job in Wilmington,” I told her a day or so after she told me she got Baltimore.
“Great,” she said.
Two weeks later, she dumped me.
Looking back, yeah, the way I reacted to her going to Baltimore finished us off. I wasn’t happy, and let it show. I figured she’d be in North Carolina again. Stupidly.
Now, I’m 46 years old and that Acura’s transmission finally died. I’d kept it alive a little longer by putting new fluid in it. But she slowly died off in the last couple months.
I was driving to work at 45 miles per hour because she didn’t get out of third anymore. I also couldn’t reverse. So always parked where I could pull our forward.
Last night, I got in my car and drove west. Away from my shitty journalism job. “Fake News!” was pretty much the truth at the paper now. No one did journalism. They rewrote press releases, made a phone call or two and called it a day. I made it as far as Waynesville, N.C.
After ditching my car, I went into Smackers. It looked like a cross between a church and an old 7 Eleven on the outside. With a pair of lips inviting all patrons in.
“I love this bar” a sign inside declared.
“Must be good,” I said out loud.
“What?” a middle-aged woman with a mullet said to me soon after.
“Oh, nothing dear,” I replied. “Just mumbling.”
“Mumbling, huh?” she said. “Have fun with that, hun.”
“I love this bar,” I scribbled in my notepad, noting the time and place for my memory banks.
I ambled over to the bar and ordered a beer.
“What kinda beer?” the barkeep asked.
“Anything but Budweiser,” I said matter-of-factly.
About a minute later, he brought me a Busch Light.
“I did say anything,” I mumbled.
“Yep,” the barkeep said. “Two, fiddy.”
I handed over a 20. He put the change in front of me. I scooted buck over to the edge of the bar and took a swig. It was rancid. But, fuck it. It’s a beer in bar in Waynesville, North Carolina, and my car’s dead along with my career and my love life.
At that exact moment, the jukebox came to life.
“When I’m alone in my room
I stare at the wall
And in the back of my mind
I hear my conscience call
Telling me I need a girl who’s as sweet as a dove
For the first time in my life I see
I need love…”
I bob my head up and down along with Cool James.
I look in the mirror at the bar to try and see who played this gem of my middle school days…
There she is, wearing a faded jean jacket and a pair of cut off shorts.
It’s 43 degrees outside. And raining.
Her perfectly permed hair has not been sullied by any of that. Or the smoke in the bar. I just notice that, yes, there is smoke in the air.
I walk over to her.
“I just noticed the smoke in here when I looked at you,” I said, wincing just enough I thought to prove that I was trying to be silly, yet smooth.
“Cigarettes,” she replied.
“Oh,” I replied, and walked back to my bar stool. I looked at the mirror, she wasn’t looking back at me.
“Hey barkeep!” I shouted over the last words “I’ll be waiting, I love you” echo from the speakers before dead silence. “What’s her name!”
Everyone in the joint turned to me. I felt for a moment like I was in Weird Science, but not really.
“Tara,” the barkeep said.
I thought it was a reply, but it was more of a call.
I looked at the mirror, she was walking up to me.
“Pick the next song,” she said after tapping me on the shoulder.
“Is it one of those internet jukes? Or does it have 45s or CDs?”
I looked at her reflection in the mirror. She was smiling.
“She strutted over and clicked a few buttons.”
I opened up my notepad and wrote down “Jim Dandy to the rescue. I love Ruby Starr.”