The Fantasy Test Drive – Part 1
It was five years ago this week when, with a predestined wild hair making itself known, I bought my new 350Z. I traded in a perfectly good 2000 Maxima for it. It was really the first time that the dealer had a reasonable supply of new Zs, and he knew what he had; I had been salivating over the car since I saw my first one a few months earlier and I knew what I wanted, so I paid sticker and got the car, a Base Model in LeMans Sunset for $27, 600. — Plus tax, and with a $16, 000 trade-in squeezed from the Max I had the car I’d been waiting for, for all those years. I paid the difference in cash. The car was MINE.
Within a week, I had arranged to take all my accumulated vacation time at work, and I had planned out my first, computer-created vacation itinerary. On April 22 back in ’03–when the War in Iraq was but a month old and Premium was $1. 39.9, me and the Z set out on a marathon journey that was part wish-fulfillment and part humungous test-drive. When I left my driveway the Z had 1, 006 miles on her. When we got back, there were 11,000 on her. The Z had gone, in 22 days, from a baby-fresh new toddler to a seasoned athlete, and she had the stone chips and glass chips and the Rocky Mountain dust to back that up.
Wish fulfillment, the desire to FINALLY live out your fantasy, only gives you one chance to act. The right orbits have to intersect, the right chords have to strike, the planets need to line up, and when it gets like that, well, you act.
For the first time ever, I had the money, I had the time, and I had the best car that I could get my hands on. I HAD to go into action, to grab the Gold Ring and take the Ultimate Road Trip, my Fantasy realized.
I left Florida at dawn, drove strictly at the limit and was drinking 4-for-one Beck’s in a reggae-oriented bar on Bourbon Street at sunset. I had driven the length of Bourbon in the Z and was swiftly becoming aware of how much attention my orange car (that NOBODY up ’til then had seen) attracted as I cruised through the drunken masses.
The next day I hung around NOLA and almost went to the Jazzfest, but it rained so I went to Houston, where I have friends, spent a day there and stayed 2 days in Dallas, where I also have friends. I used to live in Texas.
The car got its first major scrape in Dallas. I had deliberately gotten into the habit of parking the Z in the far reaches of the parking lots, away from the average car slobs–the ones who don’t care if their door bashes yours. You know who I mean.Well, at my Dallas motel, there was a small section of parking WAY out at the end, so there was where I parked. When I got up at dawn to leave, I couldn’t believe what I saw–a raggedy minivan was parked so close to me that I could not open the Driver’s door. There were fifty unused parking slots around us, but LOOK what they did!!!
As I approached the van, I saw the gash in the Z. Right next to the door handle and trailing back three inches under the back window was a deep, through-the-paint-to- the-white-undercoat scrape, scarring the car irrevocably. I was HOT!!! I tried the van’s door and it was unlocked and the arc of the door matched the path of the scrape.I climbed through the passenger space, steam fuming from my ears, and carefully backed the Z out of it’s slot. Then I put my boot to the side of the van until I began to see glass shatter and I realized that I could injure myself if I kept it up.
It was at that point that I left Dallas for El Paso where the Z climbed its First Mountain–along Scenic Drive. (Along the way I saw the Second Largest Meteor Crater in The US, out in oil-pumping country near Odessa).I stayed in El Paso, out near the Army base, and I met a bunch of young recruits on their way to war. They were Z freaks, and one of them knew more about my car than I did. I did NOT take the Z into Juarez. Instead, I parked near the border and walked into Mexico. It was a Sunday, 9 AM. In El Paso, the Z was the only traffic. In Juarez there was a sea of traffic, the place was as busy as hell.
If Disney ever did a Theme Park showcasing the absolute Armpits of the Third World, Juarez would be its model. I can see it–Goofy in rags, Mickey begging in squeaky Spanish and Cinderella in a short, tight skirt, all living in the same apartment on a dusty street in Poor-Land, dodging syringes that fall from the sky. That could be the thrill ride, avoiding beggars, Mexican whores and falling bottles, only at high speeds. At the end are Tortilla Sunrises at the pushcart restaurants and warm Pepsi available EVERYWHERE. Most people have shoes. Meanwhile, out in the parking lot, they’re stealing your car. It would be a great attraction. Disney’d make billions.
I learned at that moment just why Mexicans will do anything to get into the US. It’s not so much that they want to BE here, they just want OUT of Mexico. I walked back across the bridge to the car, feeling like an undocumented refugee and went to Globe, Arizona.
You enter Globe from the south, across trackless high desert. You leave Globe by winding down a steep mountain, filled with switchbacks and tunnels and soaring stone bridges over dry streambeds. There, the Z and I were passed by four candy colored rice-bikes, and the handling portion of the Z was about to be tested for the first time. I had diligently held to a break-in period of 3,500 miles where I would NOT stress the car, and in Globe I saw 3,250. I had owned the car for two weeks, I’d been On The Road for one. I’d been conservative across half the country. Good enough.
I followed the bikers through all of these swoopy roads, tailing them and doing everything they could do, only I had doors and a radio. We had the road to ourselves and we were DRIVING. I enjoyed the sound of their buzzy beehive downshifts as they bounced off the stone canyon walls, and I appreciated the Z’s more mature, base-note racecar exhaust as I rocketed through the keenly acoustic tunnels, tossing off shifts as though I was in serious competition.At the base of the mountain was freeway, cops and traffic, so we all slowed down, motored past the county sheriff and went on. The last I saw of the bikers was a goodbye wave as they zipped on down the freeway and into their future.
Well, the Z can sure handle. That part has been satisfied.
Then there was a day in Phoenix–more friends, my very first $2 gas and the first oil change; the Dealer touched up the ugly scrape (and did a very good job)–and finally, after an awful meeting of overpriced chimichanga and Dos Equies in Sedona, the Grand Canyon, where me and the Z went in the BACK way, through the Navajo Reservation along Rt 64. Just like the Indians, I had a Reservation at the Grand Canyon. Mine was in the Maswick Lodge, right near the Rim.It was unpaved, about to be repaved, and the roadbed was large pieces of granite and marble–25 miles of this–which made so many dings on the Z that it stopped mattering to me how beat-up my new car was getting, so I concentrated on the amazing scenery.
This can go long, and I don’t want to do that. There is a lot more to the big Test Drive. Later, Part Two. . .
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