Maxine’s Still Got It Redux

It was in Arkansas, just past the crest of a hill that I ran afoul of the law. I saw him before he flipped on his lights, but not in time to brake much. I checked the speedometer. Eighty-five. That could mean anything. 85 is as far as the numbers go. I pulled over, feeling a little rattled. I’d really been moving back there and I knew it. God knows how much the ticket was going to be. The cop stood at my window, looking me over. “Afternoon ma’am. I need your license, registration, proof of insurance.” I handed him my license. “How old IS this car anyway?” he ventured. A ’93, I muttered in a small voice. The only registration I could find was from last year. My insurance card was from the last time I had re-upped it, not the time 2 weeks ago. He waited patiently while I fumbled around with my paper work and was kind enough to take what I could assemble without comment. I was becoming completely flustered. He came back from running my license, ticket book in hand, and said, “Do you know why I stopped you?” he asked. “Yeah,” I replied, “Maxine kinda got away from me.” Oh for the love of pete, I thought. I really try not to call my car by name in front of people who don’t know me. It makes them think you’re a bit nuts. Especially cops.

I’d left around noon. That meant it would be at least midnight before I got home, probably later. I’d been there nearly a month, but it didn’t matter. It was always hard to leave my daughter’s house. I loved them so. All of them. The day was long. And hot. The a/c hadn’t worked in the car for several years. Oklahoma was brutal. The sun blazed down, despite the huge black thunderheads I could see all around me. They always managed to be just off to one side, tantalizingly smelling ever so slightly of rain. There was a wrong turn coming out of Ponca City that made the drive fourty-five minutes longer right off the top and of course there was the standard “getting lost coming through Tulsa” event. I always get lost in Tulsa. All of the freeways on the west side of town claim to be closed and they cover the signs so you can’t tell which exit to take. All of the people who are from there just buzz right along on the “closed” freeways, but I am not from there and despite making a couple of trips through there every year for the last seven years, (during which time the freeways have ALWAYS been closed) I still haven’t figured it out. Since I have a good sense of direction most of the time, and am rarely “directionally challenged” (in spite of the evidence of the Ponca City snafu), Tulsa makes me angry and I don’t like it there. So another hour was wasted, ‘lost’ in Tulsa. Just outside Muskogee the rain that I had been traveling within smell of all day quit teasing me and came down in a torrential flood. It cut the heat for the merest moment, but raised the humidity to breath-defying levels. Finally I reached the Arkansas border. As I passed by Fort Smith the temperature began to moderate. Cool green trees surrounded me. I could smell the river below. I headed toward Conway, up hill and down, admiring the wildflowers and gazing longingly at the cool blue lakes at the bottom of the hills.

We’d been together a long time though, Maxine and I. She wasn’t a new car when I got her. In fact she was nearly 10 years old. Now I’ve had her more than 10 years. She is becoming elderly. In 5 more years she’ll qualify for an ‘antique’ tag. She’s hauled my kids and my grandkids, dogs, friends, innumerable plants and way more than her share of cow manure. One autumn I’d run across a deal on used landscape timber for $1 apiece. I must’ve bought 20 of them and had them delivered to the yard at work. Maxine hauled them home, 2 or 3 at a time (3 is the maximum number of 8 foot landscape timbers one can put in a mustang) over the course of the winter. The next spring we built the flower beds in the front yard. During the hauling phase a friend called one day, just about the time I made it to my home town. She was in search of a ride as her car was down. “Well”, I told her, “it might take me a minute. I’ve got three landscape timbers and a tree (a 4 foot althea I’d gotten an excellent price on) plus my luggage in here and I’m gonna have to go home and unload first.” After a rather long pause she managed a fairly subdued “Ok”. It was a really long time before she asked for another ride. Maxine’s name evolved over time. I tend to name the cars I love (and make no mistake, I love Maxine) so early on in our association I was trying out names. She wasn’t a ‘Betsy’ kind of car. Molly, Millie, Roxy, Sally….nothing seemed to fit. Then one day, shortly after having an “action movie marathon night” in which Mel Gibson’s work played a large role, my youngest son glanced at the car and said, “You know how some cars look like they’re grinning and some look like their sleeping? This car looks angry all the time.” Mad Maxine was born. “the Road Warrior Queen” came after numerous trips. Trips to Kansas, to Missouri, to Texas, Arkansas and Florida. Dallas, Wichita and Columbus. St Louis and St. Augustine. Trips to see grandchildren born, and friends pass. Once I took a trip in her to go meet a lot of people I only knew from the internet. Trips to go camping and trips to work. I’ve spent a lot of time in that car. You can see it in the debris collected in the back.

The hand that was about to open the ticket book paused. “What did you say?” he wanted to know. I stammered out some stuff about Maxine being what I called the car for short and how I’d had her a long time. My face was bright red and I was staring unwaveringly at my lap. The more I talked the crazier I sounded. Out of the corner of my eye I saw his lip start to twitch. “Maxine is the car’s name?” yes, I said. “But not her whole name?” A nod from me as I turned a darker shade of red. “Tell me her whole name.” he demanded. “Mad Maxine the Road Warrior Queen,” I replied, turning a color rarely seen in nature. I sneaked a look at my policeman, peeking up out of the corner of my eye. His lips were twitching and the corners of his eyes crinkled in a manner I have come to recognize. He put the ticket book in his pocket, folded his arms, placing on hand on his chin in such a manner that it effectively concealed his mouth and said, “Just what are you and Maxine doing out here today? I can see you’re not from here.” So I told him. I told him about my daughter’s surgery, and my grandkids and how hot it had been in Oklahoma that day as I drove along smelling the rain that wouldn’t fall, how good Maxine was to have come all the way without any trouble and what a wonderful car she was. I told him about the rain I’d come through and the rain I could see across the valley there that I still had to drive through before I could stop in Little Rock and have dinner with a friend. I told him about the 5 more hours I would have to drive in the smothering after dinner dark, through mostly vacant country, humid and still, before eventually reaching Mississippi.

Finally he said he’d heard enough. He lectured me a bit on the dangers of speeding and told me about fatalities in wrecks he had seen and how they looked. He expressed the opinion that my kids would probably be very upset to see me like that and my funeral would be closed casket, denying my grands a chance to say goodbye. He then told me that his radar was on the blink and he didn’t know how fast we were going but if he were forced to guess he would say at least 100. I must have looked impressed, because he then told me that my car didn’t look like it should be allowed on the road, let alone go anything like that fast. His final words to us were, “Ok Grandma, you and Maxine go on home now. SLOWER!” He was grinning openly when we pulled away.

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