One of my favorite smells is a mixture of cigarettes and diesel fuel. T’is true. Pop drove a truck for a living and wasn’t around much when my sister and brothers and I were young. Pop coming home was a big deal. Shit, Pop being home was a big deal. He once picked me up from the nurse’s office at school after a pre-Brownies ‘lunchbox to the head’ incident. I hadn’t known he had come home during the day and freaked when I saw him; arms wrapped around his neck, big hugs and probably some (more) tears. The ladies in the office must have thought I hadn’t seen him for weeks and I probably hadn’t. When he would come home after bedtime, I remember being woken up with a rough hand on my forehead and the smell of cigarettes and diesel fuel in the room. That was a good smell. Pop was home, at least for a little bit.
Pop messed with cars as a kid, dropped out of high school and joined the army. He was going to be a mechanic but ended up being a recovery and evacuation specialist. They drove wreckers and 10 ton Dragin’ Wagons that hauled army tanks.
He had a project going on in the garage all the time that I can remember. He rebuilt a Triumph 500cc Daytona into a chopper with a Springer fork that his welding buddy Wally up the street raked at about 30 degrees. He thinks it was a ’63 or ’64. This all I learned later, but at the time I just knew that it had a sparkly blue gas tank with two lace stripes down the center and riding on the back of it was the best thing in the world. I was really young. My head must have bobbed around on my little neck under the weight of the helmet, which sounds adorable, like a baby bird. It had a tall, metal sissy bar that I’d constantly bang the helmet on when we took off due to the wobbly neck thing. My job was to throw down the hand signals when called out, “Gimme a Ralph…gimme a Louie!” I recently asked him why a Triumph, and he said the British bikes were popular then, Triumphs and BSA’s. Then I asked why the chopper. “Those were the thing man, I mean, who wanted a 500cc Triumph back then?” Uh, me?! He ended up selling the chopper to a buddy named John, who was an Outlaw rider in Chicago at the time.
There were always engine parts and oily rags around. He forever had grease under his nails and in the cracks of his big, gorilla hands that would never fully wash off. (We used to say we were going to cut them off, polyurethane them and sell them as ashtrays.) He’d run boat engines in a metal garbage can filled with water. He worked on all of our cars as we got older, because he was usually the one to have found them for us. He’d haul them back home from the rust free areas of the states. Change the oil, tweak them, tune them, diagnose any issues, etc. I remember him tasting stains on the driveway to determine what exactly was leaking. Yes, safety wise, not so concerned I guess. He seemed to always have a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth directly over whatever engine he was working on. You’d watch the ash get longer and longer…then he’d flick it off to the side at the last minute.
The last project car he had was the Firebird. He got it in the 80’s and still has it. He used to take it to the drags with his buddy who did the body work and said it could do 91mph in 15 seconds and that it was “not bad for a sleeper.” The Bird is currently completely pulled apart in his garage in Kentucky. He has been saying he is going to get it running again for the past 10-15 years…but nothing. I guess you could say he’s stuck. And me, today on my 46th birthday, have to admit that I’m also a bit stuck, been feeling this way for over a year now. Something must be done. Hence, project ‘Pop my Ride’ has officially begun.