Saturday, January 19, 2008

Building Warriors in Kensington Brooklyn


The old rusted corpse just laid there. Like some warrior wounded in battle, the Plymouth sat chained to the long galvanized steel gurney. The live blood of its body was slowly dripping out of its fluid lines and oil pan. Its soul was dying. With the diesel engine of the flatbed revving to a higher pitch, I could see my neighbors staring at it from their porch.
With sheer disgust in their faces, they just watched.

The driver got out of the truck and walked behind the cab, he pulled on one of the black levers. With the sound of an electric bed at Palm Gardens on Avenue C, the patient rose slowly towards the sky. Higher and higher it went, the motor groaned and whined until it stopped. The eyes of the Plymouth just stared at the smokestacks of PS 179 in the distance. Another greasy finger pulled another lever and the Plymouth started to roll gently down the bed. As the bald Goodyear’s slowly turned, a long rusty chain grew from underneath the front bumper. Growing longer and longer, until the car sat flat in front of my driveway. Like a fish with a hook in its mouth the rusty chain extended all the way up the truck, the Plymouth looked dead. The driver got on the ground underneath the front bumper and rattled the cold steel chains. A few moments later he dropped them to the ground. “Ok, she’s all yours.” With that he pressed another button, the flatbed retracted and the chain slowly grew shorter working it’s way back up the bed until the hook could only be seen from the large spool behind the cab. The red transmission fluid of the Plymouth filled the steel bed like blood. I paid the driver and he drove away.

Inside the car there was a human figure, he looked at me through the dirty window and smiled. One of my best friends, Peter LoBianco was sitting inside the old Plymouth since the pick-up at Avenel, New Jersey. Dust and dirt from the ripped headliner covered his hair. He slowly rolled down the window. “So Ronnie, should we give it a shot?” I just nodded my head “yes”. Peter stuck the silver key inside the black steering column. With his thumb and index finger on either side of the Chrysler Pentastar he turned the key towards the hood. With some struggle the starter motor slowly turned the gigantic flywheel with its tiny gears. Turning, turning, turning, until the engine awoke. With the sound of an old Jersey drag racer the Cuda rumbled a loud throaty sound. As blue smoke slowly filled the street my neighbors closed their porch door and went inside. We pulled it into my driveway, the sound was horrific.

Oh, so here we go again, another break-up, divorce or failed romance and Ronnie Lopez buys another car. Just a little something to distract him while he gets it together. No habit to pull me through you ask? Yeah, I had a habit, a real bad one too. They weighed around 3500 pounds, leaked oil, and smoked. And all I had to do was close the door of my garage and leave the real world behind me, never thinking twice about why that last relationship never really worked out, or even giving it another chance. No, forget romance and love for now, because you have an old steel warrior to bring back to life, and it’s going to take you months.

And your friends, well, there going to have to understand too, although sometimes they just didn’t get it. “Hey Lopez, what the hell you doing in this stupid garage all the time?” “There’s a big world out there”. “Just go upstairs and take a shower, we’re going into the city”. I guess that’s why I called them my friends. A night out in the Greenwich Village followed by some Pizza at Rays on 6th Avenue.
But then it was back to work.

Freezing winter nights sometimes turned the water to ice as I wet sanded the smooth red lacquer paint. Just fighting the elements until stone turned to glass. From the driveway of 399 East 4th, you could see the light glowing through the cracks in the door, sometimes till dawn. And on many occasions the “midnight auto repairs” resulted in some nasty letters from my downstairs next-door neighbor. The letters would just appear in the foyer of the house, simply addressed to “Ronnie”. After reading them I would always let her know that she’ll get the first ride around the block once I was finished.
“That’s not funny Ronnie” is all she would say.

And then the day would finally arrive, the moment to unveil out my own hand made “Faberge Egg” from my garage. It was my masterpiece, my novel, and my sculpture. It burnt hands, cut fingers and emptied my wallet. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. And most important, it helped me forget “what’s her name” for the past year or so.

So you look at her in all her glory, her engine is new and her paint shines like glass. You sit inside the new interior and turn the key. The brand new 440 Chrysler engine purrs like a kitten. You slowly back the Cuda out of the driveway, making sure not to make too much noise. You can see your neighbors again on their porch, even they look amazed. You park the car in your driveway and open the driver’s door; walking backwards you just admire it, feeling proud of your accomplishment. As you sit on your front stoop and look at the car, all you can say is ”it’s done, finally it’s done.”

Well, I still hold all those cars dear to my heart, and still drive them around Kensington once and a while. Like beautiful crystals in a cave they live in the darkness of my garage. But now a days I don’t get to work on the cars that much anymore, forget about painting them or re-building motors at twelve midnight. I just can’t seem to find the time, and besides, there haven’t been any failed romances lately either. You see my two children and wife keep me quite busy these days. And I can only thank one person for that. No one other than my next-door neighbor who looked at that Plymouth with anguish on her face the day we brought it on that flatbed.
Because she introduced me to my wife right after I finished my second car, and must have been planning it all along.

Ron Lopez

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5 comments:

Cousin Pete said...

You should dig out pictures of my '69 Custom S to show off additional pictures of your mastery with bodywork and paint. I still remember you and I racing home from Delaware County, in newly painted classic cars in the early eighties, chatting on CBs to avoid the troopers. Everybody's heads turned to see these beautiful old cars racing by....all to get Isabel to the Air Supply concert at the Westbury Music Fair....

noisejoke said...

I love your stories, Ron. I mostly grew up out on the Island but my family's mostly from Brighton Beach and Canarsie.
Anway, just catching up and for the first time couldn't help myself...holy crap, dude. Beautiful Mopar action! I'm speechless.
You ever bring them out for a Cruise? I've had lots of fun perusing the beasts out in Sussex County in NJ on Rt 15 where my daughter's horse is.

Ron Lopez said...

Noise,

I have yet to take the green one out this year except for an inspection on Ave C.
The other is upstate along with a 68 AMX roommate.
I promised myself to get them dirty this year.

My friend Peter from Wantagh LI got me hooked years ago.
He was a 57 Plymouth Fury an a original owner (himself) 72 Cuda. More Cudas and Challengers among the group too.

Thanks for reading!
Ron

Anonymous said...

Beatiful cars man, nice restoration work! I can remember when fixing up muscle cars was a family affair, my to older brothers always had Camaros over on E8TH st. 67, 68, and 69's. they even used the tree across the street to hang a chain hoist to pull numerous engines, and nobody complained, try doing that today. There is a pretty decent sized Mopar Club that meets out in Levitttown, check it out. Will

Sophie Club said...

ask Pete about Barbara and the 275GTB4