Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Dogged Drivers

Canines take road trip.

By Walter Jowers

MARCH 30, 1998:  A couple of weeks ago, two dogs hijacked their master's car and drove it into an old barn near London. The car smashed through a critical support post, and the barn came tumbling down, leaving a pile of scrap lumber where the barn had stood for 400 years. The dogs--a German shepherd named Brooke, and a Rhodesian ridgeback named Dindindy--were unharmed. "Dindindy must have chewed the hand brake loose," said dog owner Kate Wilson.

This whole calamity was set in motion when Wilson parked her car at the top of a hill and left the two mischievous dogs inside. Seconds later, the car was rolling, and the dogs had their heads stuck out the windows, sporting great, big dog grins.

Considering that dogs only have about 10 good years in 'em, this surely was the time of their lives. When you're a creature with no grasping tools other than paws and teeth, you don't get many chances to pilot a vehicle and bust up a barn all in the same day.

I feel oddly connected to these dogs. Just as they had their day to drive a car, human-style, I had a day to chase a car, dog-style.

When I was 15, my father, Jabo, bought me my first car, an electric-blue 1966 Corvair convertible. It had an air-cooled engine, in the trunk, like a Volkswagen. The engine was fed by four separate carburetors, which is three too many and a virtual guarantee of a defective air/fuel mix. For some reason, one of the spark plug wires came loose about once a day. So, at any given time, I might be hiccuping along on five cylinders, running way too rich or way too lean.

I was driving on a learner's permit, which meant that I was supposed to have a responsible adult in the car with me at all times. This wasn't possible, so I took Jabo. The first day I had the car, Jabo recommended that I practice driving on the abandoned football field, about a half-mile up the road from our house. After about 15 minutes of careful cornering and smooth stops, Jabo looked over at me and said, "Hell, boy, you're in the middle of a field. When are you going to cut some doughnuts?"

"What?"

"Cut some doughnuts," Jabo repeated, fixing his ice-blue eyes on me, over the top of his glasses. "Drive in circles real fast. It's fun. Go ahead and do it!"

So I cut the wheel to the left and punched the gas. Next thing I knew, it was raining dirt, grass, and sticks, right into the Corvair. Jabo sighed, "Don't drive under the roostertail, son." He looked down at the floorboard and shook his head. "That takes all the fun out of doughnuts." That was Jabo's last driving lesson.

The next day, I drove to North Augusta Plaza, an early precursor of a shopping mall. I pulled into a diagonal space in the middle of the parking lot and stopped. The Corvair had an automatic transmission, but oddly, there was no Park. I later learned that this was a function of the queer TurboGlide transmission, which had no actual gears in it. There was just some kind of hydraulic-fluid squirter driving a hamster-wheel device. The only thing that made the Corvair stay put was the parking brake, which was activated by a big handle under the steering wheel. So I pulled up the handle, got out, and walked toward the stores.

Just then, horns started honking and people started yelling. My Corvair was creeping across the parking lot, picking up speed, and heading for a parked Buick. I sprinted to the Corvair, and in one graceful move vaulted over the driver's side door and landed with my right foot on the brake pedal.

This stopped the car, but it also threw me over the windshield and onto the hood. The Corvair started rolling again, closing in on the Buick. I climbed over the windshield, sat down firmly in the seat, and stopped the car. As I drove away, I heard applause from the people in the parking lot.

Days later, Jabo heard about Ralph Nader's anti-Corvair book, Unsafe at Any Speed. That evening, Jabo traded the Corvair for a big-ass Impala. A year later, I wrapped the Impala around a telephone pole. If I'd been in the Corvair, that would've been the end of me--I would've lasted about as long as a dog.


Visit Walter's Web site at www.nashscene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.


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