One of my earlier recollections of the Grand Lemans was from when I was about 5. My mother was going to take me to McDonalds for lunch, and I was so excited I almost passed out. I was going to punch Grimace right in his fat, stupid, nightmare- inducing face. But as is known to happen, fate intervened in the form of a poorly timed and excecuted decision on my part. While my mom was off doing mom things, I decided to take the keys to the Lemans and head outside.
(At this point you the reader are probably painting a picture of a 5 year-old dressed in Osh Kosh B’Gosh over-alls, joyriding down a main thorough-fare, tongue hanging out, and George Thorogood blasting out of my rolled down windows, cops in tow.)
Alas, this is not the case. If it were, I’m pretty sure someone would have died. Probably not me, as we all know 5 year olds are immortal.
Instead of engaging in an awesome adventure like you’re supposed to do when you steal keys, I proceeded to walk down the driveway to the street and drop the keys into the sewer.
I don’t recall much more about that day, other than being surrounded by extremely angry adults who spent a good portion of the afternoon trying to fish the keys out – with success I might add.
Predictably, McDonalds was no longer on the menu, replaced instead by tuna fish sandwiches WITH the crust still on and the rest of the day in my room. I possibly ate some play-dough out of spite as well.
My very first memory of going on a road trip was from when I was about 2 years old. My parents strapped me into the carseat, on what I can only imagine was a typically frosty march morning - and we left the frozen tundra of Southern Ontario, en route to the greener, biker-infested pastures of Daytona Beach, Florida. The car that would take us to this French-Canadian, Ontario snow-bird, Hells Angel laden paradise, was the midnight-black 1979 Pontiac Grand Lemans, with a Chevy V8, 305CU, and a tanned interior. At this point in my life, I was too young to have the foresight to predict what a big part this car would play in my formative years. Let’s be honest, I still peed in my rubber pants.
As for the drive to Florida? I can remember barely being able to remain lucid enough buried under luggage in the backseat to retain thought, but yet being oddly transfixed by Double’s “The Captain Of Her Heart” serenading me with their vapid and sleep-inducing melody. I also recall throwing up arrowroot cookie all over myself, filling my diaper and possibly being changed in a Savannah, Georgia Cracker Barrel.
Road Trips amirite?
Months after the keys incident, I escaped the gaze of my parents once again, and hopped into an unlocked 1985 Dodge Colt, put it in neutral and ended up across the street on my neighbours lawn.
This would happen one more time, before my parents got rid of the Ol’ Colt 45.
For the record, my parents were not neglectful, in fact far from it. I was just a terrible child who knew how to work the system.
It was around 1987, that my dad begrudgingly sold the first NEW car he had ever bought, to my Uncle. And like that, Black Beauty was gone.
Years went by, and my dad amassed quite a shitty collection of questionable purchases. A Cream –of-mushroom soup coloured Oldsmobile Cutlass (the one that looks like half of a stop-sign), a Plymouth Caravelle, a Ford Tempo with three different coloured doors, a Dodge Magic-wagon, and possibly a Lada for good measure. It was like a never ending parade of someone’s automotive garbage being dumped on our driveway. The only difference was, these were willingly purchased by my Father, ever the connoisseur of ‘quality deals’, multi-coloured doors not withstanding. In Grade 9, or 1994 for those of you who care about timelines and consistency, my dad bought the Grand Lemans back from my Uncle. Walking home from school that day was one of the best feelings in the world. Usually I was filled with angst and dread as school for me in Grade 9 consisted of Hi-jinx, Tomfoolery and rabble-rousing – all of which would be relayed to my parents by the school at end of day. So some(most)times my walk home would take longer than others, but this particular day was not one of those occasions.
I got home that day and there she was, the black girl of my dreams, sitting on our driveway.
My dad had the hood popped, and I walked over to take a gander. However, the interior of the car caught my attention. My Uncle owned three dogs and it was very clear that these three dogs had spent some quality time engaging in horseplay in the car.
The interior was shredded to shit. It looked like someone threw a Tasmanian Devil and a feral cat into the car and let them go to town.
Outside, she was just as gorgeous as the day she left.
On the inside, she was as aged as a Hollywood Blvd Streetwalker, just happy to be alive.
My dad made quick work of the old interior. To this day the decision he made on the new interior is still one of his better ones. And I’m including Career, family, financial…all the ‘important’ stuff.
The old man replaced the eviscerated, tanned 67 year-old Floridian woman acting as the current interior, with RED VELVET PLUSH!!!! Dashboard, steering wheel, seats, mats, everything…and replaced the wood grain accents throughout. My dad had literally transformed Black Beauty into a certified pimp-mobile. A whitewalls showin, exhaust blowin, pimp.
And I don’t think he realized it one bit, which is odd because he was a police officer.
Two years later in Grade 11, I received my license, and off to school I drove. The high school I went to was home to a diverse collection of cultures and economic backgrounds. My first week in Grade 9, we were on the news twice for violent incidents. If you watched your back, hung out with the right people, and knew the right dudes – you were fine.
Having a police officer for a father was something I kept under my hat. Only a select group of friends knew what my dad did, and looking back on it - this was a good thing.
It’s hard enough to make friends, especially if your dad arrested them the night before.
And super- especially if your dad would periodically run background checks on your buddies.
But what I found out those first few licensed weeks in Grade 11 was that Black Beauty was now the great equalizer.
The first morning I rolled into our parking lot, was like I was marshalling my own parade. Everyone stopped and looked at this Black piece of ass, busting its way through the crowd. In my dad’s opinion, the exhaust needed work, but in my opinion it sounded perfect. Eat Shit Ozone!!
Black Beauty quickly became a conversation piece. All my Latino buddies and several assorted gang-bangers tried to convince me to lower it and put in some bass cannons. My black chums wanted my dad to raise it up, and put some Dayton’s on it. My white buddies wanted to drive around in it and heckle the hookers in the neighbourhood. My dad just wanted me to ‘put some goddam gas in it for once.’
I gained a lot of respect from some pretty crazy people at my school and in my neighbourhood, and I have Black Beauty to thank for that. I would come out during lunch and people would be hanging around her, because just being in the vicinity of Black Beauty made you infinitely cooler. Driving Black Beauty to school was the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning. I petitioned for Black Beauty to be in the yearbook that year but the Vice Principal said ‘we don’t put fucking cars in the yearbook’. The next morning over the P.A. he also said “if anyone has information about the donuts that appear to have occurred on the front lawn last night, it would be of great interest”.
But like Jesus once said, “All good things must come to an end”.
Around the twilight of my high school career, Black Beauty started developing some liver spots. My father and I found ourselves bleeding the brakes with increasing frequency. The transmission started to stumble, and it was becoming a chore to get her into second gear. It was clear that we should start making ‘arrangements’.
Then one day, while driving along the main strip, the rear axle collapsed while I was making a right turn.
If I had a shotgun, I would have put her down right there. But this is Canada, and I don’t have one ‘just lyin around’.
My dad came and met me, and I could see it in his eyes. Normally a stoic, emotionless cop-bot, he broke down in tears in the intersection mouth agape to the heavens... ‘WHHHHYYYYYYY!!!!’.
That didn’t happen, but once just show some emotion you know Dad? Just once.
Soon after her collapse, Black Beauty was put out to pasture. She was sold to a nice elderly couple. Or A friend. I can't actually remember as bereavement can impair memory. Occasionally my dad would run the vehicle number to see she was still on the road breaking hearts, alas she was a ghost.
To this day I still have dreams where I am cruising around in her, windows down blasting Cypress Hill or Pantera. The dreams are always vivid, and I can feel the V8 rumble when I slam the gas, and lay down some tread. And then I wake up, and look out the window to see my 04’ Saturn Ion sitting in the driveway, unaware that I’ve been thinking about another woman. These dreams leave me feeling empty, and I wish I could stop having them.
However, if this is the only way I’ll get to see Black Beauty, I’ll take it.
A car like a 1979 Pontiac Grand Lemans comes along once in a lifetime, and if you’re lucky enough to make friends with one, savour each moment and make sure you treat her with respect.
NO NEUTRAL DROPS!
Currently sitting in my father’s garage, is another beauty from 1979 – a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am, 403CU 6.6L – the screaming chicken. It has sat in there since 1995, collecting dust. But this sordid tale friend, is a story for another day.
Mired In The Grey is currently employed in the Creative Field. Whatever that means. Actually he knows what it means. It means he makes no money, and fights stray dogs in alleyways for food and/or money depending on the wager. Also, an avid supporter of PETA.