A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Silvie's back

Mercedes-Benz 450SL
Five years ago, I was driving a van with a couple of hundred thousand miles on it, and starting for the first time in my life to pay attention to makes and models. I'd had a driver's license since age 16, a car of my own since age 21, but I'd never actually picked out a single one of my own automobiles. Now for the first time I was coming up on the time I'd have to make a car decision. At some point, the van was going to stop running; I'd find out it needed a new transmission or a new engine or a new something else not worth putting into it, and then I'd have to act quickly. I didn't know a Cadillac from a Kia at that point....nor did I care. All cars looked basically alike to me, or at least equally uninteresting.

Till one night when I pulled up into the parking lot of Spag's next to a muscular little beauty. I walked all around it, trying to figure out what kind of car it was. A Toyota MR2 Spyder, turned out.

"Now that's a car I like," I said to my kids. Not that I could afford it--but at least I liked it.

"But Mom," one of them replied. "That car doesn't even have a back seat. It doesn't fit your lifestyle."

A lightbulb went off in my brain. "Well, if this is the kind of car I like....and it doesn't fit my lifestyle....maybe I should change my lifestyle."

And I did. By summer, I had bought a sports car I liked even better than the Spyder: a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL hardtop. I christened her Silvana, after Silvana Gravini, a smart, hip, and talented woman of my acquaintance, who looked like Botticelli's Venus, and whose name was--to me--the loveliest of her many enviable attributes.

No more taking the trash to the dump. Ali inherited the van and that chore right along with it. No more carting the drums around...or the bikes. No more chauffering the boys and all their friends. No room!

Instead, I popped the top down and cruised to Ogunquit the first weekend I got her. The 65-mile-each-way commute to Intel became a long, pleasurable joyride. People honked and waved at me (well, at her), screeched to a halt to give us the right of way, inquired as to her pedigree at red lights. Or tried to buy her. Fellow employees started to chat me up. My car pool buddy, Robert Marco, who had professed to dislike convertibles, took to calling her "the Orgasmatron."

For a couple of years, it was just gas and go. Then she started to show her age. By last year, she needed to be hospitalized for a while. I took the plates off of her when it became apparent that getting parts was going to take some time, and that top-down weather would be almost over by the time she was sprung from Daigle's Steer-o-Master. At that point, I was living downtown, working from home, and had access to another car. It just didn't make sense to drive her in the winter and risk a lot of salt damage.

So she spent the winter huddled under a tarp. With no plates, she couldn't be driven around the block once a week, and I didn't start her up often enough to keep the battery charged. Convertibles began appearing as the weather turned nice, and I began to worry about what would be involved in getting her back on the road again.

Enter George Vazquez, neighbor and friend. We were having coffee on his back porch the other morning, and I happened to mention that Silvie was going plateless these days. He was shocked. "You have to get her back on the road," he insisted. Her battery's dead, I told him. Well, you need a battery charger, he replied. I have a battery charger, I told him. I'm just too afraid of electricity to use it.

Five minutes later, we were in my driveway. I got the battery charger; he pulled off the tarp and popped the hood. While the battery charged, George checked the belts, lights, horn, air filter, fluids, and made a list of things that needed to be tweaked or changed. Then he started her up. She smoked and sputtered at first, but after twenty minutes, the exhaust was running clean, and her beautiful throaty purr was back.

"I'm a mechanic, you know, " George told me. "I don't want you to think I don't know what I'm doing."

"Get out of here!" I said. "You're a paralegal and a politician."

"But I'm a Puerto Rican," George said. "All Puerto Ricans are mechanics. That's all we did, growing up, was tinker with cars. Old cars. Nobody had money to pay for a service station. So we can fix anything."

We made a plan for servicing her, and garaging her, too. George promised to take me to see a friend of his who was an insurance agent. I promised to start her up every day and let her run for a few minutes.

So I'm a happy girl again. George is running for State Rep this year, and so I asked him what favors he was going to request as payback. Did I have to be his campaign manager or something? He just laughed and said, no, he was only being neighborly. But I see a vision of myself come November, shivering at an intersection, holding up a sign that says, George Vazquez for State Rep.