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The Spanish Gentleman
I snapped this photo last week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I’m not a car guy, but google tells me that this beauty is from the mid to late 80s. The rare coupè utility vehicle. Most people know this as an El Camino, but the wiki rabbit hole tells me that the El Camino became El Caballero (a Spanish Gentleman or horseman) in the mid 80s. Ford was the first US company to produce the car-truck and I would have loved to be in the conference room to see the mockups and hear the pitch that resulted in copy like, “the most beautiful thing that ever shouldered a load!”
When I let my thoughts run away, I think about the people in the car. A late twenties couple (Justin and Amy) that look happy to be cruising together. Whenever I see a couple at a stoplight, I’m always curious about the health of their relationship. I scan their faces and watch their interactions for a couple of seconds looking for signs. How many times have you been at a red light and seen some dickhead gesturing with his hands to a woman in the passenger seat who looks exhausted. She’s daydreaming about being anywhere other than in Chad’s Grand Cherokee listening to him pontificate about China’s control of the baby formula supply chain.
But Justin and Amy like each other. He’s finger tapping the steering wheel to what I imagine is CCR or Billy Squier or Zeppelin. This car only allows certain music to be played from its deck. Feel free to click one while you read along…
Amy’s wearing a pair of wayfarers with her hair up in a high pony and a mouth that is slightly curled up at the corners. She looks content at the moment.
Here’s the story that I came up with about the car.
After Justin’s folks split up, his Mom started dating a guy called Derek who rolled in a car just like this. Maybe the guy taught him how to fish or how to treat women. Derek smoked Camels while he drove and flicked the ashes out of those triangle tilting windows that they used to put in cars. None of Derek’s Big Johnson or Coed Naked T shirts had sleeves. Some of the cut off jobs were so severe that they showed his rib cage on each side. Derek was constantly under the car in the driveway with the hood popped with only his stonewashed legs showing. The car always needed some kind of tinkering. Derek would ask Justin to hop in the car and yell “try it now” as he made small tweaks with his wrench. He knew that Justin would get a thrill from being behind the wheel before he was old enough to drive. When the car finally turned over, Derek would slip out from underneath, climb to his feet and smile at Justin as he wiped his hands on an old rag that hung from his ass pocket 24 hours a day. I like to think of this guy as a decent man with flaws.
Justin’s stepdad died 12 years ago (Camels). He’d been half jokingly looking for this car for years when he found one on Craigslist for short money that needed work. I like to think about his friends with trade skills chipping in to help him make this thing cherry again. He’s got a mechanic uncle who helps him find junk parts and install them on nights and weekends. He’s got a friend who shows up with a small cooler of cold beers after his kids go to bed that barely knows how to put gas in his car but is happy to hold a flashlight and keep him company. An underemployed artist buddy uses YouTube to teach himself how to replace the rubber seal that prevents the sunroof from leaking. All sunrooves in the 80s leaked like colanders. When that work is done, they sneak in to the paint booth at an auto body shop that his buddy Lee works at to dust this thing in shiny black paint that was left over from a collision job. When it’s finished, he thanks his pals with a barbecue where they eat overcooked burgers and dogs and forkfuls of potato salad with the skins left on. They stand in the driveway sipping beer and quietly belching out of the corner of their mouths while they admire their work and trade stories about Derek.
Justin drives an F150 to his union pipefitting job on weekdays (which explains the 400 dollar Yeti cooler in the back), but on Sunny Saturdays in May he picks up Amy and they go fishing together in the Spanish Gentleman.
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