In late adolescence, I heard a song. It was called "Los Angeles," and it was by an outfit called X, who were quite possibly the greatest band to come out of this town in the late '70s-early '80s, and still proudly stand as one of the city's all time great groups. It appealed to my shambolic state at the time. I was often the smartest kid in the room, almost rock 'n' roll, and hopelessly out of step. I was also loud, fast, obnoxious, and fancied myself poetic. My El Camino had Torq-Thrusts with BFGs, white letters out, with the rear slightly jacked up. I had long hair a la Chris Cornell, but even attempting one of his shrieks would rip my vocal cords out.
I wish I could say that the moment I heard that song, I cut my hair, my bad poetry improved, I ditched the truckcar and started getting laid regularly. But no, that didn't really happen. On the other hand, tooling around in said El Camino, with X on the eight-watt-per-channel JVC, crusing the East Bay from Richmond to Martinez to Moraga with eight (admittedly weak) cylinders underfoot; a sense of ass-lightness and derring-do inspired by the glory of Camino-ness and hormones with no sign of calming down personified the ultimate calm-plus-anxiety equation of driving.
Bumbeck and I were talking about why the drive from LA to Monterey and back left us tired, when all we were doing was sitting on our asses. Why? Because we were fighting for our lives. The act of driving takes it out of you, even when you the car lulls you into feeling like you're not doing anything. It can be a fantastically pleasurable experience, the likes of which nothing really compares to. But when you have to worry about cops and/or death, especially when you're poor, it livens things up a bit.
Also, we're old. In the grand scheme of things, we're not the do-anything twentysomething punkers we used to be. And Bumbeck even exercises, which is largely more than I can say for myself. Regardless, we were both fatigued. Riding along on the Gumball 3000 was a masochistic wet-nightmare of such shenanigans. Strangely, the Kia Sorento we were in was so dirt-simple to drive. Its quirks weren't endearing; they were annoying. The interior fit and finish was frankly wonderful for the price — the amenities were things you were lucky to find in a near-luxury car a decade ago. Overall, feature-wise, how could one beat it? It could be beat because the thing felt like it was trying to kill us in entirely improper ways. Take its atrocious insistence on hewing hard left under emergency-stop conditions. No modern car has an excuse for that sort of behavior. On the other hand, my El Camino once power-oversteered across I-80 in the rain. Why do I love it more, then? Because it actually tried to kill me instead of just kind of tried to? The Sorento will outbrake and out-accelerate a basically-stock '75 El Camino. It's also a safer vehicle, despite the center-of-gravity disadvantage. On the other hand, it doesn't smell as good. It doesn't say anything about you. "I banged a stupid-hot Misfits-loving teenage French exchange student in my Sorento," just doesn't pack the same je ne sais quois, either in a poem, barroom bullshit session, or an essay.
In essence, the perfect car is a totem — a stand-in for one of those perfect times in your life, no matter how screwed up it is or was. I was born in 1975, and tellingly, most of my perfect cars hail from the hoonpower-wacked '60s or the exceptions to the Malaise Era. The AMG Hammer, the all-iterations 308, the F40, the Countach, the A&E-bodied 340 'Cudas, the Buick GS, the Starion, the Lotus Europa, the 240Z, the Pierre Cardin AMX, the E36 and the CRX. Today's face-melting cars may disfigure one's visage faster, but they refuse to melt it harder than their ancestors. On the other hand, you young bucks and oldsters may well —- and validly — hold a different opinion. The perfect car is subjective. It is a matter of time and place. And when it grabs you, it never quite lets go. Craig Jackson's made a mint off of that very fact and earned my eternal ire in the process.
Eventually, I did cut my hair, ditch the truckcar and get up to my ears in sniz. Today I drive the most dangerous car I've ever owned. And it's not really fun unless I'm in danger of killing myself or everyone around me. It makes me miss a time when a frozen spoon applied to the bruise as a way to ease appearance of the hickies was a crafty, innocent, perfect salve; when Kim Coletta of Jawbox would write back about my young meditations on perfect things because it was the punk thing to do — even after they were signed to Atlantic — or Joshua Clover would send my Creative Writing teacher a Jawbreaker record and it would thrill me for weeks when Blake Schwarzenbach would sneak me into sold-out shows or when the aforementioned mid-to-late-'40s prof drove around proudly with a Screeching Weasel sticker on her bumper.
Those things don't exactly last in the way one first experiences them. One's world grows larger and more complex, and it's a good feeling as you age. (I was born in '75.) My dad was right about continually having one's head stretched and punching every ticket that came along. The older one gets, paradoxically, the more those opportunities come up, and often, the more one has to pass them up. But the perfect car remains, frozen in time, like the aforementioned bruise-quelling spoon. It will always smell right. It will continue to sort of try to kill you. It will frustrate you. But it will always be perfect. Even if you didn't know it at the time.
"Fast as a Shark" is an electronic broadside aimed at what has been historically right and terrribly wrong with the automotive industry and culture. Udo Dirkschneider's car is always perfect.