Friday, April 6, 2012

The Psychedelic Drive

When I was in Vietnam, I saved most of my pay with the intention of buying a brand new car when I returned home. I accumulated enough money to buy just about any car I wanted. During the considerable lulls in the war, I spent a lot of time looking through car magazines., trying to make an informed Passing timedecision. I didn’t want to buy a big car, but in 1968 even the midsized and compact cars were large by today’s standards. It was a big year for ‘muscle cars’. For around $3,000, I could buy any number of cars that were ridiculously over-powered, which appealed to some part of my young male ego. A few of the cars I was considering were: the Plymouth Road Runner/Dodge Coronet Super Bee with a 335hp 382ci V-8 or if I felt I needed to go a little faster,  the Dodge Charger with a 375hp magnum 440ci engine (wings were optional). At $3,500 this beast was pushing the limits of my finances. I also considered a Chevy Camaro Z-28, a Malibu 396 Super Sport, a Pontiac GTO with a 350hp 400ci engine or an Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 with that same engine. The Cutlass was a main contender for a long time. One of my fellow soldiers told me it had a large comfortable back seat and being just 20 years old, I had a wild and vivid imagination about what I could do back there.
When I returned to the States and was home on my 30 day leave, I abandoned all plans to buy a muscle car and bought an MGB GT instead. I had owned an MG prior to entering the Army. I loved sports cars, and the sports car image appealed to another side of my nature, the more sophisticated side that spoke French and loved literature. It was the first year MG came out with this hard top hatchback design. The back seat folded down which allowed for a surprising amount of storage space. The car cost $3,200 and with the rest of the money I had saved, I had the dealership install an eight-track tape player with custom speakers. The seats in an MG are low and the speakers were mounted high on the door panels. This gave a stereo effect that was like sitting inside of a big head-phone. I loved it.

The car was canary yellow with black interior. On the day I bought it, I was outside in the parking lot of my parents’ condo wiping it down. My parents lived in Jeffersonville, Indiana at the time, right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. My dad was standing there keeping me company, when one of the neighbors, an older man with a big belly, idled over to us. Dad introduced me to the man and told him I was just back from Vietnam. He didn’t comment but kept looking at my new car. Finally, dad asked him, “What do you think of my son’s new car?” The guy took his time responding, “What kind of car is it?”
“It’s a brand new MGB GT. I just bought it today.” I proudly replied.
“It looks like a god-damned peanut.” Was all he said before turning and walking back to his condo. What did that fat old guy know anyway. I thought the car was beautiful.
I had been out of touch with popular music for over a year, so on a foray to a music store in Louisville, I bought some of the latest 8 track tapes. The Beatles had just come out with “The White Album”, a double album of all new music. I was very excited about it and true to the Beatles, and except for one long track, Revolution #9, they didn’t disappoint.  I think John was hitting the drugs a little too hard on that one.  I also bought the following: Wheels of Fire, the new Cream album. At the time I thought their first album, Disraeli Gears, was the best rock album of all time. I didn’t expect them to top it and I was right. The album was good but not great, The Rascals’ Greatest Hits, this was a great band.  Strange Days by The Doors. Most groups that have an excellent first album, fall short on their second, but Jim Morrison proved to be a major creative force for many albums to come, Jimi Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland another double album containing some of Jimi’s best songs.
When my 30-day leave was over, the drive back to Fort Hood, Texas proved to be a most spectacular welcome home. For about two years I had been out of touch with American culture, immersed in military life. I had not yet come face to face with the hostility of the young towards us soldiers. It was November and my route took me through Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas at the height of the fall foliage. I deftly maneuvered the MG through the Appalachian and Ozark mountains, the car an extension of my body, the road an extension of the car. The landscape passed by my peripheral vision as a multicolored manifestation of the music, a total psychedelic experience with no drugs involved.
I had one more year to serve and when I got out. I planned to travel Europe with my friend, Paul, and then enter college. I had my whole life ahead of me. Except for the nightmares, life was looking pretty good.