It was just past the Elderberry Inn when I lost the RX-7 for the first time. By the time I crossed into Washington County they’d got their reward.
I’d been working a contractor job at the coast that summer, wiring up a new little shopping mall for the tourists. I’d spend the week working 10 or 12 hour days, and going back to my cheap motel room and crashing. Then I’d drive home as soon as I finished on Friday, see my friends and family, and head back late Sunday or early Monday morning. It was a pain in the ass but I was making so much money on overtime, I’d hoped it was worth it.
The drive back was always a lot of fun. Let me tell you about my car. Some car guys liked muscle: Mustangs, Trans Am, Corvette. They’re all right, I guess, for straight-line horsepower. But I liked it when the curves got a little twisty. Indy Cars use four cylinders, folks, and they use all four to their full potential. I had dropped my bucks on a little 2 door sedan from Japan, gutted it, and then dropped a finely-tuned 2 liter engine under the hood. Stiffened up the suspension, put tires on it that barely fit under the fender flares, then flared the fenders just a bit more to squeeze in a bit more rubber. What’s that guy in that silly star war movie the kids loved say? It may not look like much but it’s got it where it counts.
In my little yellow shitbox I could haul ass, and Friday nights, after a long week stringing up wires, all I wanted was to book it back to the City of Roses, to my own bed and to the people I wanted to be around. The sooner I got back, the more time I got there. I’d gas up, plug in my radar detector (in those days they were important), strap myself in and go.
And I enjoyed the trip back. The engine I’d rebuilt with my own two hands singing, stirring the gear shift to match the power to the hills and descents of the coast mountain range, the gut feeling of waiting to ease into the brakes at the last possible minute as the corner bent down and away. That was fun. That was living. Just me and my machine, and the lonely mountain highway that led from the Pacific Ocean, through the forests of western Oregon, until I reached the city lights of Portland.
Generally it’s an hour and a half. That’s if you follow the speed limits. I can make it in an hour, easy. I’d done it that way so many times, it was almost a dance. My best time was close to 50 minutes, though I don’t have any witnesses. You’ll have to take my word for it.
And this night was perfect. I was in the zone and felt I was close to setting a new record. My harness kept me affixed to the seat so I felt safe, my arms steered and shifted, and my feet moved from clutch to brake to go-faster without a thought in the world. I had the windows down just because air-conditioning had been the first thing to go; plus it was a warm summer night, even near the summit of the mountains. When I looked up, which wasn’t often, I could see the hard shining points of light in the indigo sky, and my halogen high beams gave a glow to the doug fir on either side of the asphalt.
I hadn’t climbed much at all when I came up behind the RX-7, a sleek white sports car. The driver wasn’t using their car at their full potential, though, and it was right around the speed limit. I had to mash the brakes to prevent rear-ending it. I cursed and downshifted and my engine’s whine matched the feeling of frustration I felt.
Highway 26 has curves and curves, and I was stuck behind this slowpoke asshole, but there wasn’t any safe place to pass for a while. I bided my time, knowing there’d be a passing lane soon, but knowing that didn’t make driving under 55 any easier. Every time their brake lights flashed, I’m sure I edged that much closer to an ulcer.
Finally I got my chance: the single lane east widened and split into two. The asshole in the RX-7, though, broke left and sped up. I just reached for another gear and floored it. The torque that my car still had at 60 MPH pressed me back in my seat, and I sailed by, passing the white sports car on their right.
A girl! – sorry, woman – in the passenger seat, a redhead, and in the driver’s seat a blonde. I was probably old enough to be their dad. No time for looking, though, the passing lane was running out fast enough. I could hear them shouting but not for long. I blew past them like they were standing still and then lost them behind the crest of a hill as I kept going. Once their headlights were no longer in my rear-view I slowed just a bit, just a bit. Bridgetown, here I come.
Long minutes went by as I kept three of four tires in contact with the road, left and right and the occasional straight, through lonely mountain highway. But when I’d glance back, every once in a while, I’d see the twin white lights appearing for a second from around a corner, or on top of a rise.
And they were getting closer.
I passed the turn off to Saddle Mountain and knew I was on the eastern slope. I could go a bit faster but I was in a groove, and for some reason I thought they were far behind me. What’s the first rule of Italian driving? What’s behind me does not concern me.
As long as it stays behind me. I thought I was doing a good job at making that happen.
In hindsight, I don’t remember which happened first, because they happened at almost the same time. Suddenly my rear view mirror was filled with the sharp glare of halogens, and over the sound of the engine and the wind in the windows came the chirping of my radar detector. The highway was just one lane in each direction but it was fairly straight. I grabbed for a lower gear and tipped into the brakes. My tires held on, and there was a hint of fishtail, and it felt like I was going to be torn into quadrants by my five-point harness, but the car slowed down and kept going straight ahead.
The lights behind me angled off to my left, going from my interior mirror to my driver’s side mirror. The little Mazda rotary engine hum got loud, louder, peaked, and then quickly dropped as the white sports car zoomed past. The redhead in the passenger seat was leaning half out the window, screaming cheerful obscenities at me and by God she must have taken off her shirt because I’m pretty sure I saw nipples. I don’t know. They went by pretty fast, considering our relative speeds.
Those crazy… girls (I want to keep this family friendly)! I yelled back at them but it was an incoherent shout; and I pointed at my radar detector with my shifting hand. Not likely they’d see anything inside the dark cockpit of my little Japanese sedan, though. Hey, I tried.
I glanced down at the speedometer and saw I was within spitting distance of the legal speed so I steadied the car. My heart must have been beating a hole in my chest.
Sure enough, as they kept going at full throttle, almost a quarter-mile ahead, there was a sudden flare of red-and-blues, and a white Oregon State Police cruiser pulled out of a parking lot for a rest stop on the left hand side of the highway, and gave chase to the girls in the RX-7, following them around a long curve.
When I passed the cop he was parked behind the white sports car, and he had his little coupon book out writing them out a reminder. I gave them a little toot of my horn and a wave as I went.