Monkey wrenches 

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Junior is 17 now, and shows no interest in driving, or even taking the driving test. It's got his Old Man a little concerned, and not just because we're running a car service for one these days.

When Yours Truly was a lad, the world so much smaller and the TV with only three fuzzy channels plus AETN, we were itching to drive. We got a learner's permit literally the first day we legally could, then returned for our driver's license the first day we could get that. By then, we'd long since owned a car — a pearl white 1963 Chevrolet we bought for two-hunnert bucks at a garage sale — and turned half the bolts on it.

Cars are in The Observer's blood. By 10 years old, we could name the make, model and year of nearly every car we saw on the streets, Ford Model-T Ford to brand new, reading the unique Detroit fingerprint of bumper and taillight. Our dear old Pa's car stories were campfire tales when The Observer was young: the big block powered Impala he owned when he was dating The Observer's Ma and lived in Memphis — the car he claimed could make the run between the Tennessee line and Little Rock in just over an hour, flying low in the dark like a chrome-trimmed missile. The similarly hot Ford Galaxy he bought for a song, beat all the windows out of with a pickaxe, then took stock-car racing at the Benton Speedbowl a time or three before he barrel rolled it over a fence and Ma told him no more. Pa's trips back and forth to California as a lad, in the backseat of whatever junker his wanderlusting father could scrounge up in College Station, every time his father swearing this would be it, California for good this time, but always boomeranging back six months later, the gravity of Arkansas as strong then as it is now for native sons and daughters.

The Observer has our own car stories, of course, and we have sung them to Junior since his birth: Hermann Boring, the vanilla 1965 VW beetle we drove to college; Stealth Bomber, the blue 1984 Mercury Cougar we piloted on our first date with his mother; Leroy Brown, the '74 Dodge pickup we rattled around in as our fondness for that pretty girl turned to love and then to surety that she was The One; AT-AT, the white Chevy Blazer dear old Pa bought for us as a wedding present as we prepared to ship out for grad school in the snowy wastes of Iowa; Granny, the green Crown Victoria that bore Junior home from the hospital in Lafayette, and which saved his dear ol' Dad's life just before Junior's second Christmas when a guy ran a stop sign and T-boned her, sending us spinning into traffic and a multicar pileup.

What with all those nuts and bolts floating around in our DNA, we don't know what to do with Junior's automotive apathy. By his age, we'd already rebuilt a half-dozen engines and owned three cars. It's a different world, we suppose, with different priorities. The kids these days are able to go anywhere on the planet with just a few clicks of the keyboard. To a lot of them, Junior included it seems, a car isn't about freedom or individuality or motorvatin' out past the city lights. It's just a conveyance, no more tied to their identity than a refrigerator with wheels. Doesn't compute for The Observer, who can still name the make and model of nearly every car we see on the street. But so much of raising a child, we've found, is coming to grips with the idea that the goal isn't to make a clone of yourself in appearance, thought and deed. Some people never get that. Still, The Observer does wish Junior would go ahead and get his driver's license. He doesn't have to love cars like his Old Man did, but we'd sure like a ride to the grocery store every once in a while.


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