I woke up in a cheap hotel room in Billings just before dawn. Had tossed and turned all night. I never sleep well when I travel and the two slices of gas station pizza I’d shoved down for dinner in Bozeman hadn’t helped matters. I cracked open the blinds. Squinted out the window. Saw the on-ramp to I-94 East about three hundred yards away and a coffee hut between there and here that looked like it was open. Took a big yawn.
Twenty minutes later I’d showered and shaved and was shuffling out to my ride. Smiled when I saw it parked right where I’d left it, safe and secure in the very far corner of the lot, away from anything Buick or Dodge or F-150 that might ding or scratch or scuff it. It looked low and wide and mean in the purple-orange morning light as I slowly wandered up to it, savoring its clean lines and muscular stance every step of the way. I opened the door and slid in. The charcoal-grey cloth driver’s seat wrapped around me like an old friend and the door shut behind me with a solid, vault-like thunk. I pushed in the clutch and snicked the fat, leather-wrapped stick into neutral then put in the key. Gave it a twist.
Only a month earlier I’d walked into the showroom of Jaremko Nissan in Spokane late on a Friday evening. Nick, a fresh-faced salesman with too much cologne and a bad tie, met me at the door and said they were getting ready to close. I apologized but then explained that I’d just gotten off shift at the hospital and had to pull doubles over the weekend so I wouldn’t be able to come back until Monday and that I’d really wanted to do some business before then. Said I didn’t think it would take too long. That I knew exactly what I had in mind.
“I’m here to buy your 300ZX, Nick.”
The first time I ever drove a nice car was when I babysat a fraternity brother’s Porsche for a week or three back in my junior year at UND, and as much as I’d always loved my little white MGB, his sporty brown 911 seemed so much more of a car. Better screwed together. More precisioned. Cat-like through the corners with just enough push onto the straights. An edgy ride if you got it close to the limit and a fun ride always, especially with an old Emerson, Lake, and Palmer cassette blasting out of its upticked Blaupunkt stereo. Karn Evil 9, Baby.
But the first nice car I ever bought was back in ’85 when I lived in Spokane with the Blonde and we pitched in on a brand-new Corolla GTS 5-speed limited-slip notchback that we plucked off Downtown Toyota’s showroom floor. Her Pop was a GMAC rep at the time and blew a gasket when he found out we’d bought Toyota but she’d always hated the two-tone brown Pontiac Phoenix sedan he’d handed down to her and our grey twin-cam ‘yota proved to be a wonderful car until it wasn’t, but that’s a completely different story for a completely different day.
After that, all the nuttiness of the LA years hit where thanks to a couple of cool people I experienced a lot of cool rides but by 1990 those days were long gone and I’d found myself back in Spokane, holding down a nice job, making nice money, and wanting another nice car. Naturally.
At first I shopped Porsche. No substitute. Had my eye on a 944 Turbo. Grey over black. But the smirky salesman at the Porsche+Audi dealer wouldn’t budge a buck and kind of talked down to me and that was around the time that all the auto rags were raving about the new Z-car. A complete redesign. A serious contender. And I knew that Jaremko had a red one.
Nick walked me back to his office. Took down my info. Ran some numbers. Winced and said it would be tight but that he’d go talk to his manager and see if they could get the deal done. Came back in ten with a smile and said it was a go. Laid out a stack of papers and gave me a pen but I paused when I got to the bottom line. Thought about all the other things I could do with that kind of cash. Pay off my student loans. Maybe some credit cards too. Thought about the dumpy house I was renting up on 29th. How its roof leaked. How the pellet stove squeaked. How busy and noisy and dirty the street was. How the Blonde and I had talked about picking up a cute place over by Manito Park. A little bungalow, maybe. With a fenced yard for the dogs. And a garage for the ‘B.
Nick sensed my hesitation and sat down in his chair. Leaned forward and folded his hands on the desk and said that he knew it was a lot of money but that he could personally guarantee I’d never regret buying the Z. That a car like that was worth every penny.
I cleared my throat. Blinked my eyes. Nodded numbly back at Nick. And signed the papers.
I took a long draw off of my lukewarm mocha as I rocketed into the glorious eastern Montana sunrise. The super-slab was dry and flat and deserted. Had Stevie Ray’s “Crossfire” cranked on the Bose. Looked down at the speedo. Cruising at triple-digits. Came up over a rise just outside of Miles City and felt my stomach drop. Two Staties parked door-up on the median strip. Thought about lifting but Pop always said it was better to keep your foot in it if you thought you were already busted. So I kept my foot in it.
I glanced up at the rearview. Then again. And again. And again. But the bears didn’t budge. Didn’t move. No cherries. No sirens. No dirt-spitting pullouts. No high-speed pursuits. No radio calls ahead for intercepting troopers or roadblocks or helicopters. Nothing.
Meanwhile, the Z kept pulling hard, motor thrumming deeply and powerfully with just a touch of trebly snarl to keep things interesting. I felt directly connected to the highway, at one with my machine. Punched my right foot down and things got louder and the white lines started to strobe. I got goosebumps and laughed out loud.
Nick had been right.
Worth. Every. Penny.