Like a bad dream I’m plugged firmly into the seat of my Le Mans blue Alfa Berlina in a parking lot attempting to get home from the death factory that is a defense contractor’s main preoccupation. White, acrid smoke seeps menacingly from the intersection of body and hood. Merda.
The early getaway did not happen the way I intended.
I get out and pop the hood. When the smoke clears I notice pulsating warts on the steaming throttle cable housing.
I know someone inside the building I work in who has an Alfa like mine except it’s the GTV model and it can fly. I mean really fly. But I digress.
I go to his office to consult on how to proceed. He’s there, because it’s not yet quitting time. I mention the problem. He smiles and roots around in a desk drawer. After a few seconds he hands me a throttle cable as if it were a common paper clip.
Then he settles back into his chair and says something like, “Happens all the time. The battery negative connection gets corroded. Then when you try to start the car all the electrical current the starter uses goes right through the dinky throttle cable and it lights up like a firecracker. I keep a spare or two. Good luck.”
So I attach the new throttle cable and clean the batter ground cable before reattaching it. Works like a champ. We roar off.
I’m thinking someday I will visit the place where the car was made. I will discover the cultural continuity, the plodding evolution of the engine from race track to street, one of those long and nearly linear historic lines that makes tradition-loving Italy so intriguing. I could bitch about the damn grounding connection, but that’s what the cult is good for, y’all are attached by the secret inevitability of tiny problems you can cure out of your desk drawer, the hero’s quest made easy.
An Alfa That Flies
One day five of us load into my friend’s Alfa GTV. It’s a tight fit. We are unhappy at the death factory, so we are going to drown our sorrows in prodigious amounts of beer. Hours pass, pitchers empty. Thus fortified, we head back to the factory. Everyone but the driver is looped (and squished) so that getting our security IDs out of our wallets in the tiny car seemed to take as much effort as running a four minute mile. You know how it is.
The security kiosk with the fat guard squished inside is just ahead. It is flanked by two tall berms to slow lesser cars. So my friend says, “don’t worry about those IDs, if I hit the first berm at a high enough speed, we won’t even feel the second one because we’ll be airborne. We’ll be parked before he can let loose the dogs. We’ll just say we had our cards out, he just didn’t see them.”
And so it went. It was probably not the best thing to do, bladder wise, but we landed a great distance away and the guard wasn’t in any condition to chase down an Alfa that flies.
So years later I stop the Alfa to get a coffee at a roadside cafe. An old codger with an accent walks over to the car. “What is this, an Alfa Romeo? Oh, yes, Alfa!”
He walks around the car, stroking his chin. When he gets back to the front he stands next to me and practically whispers into my ear. “I was in the war in north Africa many years ago. There were many Alfas we used there. Nice cars. But you had to watch out. The grounding would fail and then the throttle cable housing would burn and then you were very stuck!”
Here is where I should say, “I chuckled knowingly” but at the time I knew I should have paid attention in chuckling class because I had no clue at all as to how to proceed.
To this day I love riding the Italian Continuum. Most of all I love the bumps you find along it.
On my first trip to Italy what was in store for me? A surprise, an exhibition of Alfas from the Museum in Milano.
This bit was inspired by this post and online conversation with writer Angela Petch, who lives half-time in rural Italy as we do. Angela is author of Now and Then in Tuscany, which I am currently reading on my Kindle, and The Tuscan Secret. We both like talking to older people. They are links to our past.