“Charlie? Charlie Ford? Can it really be you?” Charlie looked up and turned his lights on to see better. It was early morning in the universities parking lot. “Mike? Mike Mercury? How in the world did you ever recognize me?” Mike’s voice was filled with excitement! “You know me Charlie, I never forget a grill! “How long has it been anyway?”, Charlie asked. “2004 at Metro’s Used Car Lot”, Mike replied. “Oh, I know that”, Charlie said, “I’ll never forget that place! The year escaped me though, the old mileage tracker isn’t what it used to be. We were both so young then with our whole life ahead of us.” Mike thought for a moment, “I remember so well Charlie, those were good times. When I look back at the times in that lot, they were some of the happiest memories I have! Remember when you got hired Charlie?” Charlie thought for just a second. It seemed his lights had just a little extra brightness at that moment. “How could I ever forget that?” Charlie laughed. “That was the beginning for Mr. Johnson and I! He kicked my tire for some reason. All of the sudden my hub came flying off, it was so embarrassing.” Mr. Johnson just laughed, “I didn’t like those hub caps anyway”, he said. “It was pretty lonely there after you were taken away Charlie. We had a lot of good times together out there!” “Hey Mike, do you remember that time you were so close to leaving?” Charlie chuckled. “You mean the wiper fluid episode?”, Mike laughed. “I was so nervous that day”, he continued. “The salesperson was trying to show my windshield washer and for the life of me I couldn’t produce a single drop! Oh it was awful, he kept pushing my button and nothing. The customer’s eyes wandered to someone else on the lot after that”. “Oh, you don’t know do you?” Charlie said. “Know what?” Mike asked. “Know that you were the victim of a bad joke!” Charlie replied. “What?” Mike blurted, his voice rising. “It’s true”, Charlie began again, “remember Vic Crown?” “Oh yes”, Mike remembered with a soft chuckle. “The guy that was always cracking everyone up! The guy who was always clowning around.” Charlie explained patiently, “One night while you were sleeping, Vic got under your hood and emptied all of your wiper fluid.” Mikes wipers did a sudden sweep over his windshield. It was a sudden twitch that was triggered when he heard startling news. “I never knew” he said. “All of these years I thought it was all my fault. I really wanted to leave that day too”, Mike recalled. “I sat there after you left blaming myself for being such a failure. It seemed like I was always in a deep depression. Then one fine day Charlie, I remember it so well, Mr. Anderson came in and for some reason took a liking to me. I have been so happy ever since. It is a pleasure to work for the guy!”
“Hey Charlie, do you remember Red “The Shine” Camaro?” “How could I ever forget Shine?” Charlie smiled as he remembered. “Remember that shine he had”, Mike continued, “He was so bright I wanted to cover my lights when he came by. Remember how he would spin around after everyone left at night and what he would say?” They both began to chant together… “Take a good look at these tail lights boys cuz when we all get out of here, these are the only things you jokers will see of me .” “I’ll tell you” Mike continued, “I never met a guy who wanted to live the fast life more than Shine. You heard what happened to him didn’t you? A dad and his kid took a liking to Shine. The kid was graduating from high school and the dad wanted to make him happy. I’ll say one thing, Shine was never happier. That kid had a lead foot but Shine loved it! Unfortunately Larry Lincoln was in his path one day. Shine swirled and missed Larry, but slammed into a pole and it was lights out for Shine. They looked him over and decided that all they could salvage was some of his parts. His remains are at the junk graveyard down the road.” Mike looked sad, his grill looked a little more twisted than normal. “You know Charlie, a month ago I was out on a country road and I saw some tail lights that looked just like Shines. They were so similar I could swear they were.” Mike felt a steady uneasiness in his carburetor as his wiper fluid slowly covered his windshield. He had thought of Shine many times over the years and always had similar emotional outbursts. When he finally got his composure he noticed that Charlie had a wet windshield too.
“Well enough of these sad thoughts,” Mike continued, “Tell me Charlie, what have you been up to all of these years?” Charlie smiled and did one swipe with his wipers over his windshield, his face brightened. “Well like I said Mike, Mr. Johnson has been good to me. He makes sure I get frequent checkups and keeps my body fluids in good order! He doesn’t push me too much. Let’s just say he treats me well!” “Have you worked here long?” Charlie asked. “Yes”, Mike replied “I have been here since 2008. It is a good place, good personalities around here. I’ve had a few scrapes with some of them. Mostly new guys who don’t stay around long. Some of those guys have careless doors and they don’t mind jabbing you now and then. I had a lot of support when I came back after the accident.” “The accident?” Charley gasped, “what happened?” “”Well I was going down the road minding my own business when Van Minnie pulled right out in front of me. He’s kind of a big guy who I have often said, I wouldn’t want to run into him in the middle of the night. Well I didn’t, It was broad daylight. We were both in the hospital together. My grill got messed up and my hood caved in. They replaced my hood and pulled my grill out and made it work. I’ll tell you, I wish they would have just replaced it. It has caused me pain ever since. Van’s injuries were more severe. He needed door replacement and new glass. He also had to be aligned again. I hit him pretty good! We had a lot of time to talk while we were in the hospital together. He’s a good guy and I don’t blame him. I guess it’s true, accidents happen. Life is too short to hold grudges you know? So Charlie, are you here for awhile then?” Charlie smiled, “I think so! Mr. Johnson is excited about starting his new job here, so here I am! I guess I’ll be seeing you quite a lot Mike. It already seems like old times!”
Just then Sam Olds pulled in beside Mike. After his door slammed and Sam was alone, Mike introduced his old friend to his new old friend. “Sam, I have someone for you to meet. He is a friend from way back. Charlie this is Sam. Sam-Charlie.” Sam looked Charlie over. “Good to meet you Challey,” Sam drawled. Sam had a southern accent that never left him from his start in Alabama. “Did ya’ll mention the rules of the lot Mok?” asked Sam. As the oldest and longest active member Sam had taken it upon himself to write the lot rules. “No Sam, we have just been remembering old times”, Mike replied. “Wa-ell”, Sam began “keep yer dohrs to yerself . I don’t wont no more pain of dents from care-less-nay-us! Ya best not have yer horn goin’ off fer no apparent reason eitha. Get fixin yer problem er get outta the lot! I’m tellin’ ya back yonder in the day we nevah had that problem! Our horn blew when someone pushed on the steerin’ wheel an’ that was it! Here’s another thang, keep yer body in the spot designed fer ya. Don’t be on the lines er leaning over in another guys spot! If yer sick stay home. We don’t need no coughin’, leakin’, backfirin’, sickly bodies roamin’ round us. Make yerself presentable. Try ta git yerself washt as of’fen as possible. And lastly, don’t git loud and obnoxious. If you start feelin’ loudness comin’ on, take the hint ‘n have yer muffler replaced! That’s our rules. Think of others while yer here!” Sam concluded. He closed his eyes about to take a little nap. Charlie looked surprised. “Don’t let Sam alarm you Charlie”, Mike offered, “You have to remember he is a 1991 model.” Sam’s eyes opened quickly. “You laughin’ at my age again Mok? Let me tell you Challey, I seen my share of comin’s and goin’s in mah time. You may wonder how I stayed ’round so long.” he continued. “The secret to long life, he concluded, is ta find someone who loves ya ‘n is willin’ ta stay with ya through the tough times. Lemme tell ya, cars ain’t what they used ta be! Now kids want all fancy gadgets. They want direction fonders ‘n auto-matic car starters. Cars were cars ‘n my day. I always had a car starter. It’s called a key! Now they have things like TV’s, reclinin’ seats, ‘n On-Star. Cars today are wimps! We didn’t need all that fancy stuff. We had a steerin’ wheel, gas pedal ‘n a brake! We kept the drivers attention on the road, nothin’ fancy, jest good ole solid parts! Now look, computer this ‘n that. When that little computer chip goes wrong, these new boys are costin’ their employer thousands!”
Sam seemed to be fully awake now! His lights seemed to brighten from the sun rays and his own excitement. “Now talk ’bout a good employer who loved me, it was Mr. Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton adopted me from his brother in Alabama. Best man I evah met! That guy dint hurry,. He was always an hour ahead a time. If traffic backed up, it dint effect Mr. Hamilton, no sir! He drove the same every time! The only times I ever ‘membered him gettin’ in a little hurry was when we were goin’ back to Alabama! I sure dint mind it then! I was glad to go myself ‘n couldn’t wait ta get there!”
“After Mr. Hamilton died his son became my employer. He’s a nice guy ‘n all, but he’s no Mr. Hamilton, no sir. He jist barely gets places on time, so it’s hurry up fer me! He makes me carry a bunch a junk too. Golf clubs, softball ‘quipment, ‘n whatever else he decides ta throw in the back seat. But I shouldn’t complain. Hamilton Jr. takes good care of me too. Jist last year my brakes stopped workin’ completely. He took me in fer an expensive operation even at my advanced age! See this cut in my bumpah? We were in a softball field parkin’ lot mindin’ our own business when a member of the Chevy family pulled raht out ‘n fronta us. I thought that was probly the enda me. Hamilton Jr. took me to a body hospital. They decided to try ‘n straighten me out without as many replacement parts ’cause they knew I dint have in-surance. Lemme tell you boys, I survived bad batteries, bad mufflers, bad alternators, bad wheels, bad spots on my outside. You name it, I’ve probly had problems with it! One time I couldn’t even get my windows ta go down. I see so many new faces these days. When somethin’ goes wrong, many times a new guy ends up in the parkin’ lot. I remember jist last week old Barry Buick was havin’ some trouble. His coughin’ ‘n leakin’ was really botherin’ him. The next day a brand new guy had taken his place. I’m tellin’ you boys, I’ve been fortunate! The Hamilton’s have been good ta me!” With that old Sam closed his eyes. He would nap for the last hour until he was required for the trip home!
Mike and Charlie picked up their conversation about the past and the future! “Whatever happened to Vic Crown”?, Mike wondered. Charlie laughed “He works for the police department Mike”. “He gets his kicks now sounding his siren and flashing his lights!” They both laughed uncontrollably at the thought of Vic still able to clown around! It seemed like just the perfect job for him they both agreed. Although It was an ordinary day for most in the lot, this would be a day that neither Mike nor Charlie would soon forget! It didn’t seem long before doors were opening and engines were starting. Old Sam was awakened from a nice dream by the twist of his ignition. Mike and Charlie were saying their goodbyes and see you tomorrows as they motored out of the parking lot!
As Mike was straightening up on the main road a guy from the Camaro family pulled right out in front of him. Mike’s brakes had to be good to stop in time. Mike looked at the tail lights ahead of him. If he hadn’t known better, he was thinking, they look like Shines! The Camaro guy raced through the stop light that was way past yellow. Mike made his appropriate stop. As he was sitting there Mike went into deep reflection. Although he looked a bit like Shine, Mike thought to himself, he’s no Shine. His lights couldn’t carry a candle to Shines! Shine had that confidence, that sparkle, those tail lights; and of course we didn’t call him Shine for nothing! Mr. Anderson beckoned Mike to continue. The light had turned green. Mike delayed slightly, interrupted by Shine’s bright shiny image in his head. It almost made him close his eyes Shine’s glistening reflection seemed so brilliant and alive. His wiper fluid felt like it was about to squirt uncontrollably all over his windshield again at that moment. Shine was so young, with his whole life ahead of him. It didn’t make sense for him to be gone so soon. “Take a good look at these tail lights boys,” Mike remembered again, “Cuz when we get out of here these are the only things you jokers will see of me.” Mike smiled slowly as he thought of that memory! How he would give his driver side door just to see Shine alive again. Even if it was just a view of his tail lights steadily moving farther away on a warm summer drive. Old Sam was right when he said, ‘they don’t make them like they used to’. After they made Red “The Shine” Camaro Mike concluded, they must have broke the mold and discarded the formula for his dazzling red paint, issuing a warning, ‘Too bright for the eyes, never to be used again!’ For anyone who met Shine that conclusion would surely be believed, yet nobody would have predicted that his shine would be even brighter long after he was gone!