The Pontiac Fiero. Shallow. Low. Unreliable. Dangerous. If it got going way too fast, it ended up on its back. It was the Lindsey Lohan of automobiles. And in the summer of 1989, someone gave me one thousand dollars and 30 days to drive one across country.
Something past 19 years old, I saw an opportunity to a.) keep the better part of a thousand bucks and b.) break a new land speed record using a Pontiac. Besides, my friends convinced me I could make it from upstate New York to southern California in about the same amount of time it took to watch an episode of "Knight Rider." Challenge accepted.
This was familiar territory. Growing up a military brat, I'd criss-crossed the United States to the tune of six times and 24,700 miles by station wagon, motorhome and mid-size car. Route planned, cash in hand and with an armful of cassette tapes, my employer handed me the keys. "I had the car performance tuned and there are four new racing tires on it," he added. He might as well have thrown his naked daughter in the passenger seat.
Sitting in a Fiero is a bit like climbing into bobsled. Your ass almost touches asphalt and you need a booster seat from Sizzler to see over the dashboard. Still, if ever a car said "mid-life crisis," the Indy Fiero screamed it. Spoiler in the back. Super-charged engine. It might as well have come with the volleyball scene from "Top Gun" as an optional accessory. I slammed the first cassette into the player, fired up the engine, and was off.
The first and shortest leg took me to Effingham, Illinois. If you're unfamiliar with Effingham, it's the same shtetl radio hosts Bob and Tom once heckled with a bunch of "Effing" jokes. "The Crossroads of Opportunity" took 17 hours to reach from Plattsburgh. Highlights of the first leg included realizing I could drive like a bat out of hell in Canada and a guy jumping off an overpass into the windshield of a pickup truck in Detroit. Welcome to Michigan!
Day two provided the most drama. Somewhere between Goodland, Kansas and Denver, Colo., I stopped at grocery store. I felt tired. And what fixes tired? Vivarin! Peckish, I also grabbed a bag of fruit. Two Vivarin and half a cantaloupe later, Fiero and I raced back onto the 70. Meanwhile, about an hour later, I wasn't feeling the Vivarin kicking in. So, I took two more. Then one more an hour later. And maybe one more.
NeedlesstosayabouththetimethatLimonColoradocameintoviewmyheadwasracingalongalotlikethisentenceiswritten. Thismustbewhatitfeelsliketoswallowspeed. Wowthoselightssurearebright. AmIreallygoing125? Doesn'tfeellikeit. You get the idea. Still, I felt physically tired, arms heavy, legs like Jell-O. With Denver just an hour or so out, however, I'd wrap up 22 hours of driving, stop in a hotel room and get some shut eye.
Or so I thought. The combination of mixed fruit and grocery store uppers rebelled about the time the suburb of Aurora appeared. My insides roiled, growled and shuttered. Just past 3:45 a.m., squirming and rolling in my seat, I did the only thing I could do with no visible gas station or rest stop in sight: I screeched the Fiero to a stop in the shoulder, pulled my shorts off my legs and let nature (and gravity) take its course.
Twenty-five minutes later, reeking of all things foul following the evacuation of my sickness and dignity, I found a hotel room. I stared at the hotel room ceiling for an hour and a half (thanks Vivarin!), then, strangely, "woke up" refreshed and hit the road. Less eventful passed the final day of driving, but it lasted the longest -- almost 24 hours before pulling into the final stop, an apartment complex near Azusa, California.
The trip, 2,974 miles, took 66 hours. I slept 10 of those hours. I spent exactly $209, and the Fiero’s owner gladly paid my airfare back to New York.
The last thing I did in two and a half days was clean my attic. But if you handed me one thousand dollars, I could probably get it done in one.
Jason Tudor is the owner of a lumbering, mid-sized SUV that sometimes climbs over 100 mph on the German autobahn. A writer and illustrator, he can also be found talking science fiction with his friends on a podcast called "The Science Fiction Show," which is funny, filled with geek and available via iTunes. He can be found at www.jasontudor.com and www.myscifishow.com and here, of course.