story and photos by shawn stanford
Moby’s windows were wide open. The sub-freezing wind was blasting through the cockpit of the car.
I was wearing jeans, a t-shirt, a fleece, a sweatshirt, a coat, gloves, and a scarf, and I was chilled to the bone. The coffee I’d had before getting onto the turnpike was long gone, and so was any warmth it gave me. I glanced over at Matthew. He was wearing every piece of clothing he owned, and he had the draw cord on his hoodie pulled tight. He was peering at the world through a tiny opening like a U-boat commander sizing up a freighter. He wasn’t moving and I couldn’t remember the last time he’d spoken.
I’d lost count of the double-takes and horrified looks from the cars we passed.
We were ninety minutes into the drive and still an hour from home.
Several years before, my brother Stephen had sold me a 1979 Mustang convertible with a 302 V-8 he’d built himself. I drove it for a couple years, until it failed inspection. That was fine: I was ready to move on to something new. Stephen had a friend selling a 928, and I’d always wanted a Porsche - I’d come close to buying several over the years. This car needed work, but it was a driver, and the price was right at just a couple thousand. So, Stephen trailered out a tired 928 and the Mustang went home with him.
I was - at the least - the fifth owner. One of the previous owners had resprayed the car with a terrible pearl white that from some angles looked dirty white, but from other angles looked dirty yellow. Speaker holes had been hacked into the doors, and the door cards and cargo area trim were shot. The electricals were, at best, dicey. The instruments occasionally functioned, the left side turn signals did not. The horn did, but only when the car wasn’t running. The odometer showed over 240,000 miles and had stopped a couple of owners ago. The battery drained over the course of a few days unless it was disconnected or the car was driven. The exhaust had a badly patched hole, ended in a mismatched muffler, and was held on with a coat-hanger. Shifting through the gearbox was like stirring a bowl of jello with a wooden spoon.
Thanksgiving of 2007 we were spending the holiday with my in-laws in New Jersey. Cat and our daughters would be staying through the weekend, but I had to be at work in Wilkes-Barre the next day. Matthew, never one to turn down an adventure and needing to head back to Penn State on Saturday, would be returning with me.
As mentioned, the weather during the drive down was beautiful, especially for that time of year. The trip down the turnpike was as smooth and unremarkable as any trip in Moby. At least, until we hit the toll at the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
Let me reiterate: Moby’s electricals were, at best, dicey. The windows worked, but moved slowly; sometimes needing a rest two-thirds of the way up before completing the long trek to fully closed. At the toll before the Delaware bridge, I paid the attendant and pulled away. I pushed the switch to s-l-o-w-l-y put the window up and…
Matthew and I looked at my window. Then we looked at my finger on the switch. Then we looked at the window again. Then we looked at each other.
“Huh,” I said.
By now we were out of the toll booth and on the approaches of the bridge. I needed to stir the jello and bring us back up to highway speed, so I gave up on the window for the time being. Besides, the weather was beautiful; having the window down was actually pretty nice. No problem!
We pulled up in front of my In-Laws’ half an hour later. We went in to say hello and to have a friendly drink (or two or three) with my Father-in-Law, and didn’t make it back out to troubleshoot the windows that night.
Thanksgiving morning was gray and in the 40s. Rain was coming. Matthew and I headed out to look at the problem. We fiddled the fuses, we swapped the switches, we wiggled the wires, we checked the connections. No luck.
At some point, while swapping switches and fuses, I had the brilliant notion of putting the passenger window down to see if the problem was isolated, or systemic. Matthew’s window slowly descended, then quickly didn’t rise. Matthew watched the window descend, then watched it not rise, then looked at me and called me a son of a bitch.
Thanksgiving was upon us: time to eat! We put plastic bags in the windows to keep out the rain that was starting and joined the family.
We left before the sun rose the next morning. The stars were glistening crisply in the frigid air. We bid our goodbyes, and climbed in. Moby fired immediately and strongly. I popped the hood to hand crank the headlights into position (I did mention the dicey electricals?), and we were moving as the sun pinked the horizon.
We picked up coffee and found the highway a few miles away. As we merged onto the highway and came up to speed, I pushed the temperature control all the way into the red and set the blower to max to try to get a little heat moving through the cabin. The blower had been squirrelly for months. It only worked when set to ‘max’, and even then it made a strained buzzing. Now, for a few moments, it half-heartedly blew hot air onto our feet. Then, it shrieked like a witch being boiled and stopped dead.
Matthew and I looked at the vents. Then we looked while I twisted the blower knob to and fro. Then we looked at the vents again. Then we looked at each other.
“Ah, shit,” I said.
Ninety minutes later and an hour from home, the madness continued: the roar of the motor, the shriek of the wind through the car, the chattering of my teeth, the shock of the bystanders, the silence from the passenger seat...
And as we drove north, we gained elevation. From 100 feet in New Jersey, through 300 feet in Allentown, through 800 feet at the Lehigh Tunnel, on and on, and up and up, into the heart of the anthracite coal region, and the Poconos and Endless Mountains beyond. Chewing through a seemingly endless ribbon of concrete that traced high valleys, crested ridgelines, and hugged mountainsides; bordered on both sides by vast forests of skeletal trees.
Moby relaxed into an easy lope on the off ramp, and the wind quieted to a mere gale. Matthew and I both relaxed as I slowed for the toll: the worst of the journey was behind us. Ahead of us was an easy descent into the Wyoming Valley, and then home. Maybe the toll taker didn’t realize we pulled up with both windows down, or maybe he was used to frozen idiots in beat up German GT cars with both windows down, but he took took the ticket and returned my change without batting an eye.
We pulled away and a quarter mile later approached the light at the ‘T’ intersection marking our departure from the bosom of the Northeast Extension and onto the surface streets. We were at the crest of a mountain, and proving it, just to our right was a sign helpfully reading, “Wyoming Mountain: elevation 1,931 feet”.
And as we rolled to a gentle stop, the wind came from the east, scouring the crest of the mountain of all life. It tore through the car, making the highway wind that had come before seem a trifle, using our very souls as its playthings. It rode through us and west as if upon a pale horse, becoming Death, and yet leaving only Death behind.
Matthew and I shrieked in shock and horror. My eyes watered, my nose hairs froze, I lost all the sensation on my right side, and my testicles sought shelter in my abdomen. For a few, endless moments we were hoisted on the wind’s gibbet, dancing at the end of the freezing rope. Then the light changed and I stomped on the loud pedal and we escaped down the mountain.
Minutes later, we were safely in the Wyoming Valley along the banks of the Susquehanna River. The wind was behind us, the temperature was in the 40s, and the elevation was 525 feet. The garage obediently opened and I parked Moby in his usual spot. He hummed happily, enjoying the cold weather and obviously invigorated by the drive. I shut the motor down, and I think I may have cried a little.
A very short time later, I headed in to work and Matthew headed out to the garage. A few days before, at the start of Thanksgiving break, his beater Dodge Daytona had failed inspection in a spectacular way and had been junked. Tomorrow, he was taking Moby back to Penn State with him. He wanted the windows to go up.
I left my world-class GT car to my son and happily drove to work in a beat-up Mazda mini-van with the heater set to ‘Nuclear’...