What a joyous day it was when I was able to change my mode of transportation from a yellow 8 cylinder 1976 Buick LeSabre gas guzzler to a 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider, candy apple red with convertible top. Talk about an ego boost. Goodbye Ringo, my ginormous yellow submarine. Hello Zarba, you sleek little monster.
Named Zarba because the VIN number began with those letters, there was an immediate bond between the two of us. Our extraordinary relationship blossomed as we got to know each other. Weekdays were spent driving here and there, learning Zarba’s quirks and how to handle him just right. Weekends were for washing, waxing, shining chrome, polishing the wooden dashboard and gear shift and basking in the beauty of this dazzling machine.
After bringing Zarba home, my first desire was to take my Newfoundland dog for a ride. Telling my husband, Henk, he had to wait his turn, I strapped Whoopi in the front seat and took her for a two hour tour of Dallas. Ears back, tongue flapping and drool flying, Whoopi had the best afternoon of her life. Returning home to a jealous husband, I had no choice but to make him wait while I cleaned the now dried doggy drool off the side of the car. From that point on, Zarba and Henk had a strained relationship and I was caught in the middle.
I’ll admit it: I was in love with Zarba. I’m not so shallow to simply fall for someone based on looks alone. Indeed, Zarba had numerous other qualities which contributed to my overall happiness —
1. Zarba got excellent gas mileage, around 30 mpg on the highway, 25 mpg in town which significantly beat the 10 mpg I was getting with Ringo on a good day with a tail wind.
2. Both the air conditioning and heater functioned exceptionally well, allowing us to take a Christmas lights tour al fresco or drive around in Texas’s August heat without melting.
3. The stereo rocked.
4. My stepson, Jules, finally realized how cool I was after he met Zarba. Choosing Zarba over his Dad’s old Mercedes, I became the chauffeur to and from school, wrestling practice and other various outings. This was a big step in my relationship with Jules.
5. Our house had tall ceilings therefore a small Christmas tree was inappropriate. Jules, Zarba and I would find a handsome nine foot tree and while in convertible mode, transport it back home all the while listening to Christmas carols on the great stereo.
6. Zarba was a pack horse if you knew how to pack him. As a music therapist, on a daily basis I hauled conga drums, two guitars, an amplifier, bongos, couple of keyboards, a box of various percussion instruments, occasionally a banjo or an accordion plus my briefcase to work. In addition there were at least two separate occasions when Zarba transported my 150 pound marimba.
7. Zarba taught me how to change the oil, change spark plugs, rotate tires, replace the battery, jump start another car and properly clean the engine compartment.
8. Zarba gave me the illusion that I was a sexy and beautiful woman which is something I will never forget. (Love you Zarba!)
To know Zarba was to love him, be in awe of him and marvel at his accomplishments. Eventually, however, I learned that Zarba was a bit like a beautiful and talented problem child. Kind of like so many handsome young actors or musicians today, Zarba had issues. I’m not referring to the leather seats cracking after too much sun exposure or to the metal cage that protects the engine’s oil pan scraping the pavement whenever we ventured over speed bumps. No, Zarba’s problems weren’t quite that simple. You see, my Alfa Romeo was accident prone. Extremely so.
My first and only accident with Zarba happened during one of those torrential rain storms that occasionally plague Texas. Within minutes, the roads were flooded with at least four inches of water and I found myself a short distance behind a complete nincompoop. While talking on her cell phone and gesturing at some kids in the back seat, she suddenly decided to turn left and was promptly hit by two cars in succession just before Zarba hydroplaned into her rear bumper.
There were no injuries but Zarba’s beautifully streamlined and aerodynamically pure nose was smashed. I was not happy. A few weeks later and thanks to a mechanical surgeon named Tom, Zarba was healed.
I mentioned my Newfie but haven’t yet talked about our other dog, a St. Bernard. An 80 pound puppy, Carlos lived to chew anything. A sock, shoe, wall, car, it simply didn’t matter. After exiting the shower one morning and without my glasses, a bit of action in my peripheral vision caught my attention. Looking and squinting, Carlos seemed to be tossing something in the air. He then would catch the airborne object, pounce on it and throw it again. What the — ?
Is “flabbergasted” a real word? If so, then it describes how I felt when I realized Carlos had ripped off Zarba’s rubber bumper guard as well as the foam rubber spoiler. Carlos was quite busy tossing each in the air before ripping them apart bit by bit. In addition, the characteristic rubber triangle that houses the emblem in the front was unrecognizable due to some obviously missing chunks. Bad Carlos. Bad.
Sometime after fixing Zarba’s cosmetic issues courtesy of Carlos, I allowed Henk one day to take Zarba to the grocery store. Wouldn’t you know it, some oncoming doofus decided to turn left into some apartment complex, squarely in front of Zarba. Back to Tom the mechanic.
Some uneventful months went by before I woke one morning to the sound of crunching metal. Looking out the front window I muttered, “You have got to be kidding me”, which probably sounded more like a series of grunts than anything else. Somewhat in shock, I watched as a U-Haul van tried to disengage itself from Zarba’s nose. In a daze of disbelief, I simply cocked my head to the side and drooled. “Huh. Imagine that.” On somewhat wobbly legs, I went outside to confront this random person who really did not seem to relish being there that moment. I cannot remember exactly how I reacted but the term “hysterical laughter” was used by the cops in their accident report.
No choice, I called Zarba’s doctor. “Hello, Tom?” Tom responded with, “Don’t tell me. Listen, we’ve got to stop meeting like this. People are going to start talking.”
Zarba’s next few years were somewhat uneventful except for one night’s record-breaking storm, when tennis ball-size hail literally busted the windshield and ripped two large holes in Zarba’s soft top.
Preparing to move overseas, I simply could not bring myself to sell Zarba, so I reluctantly decided to leave him in the care of a friend. It was a few months later that my friend sheepishly explained that Zarba and a tree had an unfortunate meeting. Friend walked away unscathed, but not so Zarba who subsequently ended up in the Dallas car pound and was never seen again. Poor Zarba. What a way to go.
Perhaps I should have taken Zarba with us to France. If I had, would he have continued to have these issues? I wonder if he would have felt so gloriously free driving through vineyards, climbing the Pyrenees and masterfully engaging the notorious switch-backs along the Mediterranean coast that his problems would simply have vanished. Then again, maybe some ship would have run aground and smacked him right on his nose, or a mountain boulder might have rolled down and flattened him. It could be that Zarba would have spun around in discarded grapes and ended up nose first in a gulley. I guess I’ll never know.
I have had other cars since Zarba but not one has even come close to thrilling me the way Zarba did. He was my first love and he’ll never be replaced.