Frank and Florence

There was Patti and Chuck. There was Colleen and Sarah. There was Eve. There was curious young boy and there was old and edgy handyman. And there was Frank. 

I spent a Sunday afternoon, hanging outside of a coffeeshop, refreshing my phone for Redskins scores (shamelessly), and holding onto Harper as she tried to smell and play with every person and dog that walked by. She was pretty successful.

This was a particularly eventful Sunday afternoon in Florence, Oregon - or so I was told - a car show on the main boulevard. Dozens of cars, from all sorts of decades, polished, shined, waxed, and wearing their dancing shoes as they lined up for a handful of prizes.

I liked to stare at the cars, walk by and smell their interior, imaging that maybe one day Van would be sitting here on this very street, 30 years from now.

As I sat and chatted with Harper's victims in front of this coffee shop, the car show in the background, I learned the many faces of Florence forgetting all of their names. However, the person that stuck to my mind like a fly on my windshield was Frank. 

Frank approached me as I was staring into a Blue 1949 Plymouth sedan, a collage of old State park stickers decorating its back passenger windows and a wooden longboard riding on its roof. 

"Pretty ain't she?" I turn to face a man at my waist. In a wheelchair, it was pretty clear that this man could not use his legs. I stared at his legs, then immediately made intense eye contact with him, in part to try to convince him my eyes were always in line with his and to try and forget that I was staring impolitely at an what obviously differenced him from myself. His eyes didn't seem to care of my indulgent rationalization. 

Instead, he continued on: "I remember the day when my parents took us kids down to the dealer and bought one of these. Remember it like yesterday. I reckon i will never forget it." His eyes fell to the deep blue shine of the relic of a simpler time, and I sensed a longing on his face. "Is that so?" I asked, partially curious of this memory and partially asking as an apology for my initial stare. 

"They took all the money that they had been saving, cash, in their dresser and went down to the dealership and bought it! Grey. I think. Most of them were back then. Anyhow. What a day. They took all of us kids with them and then after we went to get some fried chicken." He stopped, his arms crossed, still staring at the deep blue of the car in front of us. 

I could almost imagine Frank imagining back to the taste of that fried chicken, a taste from some 60 years ago. I have never tasted chicken like that. 

"They just don't make them like they used to anymore. Can barely even get under the hood of 'em these days. Back then you couldn't even afford a mechanic. I still remember working on my first Oldsmobile, walking to the local library, pen and paper in hand, finding all the books that I could, making notes. Sure, you could go to the local mechanic with questions, and I sure as hell did, but that's all you could do"

I stared intently, nodding at the correct intervals, smiling when we turned, and shifting my arms as I tried to get comfortable. 

"Nowadays you have the phones to take photos of and know where everything goes. Back then, i made damn sure that I would align every single part in the configuration that it was supposed to be. I mean EVERY part. All it takes is for one thing to be out of line. Today, you have Google!"

The nodding picked up its pace, but my stare had begun to drift, towards other cars, to questions I might ask as though the whole thing were done out of my humble charity. A thought I write here, with some disgust. 

"But man," Frank was still going amidst my internal processing, "when you got everything together, and you turned that switch and you heard a roar, there are few feelings like that in the world. You are God, for that moment."

I stare back at Frank, and realize the profundity of this man's statement. My eyes drifted to his hands, wearing gloves, these hands were this man's life. His life depended on these hands, to wheel him around and take him from place to place. Those beautiful, aged hands.

"I try to tell my son, buy 'em used. I have my whole life. Get 'em used and fix 'em up, it is they only way you can afford it. He doesn't listen." He gestures with his left hand away in the air and makes a sigh. "It is a whole other world fixing cars," he looked around, "fact, I have owned about a dozen of these cars at one point or another."

I take this as a good point to ask about a different car on the street, but he carries on. "In fact, that one right there" He points, more with his hand than a specific finger, but I can tell which one he means. "I fixed one of those up and gave it to this old couple. They couldn't afford a car so I just gave it to them. Bought it for $70. Of course, it didn't look quite like that one. A few dings here and there, but it worked. They thanked me, but I got the real joy. Anything I could do to work on a car." 

He heaved a deeper sigh this time. "Well, what a day. Look at all of these cars! It was good talking to you. What did you say your name was again?" His hand reached out. 

"Mike." I extended my hand.

"Frank. It was good to meet you Mike. Enjoy your day." He pumped forward with his arms, backing himself up the street and toward some other cars. I continued staring at the 1949 Plymouth, looking for a window into my own memories, that might have half as much power.