Two Four Barrels

November 26, 2013 | Leave a Comment

Please accept this story as a gift. It is intended to most certainly be that. Gifts mark an occasion, of course—they commemorate. This one marks an occasion for me. Perhaps you have a similar one marked. Enjoy this, please. Enjoy all of yours. Time moves us all along the endless road.

Two Four Barrels

It was a 1962 Corvette convertible, white, with red air scoops on the sides, red in the interior. Two great big four barrel carburetors perched squarely atop its engine. Tucked deep down inside of that engine was a camshaft with a heart for racing.

When the Corvette idled, it did not go “blub-blub-blub.” It did not even go “blub-a-blub-a-blub.” When this Corvette idled, it went “whoom-ba-ba, whoom-ba-ba-whoom-ba-ba-whoom-ba-ba.” What it did was idle at a speed where most other cars reached their maximum torque. When you looked at this car sitting still, idling, you could see it rocking visibly. To watch it, thus, gave a person goose bumps.

The Corvette belonged to Bob Chamberlain. Despite what most people alleged, Bob Chamberlain was not crazy. He was, however, driven by an undefinable force that pushes some people to their outermost capabilities, and, in the doing, sends them away feeling that they have lived every moment to the fullest. Bob was also very serious, at least where his Corvette was concerned.

Every day, Bob made sure that his Corvette was washed to where it sparkled in the sun. Just before washing it, he would be slumped over the front fenders, tuning it. Every single day. And every single day, Bob saw to it that the sun did not set without he and his Corvette having gone in excess of 130 miles per hour on one of the many different desolate back country roads he carefully chose and alternated between. All these things were absolute rituals to Bob.

Occasionally a friend would tell me that Bob had taken one of us “younger” generation types (Bob was 20; we were 15 to 17) on one of his 130 plus mile per hour runs. Supposedly, this only happened rarely, and it could never be proven by anyone who had claimed to be the passenger. I knew how potentially deadly riding on one of those runs could be, yet I wanted to go along on one so badly I could taste it.

One hot July day in 1964, I was visiting a friend at the service station where he worked, when Bob pulled his quaking red and white Corvette up next to us. He shut the engine off in the middle of a “whoom.” There he sat behind the wheel: the legendary Bob. Dungarees, white t-shirt, cigarette hanging from one corner of his mouth. He surveyed us youngsters for a moment or two, and no one talked. You didn’t talk until Bob talked.

Finally, the silence was broken with his “Guys—howyadoin’?”

“Great, Bob. Cool. Car looks great, sounds great, how you doin’?” was our collective reply.

“I’m O.K.”, Bob said, “O.K.” Another moment of silence. Then, without warning, he looked straight at me and said: “so, you ready for a ride, kid?”

This was it. The unproven was happening. All the things I knew were wrong about saying yes raced through my mind. I could hear my parents saying it was too dangerous, telling me not to go. It was a possibility that I could end up scattered all over a country road, intermingled with smoking 1962 Corvette convertible parts. I knew this, and the thought scared me silly. I could feel myself shaking inside.

“Sure”, I replied. “Sure.”

As we arrived at the day’s chosen location, Bob slowly pulled the Corvette into place at the end of one of his legendary chosen country roads. He shut the engine off. The absolute silence was crushing. The Corvette had the top down, and Bob boosted himself up to sit on top of the driver’s seat back. He stared solidly down the long straightaway, as if somehow making a deep personal connection with it. I could feel myself trembling, and I thought about opening the car door and running, but I couldn’t move. There was a possibility that I was going to wet my—

“Kid,” he said. The word crashed through the tense silence, and I jumped at the sound of it. “Kid, this is going to be one helluva ride. You’ve never taken one like it before, and you never will again. When it’s over, you’ll have a story to tell for the rest of your life. Always remember what it was like, and always remember that it was Bob Chamberlain who gave that ride to you.”

“I wi—” “Whoom-ba-ba-whoom-ba-ba-whoom-ba-ba-whoom-ba-ba.” I had started to try to make my voice work and tell Bob that I would remember, when he dropped down into the seat, grabbed the key, and started the Corvette engine. We sat at the end of the straightaway, the Corvette rocking nervously, Bob’s hand on the floor shift. For a moment, it was like we were the only two people in the world, sitting in the only Corvette in the world, parked and ready to spring at the end of the only country road straightaway in the world. My heart pounded in anticipation. For some reason, I thought of my back yard at home, and I wondered if my mother was hanging clothes on the clothesline that ran from the back of the house to the giant oak tree.

Simultaneously, Bob slammed the gas pedal to the floor and popped the clutch. The world was instantly filled with the rage of an untamed engine at full throttle, the screaming of spinning tires, and the smell of burning rubber. Pinned solidly to the back of the seat, I was unable to move forward against the crushing force of acceleration. My heart felt like it was about to leap out of my chest. Water streamed backwards out of the corners of my eyes as we gained speed. Each time Bob shifted into the next gear, it was a perfect speed shift. The gas pedal stayed on the floor. The floor shift and the clutch pedal flashed in perfect unison, as if they somehow controlled each other without assistance. With each shift, the Corvette lurched forward like a wild animal. The dotted line down the center of the road transformed through speed into the solid line down the center of the road. The roaring of the speed-induced wind grew louder and louder, and the trees in the fields on both sides of the road blended to become a solid wall of green. I could feel the skin on my face begin to distort from the g-forces. “Slam” went the last shift, and, over the combined roar, I could hear the back tires bark out a sharp squeal. I forced my head to the left to try to see the speedometer. I squinted through the wind and the tears. 137 miles per hour. Then, as quickly as it had begun, it all reversed: clutch in, motor at idle, brakes firmly applied, speedometer needle dropping; 110, 65, 30, 0, engine off. Silence. Somewhere, a bird chirped.

I looked over at Bob and saw him looking at me, and was that the slightest indication of a tiny smile at the corners of his mouth? He said nothing. I said nothing. The trip back to the service station was made without conversation.

“Take it easy, kid,” Bob said as I opened the door.

“Yeah, you too,” I answered. “And, Bob—thanks.”

“It’s cool, kid, it’s cool. You’re O.K.”

With that, Bob Chamberlain and his 1962 Corvette convertible drove off the lot. For some reason, standing there alone, I felt like crying. I did not know it then, but the very next day, Bob was off to report for duty. He had been drafted into the Army and had volunteered to serve in a place called Vietnam. He knew this when he gave me my ride, but he never said a word. As it turned out, he was one of the thousands of fine men and women who never came home alive.

I know not what happened to his beloved 1962 Corvette convertible.

He was right, though. It was one helluva ride. I’ll never forget what it was like. And I will never forget Bob Chamberlain.




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