The Sunset Run
It was an early Saturday morning and I was sound asleep when my dad shook me awake…
…It only happened once a year, so I knew what adventure awaited us. I pulled on some clothes and kissed my mom goodbye as my dad warmed up the car. When I hopped in, I could hear Sublime playing on the stereo and see the last bits of frost evaporate off the windshield and into the morning air.
I was 13, and that day we blasted out of our tumbleweed-littered hometown in the High Desert of California to the heart of the city for the LA Auto Show.
On our way down the hill, as we desert people would say, he introduced me to music like The Smiths as I licked Hot Cheeto dust off my fingers. He let me sit up front, which he never did because the front seat was for adults only. But today was different.
Today was special.
The floor of the LA Convention Center was neutral ground for us. Back up in the desert we were entirely different people with entirely different lives. He grew up in a fractured immigrant family and had a rough childhood he never talked about, while I spent my time on a cul-de-sac with new toys, two parents, and an outdoor fridge full of ice cream and Gatorade.
We lived in the same house and he made every effort to be a good dad, but he wasn’t around much. Some- times he’d sleep at the dental lab he owned and I wouldn’t see him for days. I missed him a lot when I was young, and resented him a lot when I was old- er. We were never alone together long enough for him to get to know me, and I could see it in his eyes. He loved the boy looking back at him, but he had no idea what made him tick. Except for cars.
Cars were the single domain where our passions converged, and the auto show was our hallowed ground. We collected car brochures like they were baseball cards and made it a point to sit in every new model we could. He took me through the Porsche room and told me about the founder, Ferdinand, and how his first cars were really just re-bodied Volkswagens. I took particular pride in showing off my newfound knowledge of carbon fiber and dry-sump lubrication. It was as though we were speaking a language only car lovers could speak and I reveled in it.
We loved cars, but he loved them first. He was brought to the US as a child and came of age in the 60s–the golden age of the American muscle car. He told me stories about his 69’ Pontiac GTO and the red Fiat Spyder he took my mom on dates with. When I was in elementary school, he bought a vintage Toyota Land Cruiser and sometimes took me and my brother off-roading with our neighbors.
After it broke down and he couldn’t find the right parts, he parked it in the corner of our garage where it soon became lost among a mound of yard equipment, boogie boards, and dust. That was my first hideaway. Little by little, so no one would notice, I covered the windows with old shop towels and cleared out the cab. I hid magazines and blankets in the footwell and wiped down the seats so I could sit on them without getting my pajamas dirty.
I went there whenever I was angry, or hurt, or wanted somewhere to be
at peace in the world. I still go there sometimes in my mind.
At the auto show, we saw a prototype for a new Land Cruiser and I secretly sized it up for hideout potential while my dad read about its engine setup. When we had successfully weaved our way through all the crowds and taken every last brochure, it was time for us to leave. But we didn’t go home.
We headed West, down Sunset Boulevard on what my dad called The Sunset Run. It was our tradition–the grand finale. We cruised past Hollywood High School and In-N-Out Burger, waited at lights next to Lamborghinis and vintage low riders, and blasted Sublime’s Greatest Hits. I wondered if I was in heaven, and then I saw an angel.
We had pulled off the road to eye some cars in a small car dealer near The Chateau Marmont, but they were nothing compared to what pulled up behind us.
I heard it before I saw it. The sound of its V10 was unmistakable. My shoelaces rattled when its driver touched the throttle, and I knew it could only be one car: the Carrera GT. It was Porsche’s magnum opus and one of the fastest, rarest, most advanced automobiles ever built. Its chassis was made of the same aluminum as an airplane and had a transmission sourced from a race car. The brakes were made from a special carbon compound that made them an alien black, and the mid-mounded motor ran so hot that I could see the heat radiating from it in the LA sun.
My eyes, blinking in disbelief, gazed across its carbon fiber bodywork. I looked over at my dad for confirmation I wasn’t hallucinating, and expected to find him looking down at the car like I was. But he wasn’t. He was looking at me. It was as though the car had opened a window to my soul and he was peering in for the first time.
And at last, he saw me.