Randy backed his Ford Fairlane out of the driveway, being careful to go slowly over the hump at the sidewalk, where the car tended to bottom out if he went too fast. Especially when fully loaded, like it was today.
It was a big day for the Fairlane. Randy had special ordered it new from a dealership across town many years ago. He still remembered the day he’d taken possession. The smell of new vinyl and carpeting. The contrast between the shiny chrome accents and the Acapulco Blue paint. The new style shoulder belts hanging clumsily by the front seats before he’d tied them back out of the way.
Now, the odometer read 99,932 miles, and the vehicle had never needed a single repair. Oh, there’d been routine maintenance work – oil changes, lube jobs, new tires, wiper blades, radiator flushes. But nothing had ever malfunctioned, which was virtually unheard of in a vehicle with so many miles.
The family was embarking on a day trip to visit a relative a few hours away. Wherever they happened to be when the odometer turned 100,000 miles, Randy planned to pull over and pop open a bottle of champagne he’d brought in a small cooler on the seat beside him. Usually, Randy liked to drive “straight through”, something he’d picked up from his father, but today they planned to stop at a rest area for a picnic lunch to prolong the celebration. He would even let the kids try a taste of champagne.
They were getting a late start. First, Randy had insisted everyone use the bathroom one last time. Then, Randy’s wife, Martha, had misplaced something from her purse and needed to find it before they left. On the way to the car, Randy’s daughter Melissa stepped in something someone’s dog had left on their lawn and needed to go back in to change her shoes. And, of course, they’d all waited for Aunt Betty.
Aunt Betty was old and had grown up in a different time. She’d been groomed from a young age never to go on long car trips without changing into clean underwear “in case of an accident”. Apparently, the medics would be grossed out if they noticed anything unpleasant when they pulled you from the wreckage, other than blood and guts, of course. It took Aunt Betty an inordinate amount of time to select and don the appropriate underthings for the occasion.
Randy tried to ignore the annoying bumping in his lower back, as Melissa cheerfully kicked the rear of his seat. She’d ripped a hole through the once pristine vinyl seat with her constant pounding. Randy used to reprimand both kids for their kicking but eventually had given up. Even though they’d always comply obediently the moment he asked, it would only be a minute or two before they’d start again.
Randy glanced in his rearview mirror as he maneuvered onto the street. Aunt Betty stared back at him, her beady eyes clearly visible behind tortoiseshell glasses that may have been fashionable in 1960. Aunt Betty always insisted on sitting in the middle of the back seat. She claimed it was for safety reasons, but Randy suspected it had more to do with wanting to watch him in the mirror. Then he saw the beady eyes shift right.
“Buddy, stop that this instant!” Aunt Betty exclaimed to the nine-year-old boy sitting next to her.
It wasn’t immediately clear to Randy what Aunt Betty wanted Buddy to stop doing, but it became clear very soon, as the noxious odor drifted toward the front seat. Buddy giggled a bit, as the others quickly rolled their windows down. Buddy’s giggling ended up making him burp, and then he started laughing uncontrollably, which led to more unsavory noises and odors from both ends. It took quite a while before Buddy calmed down.
Every second or third song, Martha would fiddle with the AM radio, trying to find a clearer signal, or a better song, or a DJ whose voice she liked, or any number of other reasons, none of which seemed important to Randy. He thought about whether he preferred the fiddling or the pouting he knew would follow if he said anything. Randy kept quiet.
After a while, Randy tuned into the rhythm of the road, and all the other things faded into the background. He was vaguely aware of Melissa and Buddy arguing about something across Aunt Betty’s lap, and of Martha snoring quietly. He unconsciously read the road signs as they whizzed past and glanced regularly at his speedometer to make sure he stayed no more than a few miles per hour above the legal limit.
Finally, Martha’s voice brought Randy out of his near trance.
“I thought we were going to stop at 100,000 miles,” Martha pointed out, with a question in her voice.
Randy glanced down at the odometer. It read 100,011. He’d missed the big milestone. Randy was disappointed, but a sign a while back had indicated there was a rest area with picnic tables just a short distance ahead. They’d celebrate anyway and enjoy their lunch. Randy pulled off on the ramp and parked near a wooded area. Everyone piled out. That is, everyone except Aunt Betty, who preferred to eat her sandwich in the car. She found picnic tables uncomfortable. And she didn’t care for champagne anyway.
Randy pulled the champagne from the cooler while Martha set up the picnic. He untwisted the wire securing the cork and shook the bottle a bit. Since they were outside, Randy thought he’d let the cork really explode and the champagne foam freely out to give the kids a great show. It didn’t matter if some contents were wasted – he’d only sip a small glass since he was driving, and Martha couldn’t drink the remainder by herself.
Randy pushed with his thumb to ease the cork out, just to get it started. Nothing. He tried again with both thumbs. Still nothing. He grabbed the cork with his fist and twisted. The top part disintegrated in his hand.
Randy wasn’t about to be beaten by a cheap champagne cork. He’d seen people pop champagne corks in movies simply by striking the bottle bottom against a hard surface. If James Bond could do it, so could Randy. He hit the bottle against the picnic table. Then he did it again, harder. And then a third time. The cork didn’t budge.
Undaunted, Randy thought a minute. He’d also seen people in movies open bottles of champagne with swords. Russian dukes and such. Randy didn’t have a sword, so he’d have to improvise. The only thing at hand remotely similar to a sword was the tire iron from the trunk. That would have to do.
Randy held the champagne bottle in his left hand. He held the tire iron in his right. He pointed the bottle away from the picnic table and slid the iron along the seam in its neck. Hard. The champagne bottle exploded into hundreds of pieces, and its entire contents spilled on the ground. Worse, the tire iron flew out of Randy’s hand, directly toward the Fairlane and through the open window, where Aunt Betty was nibbling her sandwich.
They all raced to the car. Aunt Betty was still sitting in the middle of the back seat. The tire iron was in her lap, as was her limp left hand. There was no blood, but the hand had clearly been injured – a purple bruise was growing larger as they watched. Randy hurried to the rest area pay phone to call an ambulance, while Martha comforted Aunt Betty, who was relieved she hadn’t listened to Randy and had taken the time to change into her best underwear, now that a hospital visit was imminent.
When the ambulance pulled away, with both Aunt Betty and Martha aboard, Randy and the kids packed up the picnic remains, planning to meet the women at the hospital emergency room. Randy slid his key into the ignition and turned, expecting the reliable Fairlane to fire immediately. Instead, there was only a loud hum, followed by an explosion. Flames and smoke engulfed the engine compartment. They scrambled out, and Randy grabbed Buddy and Melissa’s hands to drag them what he thought was a safe distance away. There was another, bigger, explosion, and the entire car blew up.
Yes, it had been a big day for the Fairlane.
PC: Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash