Death Valley, mid-century, an August afternoon. Even if she hadn’t thumbed, I’d have stopped beside her shiny red 1955 Bel Air convertible, its bug-spattered hood open. My Ford Model A coupe is 24 years its senior.

The temp: over 100, still climbing.  Getting out, I leave both doors open to any chance wisp of air.

Her long blonde hair fairly glows in the brassy sunlight; her eyes hide behind huge sunglasses. She wears loose white slacks and a long-sleeved blouse. I’m working a cattle ranch 100 miles from here. In Levis and a T-shirt, I’m 20; she can’t be much older.

“Need help?”

“Thanks. Engine problem.”

“Sure it’s not just gas?”

“I filled up at Furnace Creek.” She rhymes it with meek instead of thick.

“You want to go back?”

“Do y’know where’s a Chevy dealer?”

“Lone Pine. About an hour.”

“I could bum a ride?”

“Sure. But you’ll be windblown. You could wait, snag a ride in a newer car.”

“You’re the first in a half-hour.”

“Understood. You ready?”


“Leaving anything valuable? Anybody could stop, rifle the car.”

“Thanks. Good point. I’ll lock things in the trunk.”

While she does that, I pour her a tin cup of water from the canvas bag hanging from the side mirror.

“Why, that’s almost cool!”

“Desert rat’s secret. Evaporation cools. Get in.”

The seat is a griddle. “Ouch,” she says. “Can’t wait for a breeze.”

I get up to 50; her hair is a haystack in a hurricane.

“Any way to cool it better than open windows?”

I drop back to an idle. “There is.” The Model A windshield was hinged so it could be tilted forward from the bottom, pinioned open with knurled knobs. “It may be even blowier.”

“Do it, please.”

I stop, wrestle the windshield open, get under way again. Surprisingly, the breeze buffets less: Her mane still billows in the hot breeze, but doesn’t toss as much. Her oversized shades make it hard to gauge her discomfort.

“You okay?”

“I’ll manage. But a comedown. My Chevy has air-conditioning.”

“Had,” I remind her.




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