April 1, 2020

Philosophical Roving

• By John F. Chisholm •

Last Tuesday my wife and I went out for dinner. It was a lovely spring evening. The leaves were just beginning their summer-long performance. The lilacs were budded but not yet blooming. Western sunlight painted the world in soft, pastel colors. After the harsh, icy light of winter, it was wonderful respite. Topping all that off, we took Rhoda Rover, my restored 1959 Land Rover.

You have to understand that an old Land Rover isn’t just a vehicle. It’s a philosophy. Everything is manual. Redundancies abound. The truck was designed to be user-serviceable on the road to anywhere. Unitized, replace-only parts were not used. Period. That doesn’t mean the vehicle won’t break down. Far from it. In fact, all but inevitably, something does happen. Regardless, the truck manages to get you there. It’s an amazing and, quite frankly, endearing trait as well. You just can’t be in a hurry.

For example, there’s a lever system on the mechanical fuel pump allowing manual operation from within the cab. Heaven forbid the pump’s camshaft rider break, but if it does, you can pump your way back to base. By hand. Of course since the truck also has a manual transmission, you’ll be busy. Very. The point here, you can do it. I know. It has happened to me.

In similar style, my lights cut out once. I wouldn’t have worried about it but it was after dark. Flashlight clenched between my teeth, I eventually found and repaired the short. Replacing the fuse afterwards was easy.

Another time the pinch bolt on the distributor loosened. The timing slipped while en-route. The truck brought me to my destination but then wouldn’t shut down, dieseling very contentedly in the parking lot. Stymied, the ignition off, the key in my pocket, I was reduced to closing the fuel valve. That shut it down. Finally. Then I retimed the truck and retightened the pinch bolt, too. Later, business completed, I drove home.

And so on.

As a consequence, I always get into my Land Rover with both confidence and misgiving. If I’m in good clothes and headed out to dinner with Dearly Beloved, misgiving generally has the upper hand.  But last Tuesday, the pagan gods of mechanical devices smiled. The Land Rover hummed, bouncing happily through the potholes and squeaking over the bumps in excellent humor.

The truck adores 40 MPH. On Maine’s back roads, especially this time of year, anyone takes their lives in their hands going faster.

Pedestrians out enjoying spring smiled and waved as the Land Rover approached.

Of course I waved back.

After the third time, my wife noticed it, too. She pointed to a family of four, laughing and clapping as we passed. “What are they doing?”

“They’ve read my essays on GardenMaine.com and are congratulating me enthusiastically for my literary accomplishments.”

My wife gave me a such a glance at that explanation that the hypothesis was immediately discarded.

“Okay,” I admitted. “You win. I’d say they’re admiring the Land Rover.”

“Oh,” Wendy exclaimed. “You mean the fact that it’s actually running creates such surprise that they applaud?”

“Yeah,” I conceded, chagrined. “Something like that. But you’ve got to agree, it is an unusual vehicle.”

“You mean it’s unusual that we haven’t yet broken down?”

“Hey!” I patted the Land Rover’s dashboard. “Speak nicely of Rhoda Rover. She’s doing a great job tonight. For one thing, she’s transporting you to dinner.” I pointed to my wife and thought about that for a moment longer. “In fact,” I added, “I bet she’s going to perform flawlessly tonight, just to show you.”

Wendy laughed, but that’s what happened. The weather, the drive, the dinner and the truck all conspired to create a lovely evening.

As I put Rhoda away afterwards, I wondered about circumstance. What grants a perfect date? Is it the Land Rover that’s a philosophy or rather is it that their owners develop one of necessity?

In other words, philosophically speaking, which came first?

The Land Rover or the breakdown?