Ellen had taken Saturday off, and it was early enough in the school year that Susan was able to leave in the early afternoon, and they were with us in Sellwood by 4:00 PM. They’d have to drive back after dinner on Saturday, since Susan was choir director on Sunday, but we all wanted to spend time together, and knew we would make it work.
After we got them settled in the guest room, we showed them the house in detail, explained how Marcia had helped with this color or that choice of furniture, and they loved the wallpaper in the dining room. Once through the house, we all took a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. They were quite impressed with it overall, were quite pleased with the proximity to the river, and the overall neighborhood feel that Sellwood had. I’d expanded our palette a little in the past week, turning the sideboard in the dining room into a bar of sorts, and we now had a limited selection of mixed drinks on offer as well as two nice wines and a sherry. The joke was if Jackson would be able to handle the drinks orders, and I had no doubt once he learned what went with what to make a requested drink, he’d become a study in high quality hosting. My father had drunk Manhattans, and I also knew it was one thing to learn how to make a good Gin & tonic, and something else again to make a mixed drink like a Manhattan or a Mojito. Still, it was a start and we would muddle through and have fun doing so.
Marcia and Carter joined us for the evening, and Ellen and I were the kitchen while Susan and Jackson were in the living room talking music when they arrived. They all knew each other from the trip to Newberg the Higgins had taken in the Spring, and so the conversation flowed easily once the greetings and catch up conversation was out of the way. It being August I was still enjoying grilling, so planned on doing JC’s grilled halibut with a beurre blanc sauce, accompanied by roasted potatoes and fresh green beans from a farm out by the airport. Our local grocery store made a big deal out of sourcing locally and could tell you pretty much which farm all the seasonal vegetable came from.
The dinner conversation was wide ranging, and I explained that we planned on taking Susan and Ellen on a whirlwind tour of Hoyt Arboretum, the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden the next day. As gardeners themselves, we figured both Susan and Ellen would be excited to see the plantings and new design approaches. I subtly informed them that we’d have to drive in Ellen’s Volvo since the El Camino only seated two. That got a laugh, and Carter observed that he had been wondering how long before we were forced to be practical and get a vehicle that would seat four. That made me re-run the conversation with Spencer from lunch!
As expected, Susan and Ellen were giving Marcia lots of credit for the interior design, which she graciously accepted, Carter smiling approvingly. At one point he asked if he could bring up a school related matter. We all acted surprised that he had to ask, and he informed us that it was not uncommon to do so, especially when with other faculty members and/or students, for whom conversation about school or coursework might be the last thing there were interested in on a Friday night. We all laughed and encouraged him, and he asked if I remembered the comparative religion lecture that he’d invited me to attend last Fall. I nodded, and he went on.
“I’ve been thinking about ways to make it more engaging and relevant. You remember how after I described Campbell’s definition of mythology as beginning with identity, how many students acted as if it might be full of interesting topics, but just didn’t really apply to them?” I nodded, and he continued, “so, what would you think about co-teaching the first couple of classes with me, and we focus on Identity?”
I was completely caught off guard. “Help me understand what you have in mind, Carter.”
He smiled widely. “Well, it shouldn’t be that hard to suss out. Most of the course is about mythology and how religions developed within the larger mythological context, but it seems to me one key opportunity to set the hook with the students has to do with the first of Campbell’s three questions regarding mythology. I was quite impressed with that Identity chart when you showed it to me, and am asking you if you’d talk about the importance of Identity within a religious context and then help the students start to work on defining their own identity.”
Jackson quickly interjected. “That would be really cool. It’d be a lot like when you taught that class on Identity in my Psych class last year. And you could expand it to having students start to complete the chart.” He paused, looking at me for a sanity check, and not wanting to get ahead of the conversation.
I smiled, “Do you really think so?” He nodded, “Absolutely. It was a great class. Can I tell everyone about it, and about the charts we did for each other?”
I nodded again, and smiled conspiratorially, “Sure, but no divulging of personal information!”
He grinned, dimples flaring and then proceeded to explain what happened in his Psych class when the teacher introduced the Identity chart idea, that I’d then reached out to her to explain how personal it could be and how damaging the information on it might be if not handled correctly, how she’d later asked me to teach a class on identity and religion and how great it had been. He paused, looking around at the adults.
Carter then asked, “Now tell us about the identity charts you two did for each other. David gave me kind of a summary about it, but I’m quite interested in hearing more detail from your side of the experience. No divulging of private information, just your view of the experience and how it helped you, if indeed it did.”
Jackson did a very nice job of explaining the ‘before and after’ changes of the identity charts we’d done for each other, the first trying to explain the elements of our identity the day before we’d met, and the second doing the same for when we did them four months later. Carter then asked him why he thought that exercise was important.
“Because,” he began, then paused for a couple of seconds, thinking, and then found his ground and went on, “because you know there are the elements that are bestowed on you by your family and your tribe and your society, and then there are the physical elements and then there are the ones that you can actually do something about. You have some control over them. Most people don’t know that. I didn’t. I didn’t know the difference, and on top of that I had no idea that I had any control over any of it. So, learning that was a big deal. But the most important part was that it helped me map it out. I mean, instead of just being a jumble of ideas floating around in my head, having to write them down really made me think about them, made me have to think hard about how to prioritize them, about what really mattered. And by the time I was done I felt like I had control over it, instead of it having control over me. Does that make sense?”
He looked around. Carter was waiting. Marcia, Susan and Ellen were all commenting on how logical it sounded and how helpful, how they wished more people were exposed to concepts like that. I saw Jackson look at Carter. He smiled widely and said, “If I were a lawyer, I would say you just made my case. You, my eighteen-year old friend, just laid out why it would be an improvement to the comparative religion class, and one that would make it more relevant and valuable for the students.” Then he paused and looked at me, “And, it goes without saying, that a certain number of students on campus would have a personal introduction to the new Director of Campus Ministry and Counseling. That sounds like a pretty positive outcome to me!”
The conversation was lighter over dessert, and after Marcia and Carter took their leave, we all settled in the living room catching up on life in Newberg and the church. It turned out that they hadn’t been able to find a minister to conduct services each Sunday, so they’d had a few with just a reading, but the good news was that there were some good candidates who were being interviewed for the position. Susan assured me that I had left a vacuum that would be hard to fill, and that the church’s expectations had been elevated by my year there. That gave me a pleasant satisfaction.
Saturday followed the same pattern as it had with Gary and Lois, but we passed on hiking all the trails at the Hoyt Arboretum and just went through the Visitor’s Center and then walked the plantings of trees nearby. They were both duly impressed with the huge range of trees the arboretum had, as they hadn’t previously known that Portland held such a botanical gem.
Since they had rose beds in the gardens of their home, we spent quite a bit of time at the Portland Rose Test Garden, and they were totally intrigued with all the new varieties that were being grown, and promised each other to return to learn about new ones that had grown successfully in the northwest climate, and which could enhance their own garden.
We spent an equal amount of time at the Japanese Garden, investing time in the Strolling Pond Garden, the Natural Garden and the Sand and Stone Garden. It was a dramatic departure from their own gardens, and while they made that clear, they were equally impressed with the striking beauty each had, as well as the level of peace and tranquility that each garden generated in their own way. We discussed that on our way back home, that somehow the design elements all worked together to create and evoke a particular experience and feeling. That would be something to ponder for the future in our own garden, and I also wanted to talk to Gary about his thoughts having seen these very different approaches to landscaping gardens.
Jackson was insistent that we take them to the same restaurant we’d eaten at with Lois and Gary, and it was just fine with me. It was rapidly becoming our favorite, not the least of the reasons being that we could walk the few blocks from home, enjoy the evening, then the great food, and then a pleasant walk home. Ahh yes…the pleasures of a neighborhood. Ellen and Susan truly appreciated it since they lived out in the country, and were telling us on the walk back home how lucky we were to have found such a great house, in such a nice neighborhood, so close to the college and where “neighborhood” wasn’t just a concept, but a reality that was alive and well. Then they said their goodbyes, and headed home to Newberg.
We were sorry to see them not be able to stay over Saturday night, but during breakfast the next day we acknowledged that with house guests three weekends in a row, we were already starting to feel it. Neither of us wanted to be negative about it, so we took it as a learning experience. This was the first month in our new home, so it was a one-time thing. Jackson’s Dad and Grandfather were coming to visit over Labor Day, and after that we agreed we’d never do more than two weekends in a row!
While we were washing the dishes, standing side by side at the sink, I smiled at him and said, “Want to go somewhere with me tomorrow morning?”
He slyly looked back at me and said, “And, where would that be?”
“It’s nothing crazy, don’t worry. Have you felt the same problem we have, like I have these last few weeks, the one Carter mentioned, that the El Camino isn’t the best model car for us?”
He grinned, “You mean because we have to take two cars sometimes or make our guests drive? What’s so bad about that?” I knew he was being a brat.
“Okay, so I take it you have noticed that it can be a problem. Anyway, one part of lunch with Spencer on Friday was him telling me about this used BMW he saw at the dealership when he was there in the morning, and he made me promise to go look at it and drive it tomorrow.”
“Really? What’s a lawyer doing selling cars?”
I laughed. “Good question. I think he thinks he’s doing us a favor, helping us upgrade and solve a problem. I think he’s also trying to grow his BMW club—you know, like get all his friends into BMWs.”
“What’s the deal?” I told him everything Spencer had told me, and then detailed the challenge of the price difference.
“That does sound like a lot of money, I mean the price difference. Can you afford that?”
“One side of my brain says no, but it’s fighting with the other side of my brain that says it’s time to move off the El Camino.”
“There have to be less expensive ways to get a car that will carry four people, right?”
“Oh yeah, we could talk to Lois’ dad and get a deal on a Ford. Then we’re dealing with Spencer’s point about performance and just having another run-of-the-mill American car. The El Camino has a big engine, but it is kind of like driving a boat.”
He stepped back, looking at me in an odd kind of way. “You’re talking yourself into this, aren’t you?”
Then he grinned.
Before I replied he said, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pushing one type or the other, I’m just making the observation.” Then he hugged me and kissed the side of my head.
“Well, before the El Camino I had a 1969 Datsun 510 station wagon. That was my first car, and it got me through college and seminary. So, I’ve never had a sporty car. And if I’m honest, Spencer’s pitch about the car and it’s performance and how it drives was kind of attractive.”
He hugged me again, and whispered, “You’re so cute when you’re being contrite!”
“What do you mean?”
He had his arms around me, pulling me into an embrace and said, “Shh, stop fighting it.” Then his lips were on mine, my mouth opened, and in a few seconds our tongues started their dance and his hand was in my crotch.
Finally, I surfaced and said, “This isn’t fair. You know I told Fred I’d attend church with him this morning, and the service starts at 11:00. We don’t have time this morning.”
He grinned, saying nothing, and his eyes were flashing.
“Are you coming with me?”
“Do you want me to?”
“I would prefer to have you with me for every single thing I do, but I don’t want to put pressure on you. You think of yourself as an atheist, and that’s fine, so the last thing I want to do is pressure you into attending church with me.”
“Actually, when you put it like that, I start getting interested, partly because I’d rather be with you than be alone!” He was blinking his eyes, being cute and bratty at the same time! “Also, because I feel like I owe Fred, too, since he spent so much time with us the other night. What time do we have to leave?
“No later than twenty after the hour. But you have to do one more thing for me?”
He looked at me quizzically.
“This afternoon we have to resume right where we left off just now, except in on our bed. What do you say?”
He was still blinking his eyes, but his smile had become salacious.
Portland’s Metropolitan Community Church met in an old church building they had recently acquired in northwest Portland. It was a nice old church that lent a sense of tradition, even though the service was contemporary. Fred was waiting for us outside on the steps, clearly pleased so see us both attend. We chatted for a couple of minutes and he told me that the congregation had only recently taken possession and moved in. It was larger than the building they had been in before, and besides worship services, it promised to become a gay community center. I picked up their statement of faith brochure in the narthex and we went into the sanctuary with Fred for the service. It was a fairly typical Protestant “praise and worship” service, with quite a bit of music and hymn singing, and an upbeat festive air. I was impressed with the open and welcoming feeling that was quite tangible. The pastor did a nice job with the sermon, making it relevant and approachable—just the model I liked.
Fred introduced us after the service, and I gave it a positive assessment. He said he was pleased to learn that there was a gay minister taking over campus ministry at Lewis & Clark. “Long overdue. Too many students get condemned just when they need support. If I can help in any way, let me know.” He gave me his card.
Afterwards, as we were leaving, Fred asked if we had any plans for lunch, and when we said no he asked if he could take us to lunch. We walked to a nearby restaurant, and we found out quickly one of the things that was on his mind.
“Please tell me I didn’t overload you guys or totally depress you with all the Catholic doctrine and theology the other evening?”
We allayed his concerns, and I assured him that being fully informed was always way better than getting tough information in sugar-coated fashion, and then stumbling over something later. He smiled and then said to me, “I’d expect that from you, you’ve been to seminary and worked through almost all of this.” He turned to Jackson, “How about you. Are you Okay, or still really concerned about your friend?”
Jackson smiled meekly. “I’m still really concerned. I haven’t seen Will since he and his potential boyfriend were here, but we’ve talked by phone and he’s pretty confused with how Kevin is behaving. I’ve tried to kind of distill everything you said down to the main points that I could get my head around so I can talk to him or explain stuff to him if things get weird. A lot of it seems to me to boil down to fear and guilt. Am I oversimplifying it?
Fred smiled at him. “No, sadly, you’re not. Fear and guilt are very effective ways to control people. Like we talked about, and this isn’t limited to the Catholic Church. Obedience or compliance are common goals, and it just so happens that a very effective way to achieve obedience is with fear and guilt. That’s one of the liberating things about being in the MCC. Yes, there’s a concept of sin, but it’s more along the line of missing the mark and not living up to your potential, and fear isn’t part of the program. You know that ‘missing the mark’ is what the Greek word for sin means, don’t you?”
Jackson shook his head, and Fred continued. “The Greek word is amartia, and the literal translation is ‘to miss the mark,’ so it is more about a behavior failure then a moral failure, let alone the idea of total depravity.”
I added, “Remember us talking about the early church concept of the church as a hospital? I guess I didn’t mention it, but it goes hand in hand with being sick and needing to be healed. Remember me telling you that the word for conversion, metanoia, means to change behavior and way of living. It’s kind of like that. The idea of falling short of your potential makes far more sense than turning it into moral failure.” I turned to Fred and said, “I’m impressed you can say what you do about MCC and no emphasis on fear. That has to be liberating.”
“It sure is. It’s kind of like ethics, most people don’t need to be afraid of the consequences in order to do the right thing. Good instruction and behavior modeling work pretty well. Did you like the service?”
I told him I did, and I enjoyed the upbeat feeling as well as the feeling of welcoming and openness. “I’ve glanced at this statement of faith, and will read it all. I like that agreement on dogma isn’t a requirement, and that there’s such an emphasis on diversity, building community and experiencing and sharing God’s love.”
“You’ll see when you read it that one of the lynch pins is the old Reformation maxim: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
I told him how encouraging that was, and then we talked about other stuff, like his heading back to Seminary over the weekend and his course work for his last year. He promised to stay in touch, and made sure we had his address and phone number, and told Jackson twice that he could call him anytime if things got too strange or difficult with Will and Kevin.
As we drove home, I asked Jackson what he thought about the service. “Well, you know where I’m coming from now. If church when I was growing up had been more like that, I’d probably have had a different attitude. Of course, it would have required different parents too, but you know what I mean, right?”
I grinned and nodded my head as he gave my thigh a squeeze. “Did you like it? Are you going to go back?”
I thought for a few seconds. “I didn’t dislike it. I’ll start by saying that. In terms of the service itself, I guess I’m more of a traditionalist and like more liturgical structure. That’s how I’ve always felt about praise and worship services. Not this one, but an awful lot of them, end up with a lot more praise than worship. That said, you know where I am, and I’m still sorting out in my mind how moving to a metaphorical belief correlates with worship. I mean Christian worship, even what we just heard, is by design very specific, very concrete. Not much metaphor! As to going back, probably not, at least not right away. I’m on sabbatical from church right now, till I sort all this all out. On top of that, I don’t know how the campus ministry thing is going to shake out. The main emphasis is on helping students with their spiritual needs and youth groups, but also in there was non-denominational services. For all I know I could end up doing a simple non-denominational service every Sunday.”
“It’s possible. It could even be a generic and spiritual, by which I mean non-Christian service, depending on the students. If all the students that want to participate are from Buddhist backgrounds then holding a Christian service doesn’t make much sense, does it?”
He smiled and said he hadn’t thought about that. I was already thinking how I’d adjust if I had to since I’d never conducted non-denominational or non-Christian services!
When we walked in the house, I pulled him in for a big hug and whispered in his ear, “Thanks for coming with me. It made it so much better having you with me.” He hugged me back and I heard him whisper back, “I’m glad I went, too, but don’t plan on it being a regular thing!” He was giggling and leaned back to look at me directly, his eyes sparkling, then pulled me in for a luscious kiss.
When we broke for air he said, “You haven’t forgotten the promise you made me make this morning, have you?”
The salacious smile was back, and I felt his hand rubbing my groin. “Oh no, Lover Boy. I surely haven’t forgotten. You should be able to figure that out by how fast I’ve gotten hard. Let’s go! We’ve got some calories to work off from that lunch.”
An hour later, as we recovered from a blissful love making session, he said, “If you’re going to drive that BMW the way you just drove me, then I think it’ll be fun to join you for the test drive in the morning!”
I’d called ahead and spoke to Dieter and we arranged to meet at 10:00 am at the BMW dealership. He was a well-spoken and very nice middle-aged gentleman, with still a hint of a German accent. We chatted for a while and he had no qualms about telling us that his family emigrated after the war, and that he loved America, but that Germany still made the best cars. When I asked him about Spencer and the connection, he also made it clear that they were friends, and that Spencer had steered a lot of business his way. In other words, lawyers who he’d helped convince that a BMW was a better choice than a Mercedes.
He grinned, with a great deal of satisfaction, and said, “Thus when he told me he had a very dear friend that he was trying to interest in transitioning from an American-made auto to a German auto, I told him I would assist however I could.”
Dieter was very smart. He then turned his attention to Jackson, and said, “Now, Mr. Ayers, please introduce me to your young friend.” He wasn’t being offensive, or even curious, but rather matter of fact, and I just felt I could be honest with him. After all, he was Spencer’s friend, and we were here because of Spencer’s recommendation.
“Dieter, forgive me. I failed to fully introduce you when we walked in. This is Jackson Dean. We’re boyfriends, and he’s starting college at Lewis & Clark College in a week.”
Jackson and Dieter shook hands again, but this time as if it really meant something and he said, “It is my pleasure to get to know you.”
Jackson grinned at the formality. Dieter turned back to me. “Did not Spencer tell me you also work at Lewis & Clark?”
“Yes,” I said, “after a fashion, “I’m the Director of Campus Ministry.” It was the first time I’d said it in public, and, actually, it felt quite nice to be able to say it
“Ahh, a minster, if I am not mistaken?”
Suddenly I saw an angle. It dawned on me that his interest in my being something like a faculty member at Lewis & Clark would be that it provided an entre to other faculty members, but I could also play the “poor minister” role here, especially if the car purchase went anywhere.
“You are not mistaken, Dieter, but I must warn you, I am not employed by the college, but by a non-profit, and the salaries of ministers are far lower than college professors.”
He brushed it away, “I certainly did not mean to intimate anything. I am pleased to learn that you both are associated with a college held in such high esteem. Now, may I ask, have you ever driven a BMW before?”
I shook my head and told him that before my El Camino I had a Datsun 510. I was starting to be embarrassed by that when I heard him saying, “Mr. Ayers, that is a very good automobile. We have much to discuss today. Do you not know that the engineering for the 510 was inspired by the BMW 1600? It incorporated a single overhead cam engine with a MacPherson strut suspension in the front and independent rear suspension to result in a quite high level of performance. In fact, Auto Week magazine called the 510 the poor man’s BMW.”
I was speechless, and I could see Jackson starting to grin.
“Actually, Dieter, no, I had no idea. I can tell you that the 510 was a great car, and if, as you say, it’s the poor man’s BMW, then I should be reasonably competent at driving this car you have that Spencer thinks I should own.” I was trying to regain control of the conversation.
Jackson was almost laughing.
“I have to tell you right now, though, that we’re only here because Spencer made me promise before he left on Friday that I would come down here and look at this car and drive it. I’m not doing this out of choice, but because Spencer is a dear friend who prevailed on me.”
I glanced at Jackson and could see he was realizing that taking control of the conversation was important just in case you decided to make the purchase.
“So,” I went on, “please tell me about the car. And remember that I used to own ‘the poor man’s BMW.’ I believe Spencer said it was a 2002, right?”
Dieter was eyeing me cannily now, but with a smile in his eyes. “Indeed, it is a 2002, the model year is 1976, but it is a tii model with fuel injection and leather seats. It is the finest coupé on the road. The vehicle we are discussing was sold by me to the previous owner, who just traded it in on a larger sedan. One like Spencer has. So, it is less than two years old, in pristine condition, and mechanically very sound and with less than 30,000 miles on it.”
I decided I needed to try and get him on the defensive, and spent a few minutes telling him about the El Camino, the great bucket seats, the power of the engine, and most importantly, the utility from having a pick up bed and a shell, especially for people like us that rode bicycles and kayaked.
He was unruffled. “Mr. Ayers, this is not an automobile designed for transporting kayaks, but rather for transporting human beings in a high-performance setting.” He was smiling as he said it, and his eyes were sparking with humor, and I could see Jackson was smiling along. He went on, “However, as regards the bicycles, it is quite easy to acquire a bicycle rack that attaches to the trunk lid to carry the bicycles.”
I felt like I was playing poker and he’d just seen my bet and raised me.
We all knew we were playing a game and enjoying it, and then he said, “Shall we go outside so I can show you the automobile?”
It was actually a relief. As we began to walk, he pointed toward a car across the lot, and just seeing its beautiful deep blue color, with that stylish square design and all that glass, I knew I was done!
We stood a few feet away from the gleaming car, and Dieter proceeded to explain that the color was Riviera Blue, and that the body work was in superb condition. The vehicle was in top mechanical shape, regularly serviced here at the dealership, and having recently been received in trade on a new auto it had received a complete inspection in their service department to ready it for sale. He pointed out that the tires had recently been replaced, and that one major adjustment would be that the 2002 was not available with air conditioning, though with large windows and front side vents, there would be plenty of air circulation. I smiled at him and said, “That will be moving backwards to the Datsun, which also had no air conditioning and front side vents.”
He smiled back, and went on, “However, the deficiencies in the Datsun you will find are more than made up for in the other features of the vehicle, such as rack and pinion steering, power front disc brakes, the turbo-charged engine, 5-speed transmission, high-quality construction and German engineering. I have to believe that you will be quite impressed with how it drives, especially the way it handles, and the ample power it has thanks to the turbo charger.”
As he opened the driver door, he pointed out the AM/FM radio and cassette player and said, “That was installed here, by us, as they are not available as a factory option. Now, I must tell you that I am quite impressed with both of you, and Mr. Sullivan told me you both are among his dear friends and that I was to take special care of you. Normally, I would ride with you for the test drive, but I can tell you are responsible, and you will be leaving your vehicle here, so you will test drive without me. I want you to be able to enjoy the vehicle and speak freely, not feel like you have a sales agent watching you all the time. Is that agreeable with you?”
I was surprised at his words, glanced at Jackson who was grinning again, and said to Dieter, “It is more than agreeable. It is very thoughtful of you.” I handed him the keys to the El Camino, and he told me the car already had temporary dealer plates on it and half a tank of gasoline.
“So, enjoy the test drive. I trust you will not take it on a racecourse, or drive as if you are on one, and will stay on the paved roads as well?” He had a wry smile as he said that, but his eyes were sparkling, and I wondered if he knew I was already hooked.
“With the automatic transmission in the El Camino, you may have lost your touch with a manual clutch and four-speed transmission, but it shouldn’t take more than a couple of shifts to have it back. It has a tight gear box with short throws, so you’ll find it quite easy to shift. Please enjoy your drive and I will see you within two hours, yes?”
We both smiled like kids at Christmas and nodded at him. When we were inside and had closed the doors and were watching him walk away, I turned to Jackson and said, “Why are we acting this way?”
“All excited and like we’re getting a Christmas present or something?”
He just smiled, “Well, it is kind of exciting, isn’t it, when you put all the pieces of the story together.
As I adjusted the rear-view mirror and made sure the side mirrors were properly set, I said, “I feel like I lost control of myself when I saw it as we walked out. It’s beautiful, don’t you think?”
“I love the lines, the shape of the glass, the overall look. It’s really cool.”
“Okay, let’s see how it starts and drives. You have to test drive it as well.”
He glanced at me. “Maybe. When I took driver’s ed, it was with an automatic transmission. Other than Gary’s truck that’s all I’ve ever driven, and Gary’s truck is not much of a training vehicle for driving this one. So, you’re going to be the main test driver, and maybe at the end you can set me up on some straight and flat section or something like that.”
I smiled at him. “What happened to my fearless teenage boyfriend?”
“You mean the one that never cared that much about driving? Oh, he’s still here. Maybe he’ll be more into driving depending on how this goes.”
The engine fired on the first turn of the ignition key, and it sounded wonderful. I wondered to myself, ‘can car engines sound sexy?’ I eased out of the parking lot and onto the street, merged into the traffic, and we headed up toward the west hills and away from the city traffic. We drove up Barnes Avenue into the hills, a gradual and slowly winding road, and the feeling coming through the steering wheel was terrific. Dieter was right, the suspension was tight, and so was the steering, and the car was very responsive. There was little traffic, and as we approached the turn up to Skyline Boulevard, I down-shifted into second, and with no traffic coming as we passed the Yield sign and made the turn, pushed on the accelerator, and the engine roared and the car seemed to jump.
“Whoa!” That came from Jackson in the passenger seat. “Yeah, responsive, isn’t it?”
I shifted into 3rd as we ran up the hill, and Jackson said, “You do know you have a shit-eating grin on your face, don’t you?”
“You know what that is, right? I mean with you being a minister and all?”
“Yeah, I know. Is it that obvious? I mean this is really fun, and it feels so good. Driving it, it’s so tight.”
He wasn’t going to miss that one. “As tight as me?”
I glanced at him. “I have to keep my eyes and mind on the road, you know?”
“Well, yeah, but I just asked a simple question, that’s all. You can answer questions, can’t you?”
“If you’re a good boy today, I’ll answer that one later. Meanwhile, we have to concentrate on what we’re doing. See how the road is narrowing up ahead and the turns are getting tighter.”
“Yeah, tighter!” He was laughing out loud now.
I decided to just concentrate on the driving. The car handled really well, and there was plenty of power. I hadn’t had to downshift to 2nd and I found myself thinking thoughts I hadn’t thought since buying the El Camino. “Will I have to downshift for that hill,” or even more thrilling, “Will I need to downshift for that turn, so we slow down and I have control if I need to accelerate?”
It was fun. I could feel the shit-eating grin on my face, the one that Jackson had pointed out. Skyline Boulevard topped out on a ridge running north high above Portland, and we sailed along it, feeling the joy.
“What do you think? How does it feel from the passenger seat?”
“It actually feels better than I thought. It feels like performance coupled with control. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it feels good. I mean, just after this little bit of driving I can see us coming into a turn at 50 MPH and my brain is saying, ‘we’ve got that, no problem.’ Is that what you’re feeling?”
“For sure. With the El Camino or other big cars, you’re never sure so you have to back off and kind of slide through the turns. This baby just handles like a dream.”
I didn’t know the roads, but I knew I wanted to see how it drove downhill too, so when we got to Germantown Road I turned right, and we headed downhill. I figured it would take us to the highway north out of Portland. This was a nice road, with a couple of major switchbacks that required downshifting and some other nice big sweeping turns. I noticed Jackson was grinning now, and he wasn’t holding on for dear life either.
“Pretty solid, don’t you think?”
He said, “Yeah, I love if from over here. It looks like you’re about to cream your jeans over there.”
“So gauche, so gauche!” But I reached over and squeezed his thigh.
The road ended in front of the St. Johns Bridge, and I turned north on Highway 30 heading away from Portland It was a quiet rural highway running next to the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River, and we sailed along easily at 60 MPH in 4th gear. In fifteen minutes, we were in the town of Scappoose, and I asked Jackson if he wanted some lunch. We saw a café and pulled up into the parking lot and sat admiring the car out the window as we ate.
On the way south, on a hunch, I turned off the highway and took the Sauvie Island Bridge to the east, and found we were in luck. We were on a large island between the Willamette and the Multnomah Channel. It was all agriculture – big farms and beautiful views, and because this was Monday, there was no traffic. There was basically one road that ran around the perimeter. I drove north till I found a pull over, swung in and stopped, slipping the transmission into neutral, pulling up the parking brake and looked over at Jackson, “Okay, Lover Boy, it’s your turn.”
He’d pretty much figured out where this was going and smiled demurely as he opened the door. We met at the hood, and I hauled him in for a hug and a kiss. “Thanks for doing this with me. You know how much I love you, don’t you?”
He grinned. “Yeah, I do, and it’s fun seeing you excited about something like this and feeling it. Are you hearing me Babe, I said feeling it!”
I hugged him again. “I heard you, and I think that’s a big part of what’s going on. I’m feeling something new and exciting that I never quite felt before. Well, for the record it doesn’t compare with that thing that was new and exciting that I’d never felt before last year when I fell in love with you. Does that make you feel better about my mental and emotional health?”
I was holding his face now, looking directly into those lovely hazel eyes, trying to smile and be happy, but knowing this was a deadly serious question.
“Yeah, it does. It may be only test driving a car, but you’ve come to life. You know what that means?”
I leaned back to look at him so I could see his whole face. “What would that mean?”
He grinned. “That there’s hope for you!”
I hugged him again, and heard him say into my ear, “Now get in the car because you have to walk me through this, so I don’t damage the car.”
I did, and he slipped into the driver’s seat, pulled the seat forward a bit, adjusted the mirrors and said, “Now what.”
“Unlike the International pickup, the parking brake is here, between the seats. So, release that and step on the brake. See the shift pattern, embossed right here on top of the shifter? Just depress the clutch and shift into first gear. You’ll only have to give it a little gas since we’re on level ground. Don’t be surprised if you let it out too fast and it lurches or even dies. You have to get used to the clutch. The truck’s clutch is bigger and heavier duty, so you have to engage it slowly. This is a more high-performance clutch, and it starts to engage quicker. You’ll get used to it. Let’s go.”
He had exactly one of those lurching experiences that happen when you let the clutch out too fast without enough accelerator. He looked at me and smiled, “I see what you mean. It engages fast. Okay, here we go again.”
The next one was pretty smooth, and we were off.
“Let me give you a couple pointers on shifting and then I’ll shut up. You can either shift using the tachometer, but you need to know the engine acceleration range, and we don’t. So, you want to learn to shift from the feel and sound, the load on the engine. Okay, see how it’s starting to sound a little wound up, you’re getting at the top end for 1st gear, so ease off the accelerator, and shift to 2nd.”
He did and it was pretty smooth. As we approached 35 MPH, I said the same thing and he was in 3rd gear. Then 4th gear and he was grinning like a fool.
“That was easy, Love. How does it feel?”
“It feels amazing. I mean after the pickup this feels like we’re doing ballet or something. It’s so different with the shifter on the floor instead of the column.”
“Absolutely, four on the floor, as they used to call it in the muscle car days, feels a lot more like performance than the three speed on the column. Of course, in this case we have five on the floor, but you won’t be using 5th gear at these speeds. Okay, you’re doing great. I’m done talking. You just enjoy driving this car.”
He did. He focused and really concentrated, like he was trying to feel the soul of the car and really be in synch with it. I was watching him, and while he was concentrating and trying to look really serious, he was also having a really hard time not breaking into a shit eating grin himself.
I could see we were approaching a wide sweeping turn that turned out to be the south end of Sauvie Island. I glanced his way and said, “Can I suggest something?”
“Okay, as you approach the beginning of the turn, let off the accelerator, and when the car starts to slow just a little, downshift into 3rd gear, then let the clutch out and don’t get spooked by the sound, it’ll be revved up, and then give it just a little gas. Then you’ll be in position to accelerate through the turn. You don’t have to gun it. Just stay on the accelerator a little, and you’ll feel that instead of slowing down and coasting through the turn, you’re powering into it and may want accelerate just a little.”
He did it and did it pretty well. I tousled his hair and yelled, “Good job, Lover Boy!”
When we were out of the turn, he looked at me and grinned, a look of excitement on his face. Back on the straight away after he’d shifted into 4th gear I asked, “Do you know why what you just did matters?”
“Well, yeah, it meant I could slow down and control the speed through the turn, right?”
“Absolutely. It also means another thing. Because you’ve down shifted and you’re in 3rd gear, you’re in a position to accelerate out of the turn. Think about that. It’s not something you want or need to do all the time, but it’s cool to be able to when you have to.”
I stopped talking and let him drive, enjoying the sight of him shifting, smiling broadly at enjoying something so much, and reveling in the sight of my boyfriend, in the driver’s seat, hands on the steering wheel, the wind coming in the window and blowing his hair back, and him being so happy. I was happy as well. I knew we were buying this car.
After we left Sauvie Island, Jackson didn’t want to drive in the city traffic, so we switched places and I drove us back to the BMW dealership. I parked just where the car was when Dieter handed us the keys, and as we approached the door, he was there to greet us with a controlled smile on his face. “And, how did it go, gentlemen? Are you now in love with German engineering?”
I looked at him directly, trying hard not to break into a big smile myself, and said, “I don’t know about in love, but it drives impressively.” He knew what I was trying to do, and he turned to Jackson.”
“And you, Mr. Dean, I presume you drove the car also. What did you think?”
We’d talked about loving the car and that we wanted to buy it on the final leg of the test drive, and Jackson was smart enough to know not to give it all away.
“Well, Dieter, I have to tell you that before today the only vehicle with a manual transmission that I’ve ever driven was my brother’s 1964 International pickup. It has a three-speed transmission, with the shifter on the column. So, I can certainly say that this BMW is an improvement over that truck.”
He said it straight faced, too!
Dieter was no fool. He’d been dealing with too many businessmen and lawyers for too long. “Well, my young friends, I’m so happy you were pleased with your experience and with the test drive. So, come in and let’s discuss where we go from here.”
After he had us seated, it came down to the basic question: do you like the car and do you want to purchase it? I think he already knew the answer. He’d been reading our expressions and body language since we got out of the car.
Once he’d gotten the commitment, that we wanted to buy the car out of us, he surprised us with what he said. “I have been selling automobiles for many years, and I learned long ago that the best customer is a repeat customer. One who is satisfied with his first purchase and wants to repeat that experience the next time. That is why we take care of our customers in addition to selling them very dependable and high-quality automobiles. Mr. Sullivan thinks this would be a terrific car for you gentlemen, and I do too. Not flashy, but sporty and dependable…and beautiful, do you not think so.”
He was so good at setting the hook!
“Mr. Spencer also asked me to take care of you, and I intend to do that. If you were to trade the El Camino in on the 2002, you would not get full value for the El Camino because we would need to make a profit on it when we sell it. While you were gone, I looked up the sticker price when you bought it, and the current value, and if you sold it yourself you would get a much higher price. Yours is a Super Sport model and Chevrolet didn’t make a lot of them, so it would command a much higher price than if you traded it in. In addition, I am prepared to sell you this 2002 tii for the trade-in value we gave our customer when he purchased the larger sedan. The reason is simple. We made a profit on the sale of the sedan, and I want you to be able to afford this purchase. Also, I want to make you part of the BMW family, because I know that if I do that and you are happy with the automobile and satisfied with my service, then we shall be friends for life.”
I was blown away. This was a car salesman! Actually, I immediately revised that thought. This was a gentleman in the business of providing people with the best automobile they could afford, and who set about to do it in the most pleasant manner possible. I was impressed.
“Dieter, may we, as we say in America, cut to the chase?”
He grinned. “Of course, Mr. Ayers.”
I said, “My name is David, please. Spencer spoke of you very highly in no uncertain terms, and that is enough for me. We both love this car and want to buy it. He told me about the pricing differential between the El Camino and this BMW, and I can afford the difference. We appreciate your suggestion about selling the El Camino ourselves, and that makes perfect sense. So, tell us what the price on the 2002 is, and if we can agree on that, I will write you a check.”
And that was how we acquired the BMW. He walked out with us so Jackson could drive the El Camino home, and appeared to be genuinely happy to have met him and said goodbye in a very friendly way.
He handed me the paperwork as we walked to the BMW, and as we stood by the driver’s side door he said, “You are a very fortunate man. You are now driving one of the best automobiles available, and you have a wonderful boyfriend. I can see you two are very much in love. I envy you, and I wish you all the best.”