Cobain’s death and the car trip

 Oddly enough I remember exactly where is was when I heard Kurt Cobain died.   I was working at an oil change center and just got in and asked. “is it Cobain’s birthday or something? It’s nonstop Nirvana on the radio today.  If someone comes in here NOT screaming at me in gibberish I might not be able to understand them…enough with the Nirvana already.”  I was informed he was dead.  No one around at that time can say there was even a glimmer of shock…I think I just asked “ o.d. or suicide?”.  I got a shrug as a response.   I guess Nirvana was a big deal…but they were the first ones through the door in a big wave of change. Gen X had the disposable income at the time so all of their kind was breaking through.  Something about growing up under the specter of Communist Russia pointing several thousand nuclear missiles at you produces a creatively that is kinda unique.  Other generations had that specter but maybe the Regan era was different because movie after movie used the Russian menace as the villain, it all seemed more intertwined with the culture.  I dunno.  Anyway that’s what I was doing when I heard.

As soon as that work day was over I was off for a long road trip from Milwaukee WI to as far south as we could get to Texas before finding a unicorn.  The “unicorn” in this instance was a 70’s GM of some sort with no rust to “hot Rod”.   I realize this term went out with the horse and buggy.  “Hot Rod” meant to take a perfectly good car and modify it so that it’s only real use was going really fast on a drag strip…preferably loudly and using as much gas as possible.  It meant rebuilding the engine, or just putting in a larger one, maybe repainting, cutting out any emissions parts and replacing them with pipes that sounded like a crop duster.  It was an outdated thing to do even when we were doing it, but there was something about taking a car completely apart and changing it that was really satisfying.   So the Unicorn in this instance just needed to be from a few specific years and rust didn’t even need to be very functional..that would be taken care of later.

So…that was the plan.  That was the entire plan. Drive southwest…find car…return.  There was no more planning than that because it was the early 90’s and there was no internet just yet.  Not to the extent there is now.  We’d find hotels on the way, we’d pick up local papers and look through the classified section or check the “for sale” peg board at the grocery stores in local towns once we were past the “rust belt”.  My friend and I were in an AMC concord which had no business making it one leg of the trip much less both ways.  Not on it’s own…we filled the back with tools and spare parts.  Between that and our combined knowledge of driving and repairing pieces of crap we could have gotten that car to Argentina with half assed repairs and will power.  How were we planning on getting the other car back?  Shrug.

I can’t remember how many cars we looked at but I do remember a specific one in some scary ass part of the country.  We saw the “for sale” 4×5 card on a cork-board at a grocery store entrance and drove to the address.  We knocked on the loose screen door of a house that looked a lot like the house Jessie Pinkman watched a stolen ATM fall on a guy’s head at in Breaking Bad.  It was white trash to the nth degree.  And what came to the door didn’t disappoint.  Tall, white, shaved head, vacant stare, blue jeans and a wife beater shirt.  If you are picturing the guy from “the hills have eyes” …you’re on the same page.  One precious little addition to the description…and wet mark about the size and location of where a bib would be.   It was hot so we told ourselves it was sweat…even though a drool trail going from his chin, down his neck and settling in the wet shirt made “sweat” an unlikely scenario.  He took us to the back yard and my friend discreetly flipped the safety off of his pistol.  There we saw a white 75 Buick in pretty good shape.   He said it ran great and hopped in.  From there he pushed down several times on a chrome gas pedal shaped like a bare foot and turned the key ( a side note here to those of you who never tried to start a carburated vehicle…you have to pump the gas a certain number of times before you start it…that number of times depends on the car…the weather…the gods of old piece of crap Buicks…or luck)

“zuhzuhzuhzuhzuh” went the engine…it spun but did not start

He tried again




“it’s fussy sometimes”  we didn’t notice him drooling anymore because we were looking at the car but the  wet mark had grown.


“it might be over heated” he speculated “ I’ll give it a few minutes”. He then stared blankly for ten seconds and tried again


“yep it’s too hot..we gotta let it cool off”

(instantly after saying this) “zuhzuzhzuhzuhzuhzuh.



He wasn’t getting angry, or frustrated, he just sat in the car drooling and turning the key every 3 seconds.


This went on for about 10 minutes in real time…and it seemed like the gentleman was willing to forgo any other plans he had for the weekend to simply sit in the car with a blank stare turning the key.


“it almost fired up that time!”  his shirt was now glistening in the sun.

Rather than be locked in a white trash time loop I said “well, there was another car for sale just up the road, we’ll take a look at that and by the time we get back this should have cooled off enough to start”

“yeah, good idea…it’s just gotta cool down”


“ that’s probably bob’s car..I’ll call him and tell him you’re coming, so he can have his running”

“Sounds good!”

We went back to our car with the sounds of him spinning his engine over again and again.  I said to my friend  “let’s not go by Bob”.  He turned and put his pistol back in the glove box “I like where your heads at…let get out of here, in case Bob’s car actually runs and he comes looking for us”.

Eventually in Oklahoma we found a 78 Cutlass in nice shape except that is smelled like cat piss.  Seeing as how the first car was owned by a person who smelled like cat piss, we considered it a step up and I bought the car.  I drove home with the windows open and wondered if the cat piss smell was going away or I was just now…and for the rest of my life, so used to the smell of cat piss that I would never notice it.

What does this have to do with Cobain? Nothing really except that the Cutlass had a tape player and I was able to listen to a man ramble on behind crappy guitar playing about killing himself, who eventually killed himself.  Seeing as how he was rich and famous and not driving 13 hours in a car that smelled like cat piss, I didn’t have much sympathy for him.

I don’t think the internet has done much to actually improve our lives.  LIVING is about doing things, experiencing things, interacting with people.  It’s possible I would have interacted with the drooler if there was internet at the time…in fact there are often exchanges in FB threads that I have where I am all but convinced I am interacting with the drooler.  But it’s not the same is it?  The bulk of our lives now can be broken down to zero’s and one’s in some binary program and destroyed by a virus.  It’s a safe bet that if the internet was around at the time Cobain would have just typed his gibberish into a blog ( yes I see the irony) or spent his day arguing with spellcheck.

We have more outlets now for our rage and creativity but it isn’t making us better.  It’s making us lazy and complacent.  When Cobain started you couldn’t just be crazy for a hobby, you had to do appear like you were doing something productive with it or be locked up.

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