Lobo’s wife Cassandra had taken Junior and their new Toyota Matrix over to San Antonio, leaving Lobo and I to cruise around Austin in his beloved “Miracle Blue,” the legendary heap of beaten parts and bolts that still motors from point A to point B through some form of divine intervention or mistake. It’s an 86’ Volvo that he bought off a craigslist ad, showing up to his meeting with the owner with 1000 bucks stuffed in his pocket and 200 more crammed in his sock. When the owner scoffed at his 1000-dollar offer, 500 below the asking price, Lobo miraculously found another 200 in his boot and polished off the deal with a crooked grin and a firm handshake. It may be the best 1200 bucks anyone’s ever spent. When he got a job building houses with our old landlord in Massachusetts he hauled that thing from Austin to Boston twice in one summer. The thing just keeps going. He’s been driving it now for six years without a problem. The old Volvo makes ungodly sounds when it shifts gears and has lost its front grill, but it still goes, the road’s own little miracle. The car was in worse shape than when I saw it a year ago and got progressively worse every year I did see it. It rested on four mismatched tires, one of which was a donut Lobo had been driving on for a solid two months. This donut was beyond worn down, completely tread-less and so smooth I thought it was made of porcelain. It threatened to burst at any moment.
“Volvo, engage!” Lobo demanded as he turned the ignition. His wide nose snarled as his eyes, that somehow always held at least a tinge of drunkenness, bulged in a pleading grimace. The motor grumbled and moaned then stalled out with a shiver, sending a tremor through the entire frame of the car. I rolled down my window to let some air in. It was dreadfully hot, and even though I had no doubt she would eventually start up, I knew we could be waiting a while. “Ha, ehhh?” He laughed as if he were embarrassed, then tensed over the wheel like the car just might jump into light speed and screamed “VOLVO, ENGAGE,” while turning the key. His wiry shoulders trembled and his dark eyes squinted under the weight of some psychic effort he exerted. The motor sputtered and wailed and sadly stalled out. I’ve never seen the Volvo start before at least three warm up runs. The third time proved to be the charm and the old motor rhythmically grumbled as we made our way to the store. We approached a red light and were surrounded by a group of nicer, newer cars; by newer cars I mean cars that weren’t cruising into their second decade on the road. “Quick, role up your window so people think we have AC,” Lobo blurted in a panic, frantically rolling up his window as we approached the light. We were out in the middle of a dreadfully hot Texas afternoon and I knew he was kidding; but I never know for sure. Perhaps he drove this old heap around by himself, sweltering with the windows closed, smiling out at his fellow commuters as sweat poured down his face.
“No,” I objected.
“Oh, Okay. You’re right,” he relented with a half wink. “Now let’s get some food for the ride, we’ve got a long trip tomorrow.” We were slated to leave for Mexico the next morning. The only thing that kept us was the arrival of our friend Dan and his girlfriend.
Dan and Linda were arriving by bus from Boston that night at an incredibly inconvenient time, right in the middle of a blues show Lobo and I were both excited to see. Around seven we sat at the bar listening to the warm up acts hoping we’d be back in time to catch some of the headliner after we returned with Dan and Linda. All week Lobo had been going out to shows with me with the understanding that he would “drink like a gentleman,” which meant refraining from boozing all his money away and ending up black out drunk. Requesting such restraint is a hard thing to ask of him, but one that was necessary because he’d already gone on his standard pre-vacation pawnshop run and there was no more money coming in until August. If we were to go to Mexico he couldn’t afford to squander what meager funds he had on a bar stool before we left. But enough was enough. Lobo was working on his fourth beer when he informed me in no uncertain terms that he would not be drinking like a gentleman on this evening.
“When I get drunk I like to steal shit,” Lobo told me with an emphatic, boisterous chuckle as we raced north on I-35 to the bus station. His Aztec face popped in and out of the shadows as the Volvo labored by street lamps at a lumbering 75 mph. “I don’t know why that is,” he continued, reflecting with a smile, “but I just wanna take shit when I get drunk. Like this one time, I was hanging out with this guy and his father, real Austin big shots. The dad was boys with Stevie Ray Vaughn and the son dated one of the Bush twins. We got wasted and ended up back at the father’s house and I went to take a piss in the backyard and the old man ended up getting’ all pissed at me and we ended up gettin’ into a fight right there. Nothing major, just a scuffle, you know, some pushing and shoving and rolling around. Some how the kid gets into it and I swiped his phone as they were throwing me out. In the morning I’d forgotten that I stole it, and the phone was ringing in my pants when I called him! He’s never wanted to hangout with me again!” Lobo concluded laughing with sick, heartfelt, glee as we pulled into the bus station.
As we drove away from the station Lobo squinted his eyes, darting quick glances around, muttering to himself, “this doesn’t look familiar. Are we sure we’re still on 35…yes, yes, yes, we’re still on 35, but this all looks unfamiliar.” Dan asked him if he’d been going north to get to the bus station because we were still heading north now. A goofy, embarrassed look swept over his face and we u-turned south. He pushed the motor to 80 mph to make up for lost time. Lobo was mad with excitement over our friend’s arrival and the show and the impending trip. He started frantically rattling off his own personal tour of interstate 35 as we sped through the night, towards Antone’s and the blues. “Right there, that’s where I worked for two months when I first moved down here. I got fired for doin’ whip-its in the kitchen. Me and my buddy Damon killed every can of whipped cream they had in the place. They were holding some promotion where they were spraying these bare-chested, contesting chicks with whipped cream and every can they grabbed was dead, and just leaked milk on the chicks on stage. One after the other, they kept trying cans and all of them were dead and the chicks were just holding their tits up on stage and didn’t know what to do.” He started laughing, but interrupted his laughter to continue. The motor roared up to 85 mph as the dashboard trembled. “Oh, right there is where I go to work out…” He spun around in his seat, whirling his meaty finger at what he wanted us to see, seemingly looking anywhere but straight ahead at the road, but the car kept right along. The mood in the car was joyous and relaxed. No one thought, hey this guy should be looking at the road instead of Dan in the back seat. “This is where Cassandra and I ate dinner once, it was okay, this is where I bought some pants, this is where I farted once two years ago, it smelled pretty bad….” No detail was spared. The tour continued into Austin until we arrived at Antone’s right after the first song. Dan and Linda had no idea the peril they were in- I just lost sight of it.
The next day, rolling up to a drive-thru, the long used and abused donut finally gave out, basically tearing in two as we idled to the window. The damn tire spilt open as if someone had taken a knife to it as we drifted up to the teller. Lobo popped open the trunk, pulled out the original, full sized wheel which had been flat for a couple of months, hoisted it onto his shoulder and sauntered down the street to a tire shop that just happened to be across the parking lot. He ambled along with that old full sized flat resting on his shoulder, as if he had waited for the most reasonable time to change the damn thing. As if everything had gone according to some detailed plan of his. I waited under the shade of a tree and it occurred to me the danger we must have been in as we raced up and down I-35 on that threadbare, old donut, which was defying physics by merely staying intact. Had we driven another mile at that speed the tire would have surely ripped open on the highway and who knows where the car would have ended up.
It didn’t occur to me how dangerous this was but I seem to lose sight of such precautions when I spend time with Lobo. It’s like he has the patron saint of recklessness watching over him, always one step ahead, preventing countless catastrophes from erupting on a daily basis. I start to feel that by being with him the saint will cover me too. The patron saint of recklessness has taken note of Lobo’s life, fallen in love with the way he lives it, and vowed to always protect it.