I wrote this down before the memories that came flooding back to me last night fade, perhaps to be lost forever. And I will save it, because that which was my constant reminder of those memories is gone.
Bonny is a 1965 Pontiac Bonneville convertible that I owned—or she owned me—for fifteen years, three months, and nineteen days … not that I’ve kept track. I’ve known her for more than twenty years, though, because she used to be owned by my best friend, Graz. Although Bonny was originally yellow, Graz repainted her red with a beautiful silver artwork emblem on the hood to match the color scheme of his jet boat that she towed, itself powered by a 454 Chevy V-8 with dual chrome and un-muffled exhaust stacks. Eventually, he decided to sell the boat, and Bonny was repainted blue with white pin-striping high on the fenders and doors and given a white convertible top. We—and later I—had some good and hair-raising times with her.
Whenever Graz and I went anywhere together, it was usually in Bonny with her top down and the radio blasting tunes from an El Paso oldies station. Some of our more frequent trips were across the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico to buy liquor.
One Saturday, several of us got together at Graz’s and it wasn’t long after everyone arrived that we realized we were low on booze. So Graz, another friend, and I piled into Bonny and headed for the border after assuring wives that we’d be “back in no time.”
The trip was uneventful until we came out of the Mercado and Graz popped Bonny’s trunk to load our liquor. There were a couple of rifles in the trunk that Graz had forgotten were there and, in case you don’t know, bringing firearms into Mexico is equivalent to drawing a “Go to Jail” card in Monopoly. Well, hell, the Mexican customs agents usually waved you through in both directions without a glance, and Graz and his noticeable car were a familiar sight to the agents on the American side, so we figured we’d be okay.
We pulled out of the Mercado and onto the road leading to the international bridge several miles away … and everything came to a dead stop. After several minutes, we’d moved less than a car length. Something was wrong, and the something that was wrong was that Enrique “Ricky” Camarena, a U.S. DEA agent, had been kidnapped in Mexico. Based on a tip, both the Mexicans and Americans were stopping every car crossing the border. Oh crap! The guns in the trunk! While we sat in traffic trying to figure out what to do, we got—you guessed it—thirsty. Figuring that the agents were looking for a body and not guns, Graz hid the rifles behind tools, parts, and the what-have-you that always occupied Bonny’s condo-sized trunk and brought a good bit of the booze we had purchased back into the car.
At some point, a flower vendor came by and we had another bright idea. After buying much of the guy’s inventory we started walking up the line of cars offering the bouquets to drivers to let us move up “just one spot,” as we had an emergency and had to get back to El Paso as fast as possible … the emergency being what we knew were by now extremely angry wives. This flower ploy actually worked until we ran out of bouquets—Graz can sell ice to Eskimos—but we were still far from the bridge.
“What about the Zaragosa crossing,” I suggested as our buddy in the back seat, about to take a swig of booze, had the bottle shatter in his hand. Graz, convinced someone had taken a shot at us spun Bonny's wheel, jazzed her accelerator and, bump-bump, over the median and toward Zaragosa we went. It’s here that everything becomes a little—actually, a lot—fuzzy to me. I know we made it to Zaragosa, a lesser-used crossing several miles down river, but I don’t remember whether it was closed or just had a long line. Anyway, we thought it an absolutely brilliant idea to ford the Rio Grande, which was very shallow there, out of sight of the bridge crossing. The last thing I recall with any clarity was the sound of Bonny’s dual exhausts burbling in the water. I know we made it back to Graz’s house, I know it was really late, I know the wives were mad and didn’t believe a word of our story—which we had a difficult time relating, anyway, since we’d already drunk a good bit of the booze—but I have no remembrance of how we eventually crossed the border. It’s probably better that way.
Graz called me the next morning, laughing, and told me his wife was fuming. She was accusing him of bribing someone at the El Paso Times, because the full front-page story with photos was of the previous night’s lengthy border crossing delays!
Graz and I had an Army captain friend who I’ll call Mikey here, and Mikey had a brother who was just slightly criminal. Mikey’s brother ended up being killed when he slammed his car into a stone wall in El Paso while fleeing the cops after a robbery he’d committed. There’s more to this story than I’m telling that involved a pistol that Graz had lent to Mikey to use for target shooting, and Mikey’s brother … well, never mind. Suffice it to say that other than Mikey’s brother, no one got hurt.
The brother’s funeral was held in Juarez, and Graz and I and Bonny attended both the wake and the funeral. No one spoke to Graz and me at the wake until Mikey told them we were “okay.” It seemed they all thought the two gringos in dark suits were undercover El Paso cops, based on the circumstances of Mikey’s brother’s demise. I’d never seen anything quite like this wake, as the casket was covered with see-through Plexiglas for the viewing, and there was a lot of hysterical crying and wailing in Spanish. One woman even passed out.
Graz and I attended the later funeral, and as we drove back through downtown Juarez we had Bonny’s top down and oldies playing on the radio as usual. At a stop light in the market area, Bonny started lurching forward in time to Buddy Holly’s, Oh Boy, and I assumed that Graz was tapping the brake pedal. Dum-diddi-dum-dum, oh boy, dum-diddi-dum-dum, oh boy. It was then I realized that it wasn’t Graz; something was wrong with the brakes. We unwillingly and helplessly shot through the crossing traffic and somehow made it to the Diamantes Hotel in “boys town”—the red-light and bar district—a place that I won’t bother to explain how I knew of from my first trip to El Paso / Juarez when I was nineteen. The Diamantes had a gas station in front, and we bought a can of brake fluid that promptly ran out of a broken brake line when Graz stepped on the pedal.
“Damn!” he said, “I’ve been meaning to replace those. I have new ones at home.”
Graz is bigger than I am, so my response to the obvious was left unsaid. Using the parking brake, we made it to a little bar on Juarez Avenue and parked—if you can call it that—in what turned out to be a taxi stand. The taxi drivers started raising hell with us, and Graz threw up his hands in exasperation. “You want the car moved? Here’re the keys. Be my guest!” he yelled, anticipating the look on a taxi driver’s face when he discovered the car had no brakes. Graz was disappointed when no one took him up on the offer.
Inside the bar, we ordered rum and coke and Graz got pesos for the pay phone. “Lois, we’re broken down in Juarez and …
“She hung up!” he bellowed, storming back to the bar. “Two more Cuba Libres and some more pesos,” he told the barkeep.
“Lois, don’t hang up! Just put Mark on the phone.” Mark, Graz’s son, was a teenager then and is now a Navy Master Chief Petty Officer.
“Lois, I know we’re supposed to go to your award ceremony tonight! We’ll make it! I promise! You think I’m doing this on purpose?”
An hour or so and several rum and cokes later, young Mark arrived with the brake lines and there on the street, in our suits, we installed them.
Just for the record, Graz’s wife, Lois, is a saint and loved by everyone who knows her. No one should have had to put up with the combination of Graz, Bonny, and me!
After I retired from the Army in ’85 and moved to Alabama, I went back to El Paso on several business trips and, while my colleagues were stuck with crappy little rental cars, Graz always lent me Bonny to drive. I was on one of these trips when he told me he was going to sell her, and I thought it over for all of maybe half a second. In late September 1991, I started the most wonderful 2-day fall drive back to Alabama in my enormous 5500-pound blue convertible. By this time, the original 389 motor had met its end and Graz had put in a 455 from a '73 Pontiac with a high-rise manifold and a Holley 4-barrel racing carburetor. Bonny could walk away from just about anything as if it were standing still, as I found out for myself when a couple of extras from Deliverance in a souped-up pick-up truck tried and failed to play with me on an Arkansas interstate on my way home.
In the years since, Bonny has taken my family to the beach in Florida several times, she’s commuted to Birmingham, been to Kentucky, and she took my wife and me on our first date together. There have been lesser adventures with her, like a broken heater core that sprayed anti-freeze mist all over the inside of the windshield mid-way between here and Kentucky in the dead of winter, and the rear axle bearing that went bad in Destin, Florida. She has been a demanding mistress, full of surprises.
When my youngest daughter began college in ’98, Bonny went into our garage. I told myself I’d pay more attention to her after Linz graduated and my cash flow returned to normal. But for three years after Linz graduated, I was commuting to Birmingham every day and was too tired or otherwise occupied on the weekends. This past year, my first year of retirement, should have been Bonny’s year. It wasn’t, and that’s simply my fault. I’ve moved on to other interests, and cold garage floors and back pain from hours of bending over her hood … well, I had a decision to make: either sell her, or invest the money to bring her back to the way she should be and then be willing to spend whatever it took to keep her that way.
A man—a seemingly nice man who knows a lot about old cars—came by yesterday and drove her away. I hope he’ll give her the attention she deserves.
The guy who bought Bonny just called me after that last sentence and before this—not to complain about anything, but just to ask various question about her. Graz, I gave him your phone number, too. I hope you don’t mind. I think she’s found a good home.
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Stephens
Gary Stephens is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer and the author of the 2007 techno-thriller, Epiphany