Emma was a 1950 Chev half-ton pickup with opera windows. Instead of a back bumper, she had a steel bar across her back side on which there was a trailer hitching knob I don't recall ever using. She had vacuum-advance windshield wipers - close to useless going up a steep hill in a snow storm, not much better on a flat stretch in rain. No heater to speak of. A faulty catch on her passenger-side door. A perilously problematic tranny - a story all its own.
Enough cachet to stop old men and a few young ones in their tracks, swoon when they saw her go by, a youngish woman with long dark hair piloting her. (Twenty-twenty hindsight is so useful. So 20-20.)
I didn't know she could do more than 40 mph until a highway cop stopped me, offered me a speeding ticket for exceeding the 55 mph limit on the interstate. Not to put too fine a point on Emma's cachet, he was quite mollified when I truthfully explained I'd simply had no idea she was capable of it, thanked him for noticing, promised to be more observant of her capability.
I'd bought Emma with the assistance of my pal Risto Hartikainen, who is (although I did not know this, back when we spotted her parked on a street near my apartment on Alder Street in Vancouver, BC) a fine carpenter. A *very* fine carpenter. The plan had been: build a camper, put it on her, drive her to Mexico. All three (3) of us: Risto, me, Noah. Lovely plan.
"Mann plannt und Gott lacht." Didn't I say that before? Yes, I did.
Risto and I saw Emma on the street and bought her. That would have been the summer of 1977. Well now, Risto is patient to a point; but when I took on building sets and costumes for a show in Vancouver at the Firehall, he got tired of waiting for me to finish my tasks, for the show to open - whatever was keeping us from getting it together. His frustration was understandable, I have to say; but his getting tired of waiting did not impel me to throw over what I felt were my responsibilities. Those, I could not forego.
Fair enough. He's a fair guy. He signed Emma over to me, split for Mexico. Without building the camper, without me and the kid.
Some time after which, as I started to say, I drove south in her, the kid riding shotgun. All the way to Mexico, stopping in Denver to see my parents, attend the wedding of the daughter of family friends who'd given up NY for the mountains of Colorado. In the mile-high city of Denver, I picked up a newspaper, spotted a classified ad announcing a job on the Navajo reservation in NM, applied for the job and - by golly, was invited to interview. When I got to the interview, I was hired on the spot, shown to a company-store-type-housing to live in, right on the school's grounds.
I was super-excited about the job but asked one small concession: Could I please go to AZ for the long weekend so I could attend the Festival at Arcosanti?
My boss was not completely thrilled, I'm sure, but I was, after all, a belaga'ana (literally, the white meat of an apple; meaning, to any Navajo, an Anglophone, a white person) and therefore could be expected to behave oddly. Come to think about it now, was it unlikely or surprising she didn't want to start the school year without her newly-hired native English-speaking teacher aka role model person in place? Her Jill-on-the-spot hired to impart English language skills to the class of kindergarten kids innocently gathered? But...
She did let me go, bless her heart. I packed up the kid and me for a long weekend sojourn, drove from NM over to AZ, arrived at Arcosanti. Colly greeted me happily, ordered me to park Emma up near the vaults. Simplicity itself. I was so happy to see her, it never occurred to me to protest, to insist on parking Emma down in the second field, where all the many visitors' cars were being ushered.
Lucky me. Oh, very lucky me. Because as it happened, taking advantage of my privilege turned out to be very, very fortunate. For Fast Green Emma and, for that matter, for me.
The Festival was a wonder. Great music, great visual stimulus, wonderful weather, terrific company. Old friends to see, to schmooze with, new ones to get acquainted with. A fine time was being had by all...until the sounds of popping, audible over the miked instrumentalists performing, melded with clouds of grey smoke rising. Distant but not nearly distant enough.
Word about what was going on, the reasons for the odd sounds, the puffs and clouds of smoke, quickly reached the crowded amphitheater's audience. Fire in the lower field, where all the cars had been parked. In a matter of minutes, all that steel and rubber, all those engines, all those car chassis - all of it, all of them, gone. Gone.
But not Emma. Emma, parked next to the vaults, had been miraculously spared. The irony of it amazed me then. It amazes me still, to this very day.