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Best of LNT - Tribute to the AMC Pacer
by Michele Christopher
Late Night Typing is on vacation this week. In its place tonight, we're repeating one of our favorite posts on one of our favorite topics - cars. It's the subject that got this site started and, judging from recent comments from a lot of you, something that's sorely missed around here. We aim to please, so we will start doing car stuff at least once a week again. Meanwhile, from way back in May, our odes to the AMC Pacer. Enjoy.
Turtle keeps pace:
The Pacer. The blue Pacer. AMC 1970 Pacer. Don't get me wrong. I'm not bagging on it. It got us to where we needed to go, but it was still a Pacer. A fucking Pacer. Dude, you know you are down when you ride in one of these and thank god it still moves. Cops won't even pull you over cause they are too busy feeling sorry for you. The tears in their eyes tell you how much you suck. It's a mixed feeling coming from deep down inside you of "Hey, we got away!" and "Hey, we really suck!" It's like a wet dream where you wonder why it was there and why you missed it. If you look at the picture and think that car’s not so bad, that was nothing like what we rode in. Ours was beat. 15 years too old and screaming for someone to just put a gun to its engine and stop its pain so these god damn punk rockers could quit puking in the back so it could die.
This was a car we named the "Fishbowl" for obvious reasons. It would barely start. When it did, it wasn't happy about it. It knew it was another night of abuse and another night of pushing too hard. "Fishbowl” was really a thing of beauty, but much like a real fishbowl, was never cleaned and, eventually, you knew everything in it was gonna die due to lack of oxygen, probably from choking on a leaky tail pipe that kicked so much exhaust into the car you eventually started talking about pages in the bible that didn't really exist or about how your dog is the anti-christ cause he eats too many milkbones or went to the bathroom too much to drink out of the toilet. Cause dogs drinking out of the toilet is a sure sign the end is nigh.
One week, we knew it was gonna die. The sounds, the smells, the look. The end was near. We knew it was coming but we just really didn't want to talk about. No one did. It's like when you watch a car chase on TV and no one can say anything but "Oh this is gonna be fucking over real fucking quick. Get the popcorn cause this fuckers going down fast." My friend, the owner, decided it was time to let it go. And if it was time to let go, he was gonna do it in style. For the Fishbowl. Go out in style. Do it for the Fishbowl man! The Fishbowl!
We loaded the back of the car with sand. A few bags of it. Weighed the car down so it was almost dragging. The sand poured into the front seats and every minute you felt more of it in your ass. Just driving down in. Don't get me started on what happened when we hit the brakes.
We bought plastic fish from some crap store and stapled them on the roof. Strings, really. Hanging the fish down from the roof. About thirty of them. Swaying with the speed of the car that couldn't reach gramma's pace if it tried. Like Hell on wheels or gramma in her wheelchair, we hit it. We bought a few castles and placed them at the side. The fucking Fishbowl became the Fishbowl. It sprouted new life. What was a nickname became its identity.
We would go to shows or parties, car weighed down in sand, and pop the trunk. It was like one of those old beach movies with Frankie and Annette. Except with a lot of drugs and some guy named "Doogie" asking us if we had anymore speed. Oh hell, that could’ve happened in those movies too. Fuck if I know.
Everyone would be having a fun time at the keg but then come back to relax in the fishbowl. People would drive by us and just stare and the only thing we could do was give a goofy wave as they looked in bewilderment.
This was the car of the future. In 1,000 years when humans evolve into some weird fish human like thing, they will be driving the AMC 1970 Pacer. We drove the future. Worship us. We are your overlords.
That was The Fishbowl.
1976. The bicentennial year. Everything was draped in red, white and blue and movie theaters were charging 76 cents admission and there were bicentennial quarters and tv specials and my mother, bless her American heart, went all out for this special occasion by redecorating the living room in a Colonial motif, complete with replica Liberty Bell. She also dressed my little sister in red white and blue bellbottoms. She tried this with me, but I was 14. She got a derisive laugh and a “what the fuck are smoking, lady?” look. She said something like “Where is your pride, young lady?” And I thought hey, Bellbottom Pride would make a great name for a song. Because when you’re 14, every semi-witty phrase you utter would make a good song title, even if you aren’t in a band and can’t write songs. It’s all about the titles.
There was only one person who outdid my mother in the Bicentennial fervor department. That was the Pacer lady. Pacer lady was the enormous, wild-eyed, half crazed woman who lived in the upstairs apartment in the run down house across the street. She wore nothing but sleeveless housecoats the size of which could cover a medium sized luxury car, had calves and arms that moved of their own accord, and was always followed around by several mangy cats who might have been just biding time in a Stephen King sort of way until Pacer Lady dropped dead of a heart attack and they would feast on the remains. There might have even been a vulture or two hovering around her, but don't quote me on that.
She drove a Pacer. This larger than life woman every day stuffed herself into this tiny blue and white Pacer.I know, you're thinking clowns in a Volkswagon right now, aren't you? It was worse. Ever see a size 9 girl try to get into size 5 jeans? It went like that. Lots of shifting and maneuvering and grunts and groans and, in the case of Pacer lady, lots of leg flab flapping in the wind.
To celebrate the bicentennial, Pacer lady spent the morning of the Fourth of July, 1976, decorating her car with about twelve dozen American flags of varying sizes. Seriously, there was about 100 of these thing. Maybe even some streamers. I don’t know if she used crazy glue or wires or just the sheer power of patriotism, but by the time she was done, those flags were sticking out from her engine, her doors, the trunk and windows and hell, I think she had a few sticking out from the folds in her arms. And just for the occasion, she was wearing a red, white and blue house dress adorned with stars and stripes. When she finished her decorating and she stood next to the car admiring her work, I couldn’t tell where Pacer lady ended and the car began. All I could think was “When patriotism attacks!” Patriotism Attacks! Another song!
When Pacer lady squeezed herself into her car that morning, I stood at my front door, face pressed against the glass, jaw hanging open, and I actually gasped when she finally stuffed herself into the driver’s seat and the Pacer grunted, groaned and nearly sunk to the ground under the weight of its owner. You could actually see the flags bob up and down as she adjusted herself behind the wheel. I started humming "Low Rider". Pacer lady knows the low rider......low rider ...meh, I couldn’t work the flags in there.
As she pulled away from the curb and rounded the corner in front of me, the Pacer backfired, as if it were setting off its own holiday fireworks. The car lurched and stuttered and, for a brief moment, I thought it was going to die right there in front of my house, draped with flags like a ready-made coffin. I had the sudden urge to salute, but then the car kicked up again. It moved forward and the Pacer lady gave me this brown-toothed grin and waved a meaty arm at me. If cars had feelings, that poor Pacer would want to die of shame. And that’s saying a lot for a car that was sort of an embarrassment to itself to begin with. That it was made to suffer more indignities at the hand of a some meaty, beaty big and bouncy lady and her deranged attempts at national pride was almost too much to watch. I turned away from the scene as the Pacer backfired and stalled again. It wanted to die. Pacer suicide. Oh yea, that would make a good song. -M
Bet you never saw anyone actually pay tribute to the AMC Pacer before. At FTTW, we like to give the underdog a chance. What's your favorite underrated car?