My hot garish ride

(The first of a series.)

Most of my misadventures in the Bible Lands involve cars. And police and/or soldiers. And white fuel cooking stoves. But we must remain focused. So I will direct my comments toward one motorcar with which I am all too familiar.

The Fiat 127 was designed as the original disposable car. I didn’t know this until I bought one and discovered that it actually disposed of itself while rolling down the road. In countries where these little honeys have yet to be banned, wise pedestrians dive for cover when they hear the whirr of an approaching Fiat 127. This is because the gente normale cannot predict which part will be disposed of in which direction at any given time. Hence, as the cowardly Falstaff commented

The better part of Valour is Discretion;
in the which better part I have sav'd my life.*

It is unlikely that The Bard crafted these lines after an experience with a Fiat (No fear, Shakespeare!), but we remain open to the possibility. Do not more than a few scholars insist that the plucky playwright once snoozed in old Milano?

Continentals hear the whirr of an approaching Fiat.

In any event, this is why wise pedestrians flee when they hear the approach of a Fiat 127. And I must confess that as a former owner it is one of the few thrills to be enjoyed, unless of course, your brakes become inconveniently disposed of while you are rolling down a hill toward a busy Jerusalem intersection on Nablus Road and when you are about to hit a truck you swerve in the direction a bus stop full of people who are looking at their cell phones right up until the moment when they scream and jump wildly backward. This actually happened to me. Talk about a shift from thrill to terror! Knowing the dour sense of humor shared by most Israelis, it is a wonder I was not machine gunned in my colorful seat.

There is another element here that must be noted: I claim to have purchased a Fiat 127. This may or may not be wholly true. The short end to a long story is that we were living in Palestine with very little money but in need of a vehicle. We insisted on one with yellow license plates because we wanted the ability to cross back and forth through the Israeli checkpoints (residents of Palestine are given blue plates that keep them from fooling around on the nice roads). The only guy who could produce a vehicle with these specs for us was a shady character with runaway nose-hairs who lived in an undisclosed location in Ramallah. He was happy to let us have the hot ride for the excellent price of only 4,000 shekels (about a thousand bucks). However, after further negotiations, it decided that because of certain "wrinkles" in local law, it was preferable to leave the title of "our" 127 in the name of a person we did not know (nor would we ever meet). No doubt if this shady character lived in Milano, his name would have been Guido.

We were assured by a mutual friend that this awkward arrangement would be to the advantage of all. So we handed over the shekels and he handed over the key to a yellow-plated Fiat, including all the glove box papers that checkpoint soldiers like to read. Guido even helped us push the car in order to work up enough speed for a jump start. One backfire later we were driving deliriously down the road.

Left: The hot garish ride was discovered sporting blue tags after our period of "ownership" was over. Right: Two of our favorite friends come for a visit. That is Yeller and Donkey Dan in the front door to our flat. Note the colorful seat covers inside the Fiat.

As the clever reader might have guessed, the vehicle was not exactly in tip-top shape. To this day I suspect that Guido was in league with our village mechanic. The affections of the latter for our Fiat 127 would grow to be even stronger than our own. Why else did his eyes dance every time we pulled into his garage?

A list of things that needed to be repaired or replaced immediately:

Starter and ignition

fan motor and radiator

all four tires (and the spare)

all interior and exterior lights

crank window on the passenger side

clutch and transmission


The good news is that the seats worked well. These were protected by stretchy nylon covers carrying a repeating print of red roses on a black background. It was perfectly garish and did not match any of the various shades of blue paint on the exterior panels.

As I write this paragraph, I pause. I reach for a shelf above my head. Vicki keeps a variety of knick-knacks up there. I pull down this little gem and hold it in my hand. It is a family treasure. As far as I know, it is the only part of our Fiat 127 that lives to this day. I truly wish you could have seen it in context; it was one hot garish ride.

*From Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth, Part 1 Act 5, scene 4, 115-121.