It had been right at a year since converting to Christianity. I was 19 years old. Also approaching the one-year marker was my employment with Capitol Cement. This was the place where dad worked as chief accountant. He got me the job, coincidentally, right about the same time as my conversion to Christianity.
Now, almost a year had passed. I can remember thinking, “I've been here not even a year and they've already thrown me a small goodbye party. Things must be going well!” And things were going well. I was just out of high school with my first full-time job that paid enough to get a shabby efficiency apartment on the po' side of town. I was only a laborer who got to work shoveling gravel in the hot sun, but I didn't mind. I saw it as a new step until I decided the other foot was up next.
I decided to quit because Jesus had made such an impact in my life that it was time to prepare myself for ministry training. Over the next few months, I would put a few college courses under my belt and begin writing the leadership of Churches of Christ to get my financial support and go to seminary. This took quite a while to do. I went as far as I cared to go with secular college while waiting to hear back from these churches, but secular college was far too worldly for me. The professors were Satan's messengers.
I talked - argued - the gospel. I also talked cars. “Car” was a word that I knew well. The hobby more nearly consumed me during these early years. Street racing, track racing, Nascar racing...I loved it all, as I did anything with a crunchy four or five-speed manual transmission. This dangerous love morphed into “Speed Fever,” a thing it would take a whole two years to get out of my blood.
But Jesus Was There
In my fundamentalist Christian worldview where the earth was 6,000 years old and every word of the Bible was always true, you could argue with me like several college professors tried to do until they were blue in the face. You’d not see me give ground. You could also argue with impunity that cars were my only masculine, sane connection to normalcy, and you'd be right. I was such a raging fundy that no one could avoid an argument from me on religion, but you might have a chance of derailing me by throwing up the subject of auto racing: “Hey Joe, what's the quickest production car on the market right now?” It might work...and I suspect it did a few times.
It was cars and Christianity, cars and Christianity, cars and Christianity, and not much else. My love for all things auto would not dissipate until I came to see how expensive they were to fix and maintain. But remember, I was young and dumb and full of...well, just Bible verses...so I couldn't see that yet. The cars grew more appealing, as did talk of gear ratios and the joys of power-shifting a standard transmission at nutty speeds. The only thing more appealing was talking about Jesus. My love for him wouldn't leave until I realized many years later that he doesn't exist.
A Sugar Pill of Jesus
In the meantime, I watched as all my worldly friends - all those who knew me before my conversion - seemed to self-destruct or else grew up. I lost a number of friends when I converted to the faith. My still-friends afterwards didn't have as much in common with me anymore...except cars. This last batch of friends and I still relished our autos. And like my mother and aunt, I went through a stage where I turned every interest I had with anyone into a tasty sugarpill of Jesus.
My mother and aunt went through this annoying-as-fuck phase where they took all us cousins to charismatic churches where everyone was so festive...errr...insane with their faith. We got to see The Power Team, those fools who bend steel and break boards for God and give him the credit for it, and we saw testimonials and other emotionally unstable people shed tears for Jesus ever-so publicly.
Getting back to my sugarcoating Jesus, Mom and Aunt Kim had this awful habit of turning every conversation or phrase or expression into something about God. From a very young age, we were bombarded with this. A cousin and I would be singing Whitesnake's Here I Go Again (a new song at the time) and Aunt Kim would pop in and say: “Here I come, Jesus!!!” So, so, soooooo fucking retarded!
Now, all these years later, I was the repulsive one, the one ready to set the world on fire and make everyone else think I was a prick. Some tried to argue with me, but I was on a collision course with bullheadedness and knew I was right. I was backed up by seeing the pitiful condition of my friends and how their “godless” lives were their downfall.
I met a kid named Brian Gallo. He and I met through another friend from MacArthur High School who graduated a year behind me. His name was Chris Langley (more on him in a bit). Brian was about the most unstable person I think I've ever known...even still. What did we have in common? Cars. He was a wimpy white kid with a gut and stick-like, skinny calves. He got self-conscious about those small calves and decided his workouts weren't counting for as much. What better way to cure that than by taking steroids? Lots of steroids.
Steroids he took and steroids he could have been the poster guy for. They worked! Within like two weeks, he muscled up to near pro-bodybuilder size. I never saw anything like it. He became a freak! It was incredible! But his muscles weren't the only thing that got bigger—so did his cholesterol levels, no doubt inversely proportional to his prunish nut size.
There is a lesson in human nature, and that lesson says that if something works...say, a pill makes you lose some weight, or in this case, pills to build muscle...human nature will cause the lot of us to abuse them. Hoping to get more results, we'll take whatever works to get even better and better and better results. And then, finally, burnout will set in.
At some point, a detrimental setback will ruin everything. People overdose on diet pills (I have) and on so many other things. There are human limits to what can be achieved, and those limits we humans have no problem reaching, testing, and pushing. Brian was a case in point, and an extreme case if I’ve ever seen one.
If I remember the numbers right, Brian's cholesterol shot up to near 393 mg/dL (that's the “bad” cholesterol, in case you don't know). Even with doctor-prescribed meds, he couldn't bring the number down. The doc said he could never lift again or exert himself again beyond light household chores. Even activities like sex were discouraged (not that he could get it up anyway).
A stroke was on the horizon, as was a near-certain heart attack—and that he wouldn't die or be paralyzed from them was an expected best-case scenario. He lost all that muscle...and as fast as he put it on. Those skinny calves were back. His low testosterone-induced depression and depressing status of unemployment brought on by the initial depression consumed him. His life may have started to fall apart, his biceps may have all but disappeared, but his "I’m a huge, embarrassing failure" muscles were still buldging.
His apartment was not new to the sounds of late-night shouting and arguing with his girlfriend, a pretty little chick he treated like crap. They were facing eviction. He was spending nights driving around town showing off his car to his buddies, the only thing he really cared about in life. It was a 1994 300ZX non-turbo, stark white, decently quick and cool as hell! The thing would reach somewhere around that 140 mph range when topped off—and topped it off he did…with the bad judgment exhibited by a 10-year-old returnee from juvenile hall. This reckless fool sped down the highways, staring down those he wanted to race (not that I never joined him in my mother's borrowed 1988 Camry LE V6 at its top speed of 101 mph.)
My Old “New” Car
So, all this speeding lured me in; it was time for a fast car of my own, something better than a Camry. I had saved up a few thousand dollars from working at the cement plant. And there it was...the love of my vanity. I saw it sitting in an H.E.B. parking lot, a 1983 Toyota Supra. 5-speed standard transmission, dual overhead cam, straight six, 2.8 liters. Wasn't the fastest, but it would fly in my book, and I could afford it. I could hang with a 5.0 Mustang...very remotely.
Ain't she pertttty! (not mine, an internet pic of a car just like it)
Her only flaw...the same flaw with any car I'd owned up to that time and a bit afterwards—lousy AC. It worked for a while, and then it quit. My 1976 Datsun pickup was as reliable as a mofo, but she didn't have AC. She was loud and clunkety, with only 76 horsepower. This baby boasted 157! And it looked and felt like a Lotus. That was good enough for me. And it was a lot better than my last car, grandma’s old 1985 Ford LTD with a V-6. No power, and grandmother never took care of the engine. Time to move up.
Now Brian Gallo was a friend of Glenn Westenberg, Mr. Racer of the century. The two put me in touch with this Asian guy who raced 300ZXs. His name was Chin.
Chin was a “Christian,” the kind of Christian who got blowjobs in the parking lot of Pastor Hagee's famous Cornerstone Church. In hopes to steer him from his erroneous ways, I hung out with him and we street-raced as conversational preludes to talk about Christ. Never got anywhere with this guy. He was...I don't know...not interested in anything without a stick shift or tits. But it was through Chin that I was reunited with Chris Langley.
Chris was a pudgy kid, balding even from a young age you could tell, and with a gut. But by the time we caught up, he was a martial arts expert. This guy could hurt you in so many fucking ways! I'm not kidding. He was a trained martial arts devotee. He studied under real masters in the San Antonio area. His Seagal-ish skill was obvious. You wouldn't doubt him after just a minute of sparring.
Chris was also in the 300ZX single turbo fan club. He later became manager of a train station and bought a Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4 and a Lotus Esprit S4. Got in over his head and had to sell one. The insurance and hefty price tag of the cars became too much. He kept the Lotus. Duh!
Being in a Lotus is a crazy experience. That whiny little 2.2 liter four cylinder engine with four simultaneously firing turbos...amazing performance! Light car, quick as shit. 4.4 seconds to 60, baby! My new Supra could never hang with these bad boys or even those single turbo ZXs they raced at the track every other weekend, but I had my good times, anyway.
I really thought I had a fast car at first. Another preaching student (named Rob) and I were racers. All that talk about respecting the laws of the land, and here we were with expensive radar detectors evading the law! But to my credit, it was the only way in which I was a known hypocrite.
One day, Rob and I were doing about 105 on the freeway. I beat Rob’s modded 1982 200 SX. It broke his ego. He loved that car. I felt triumphant. But Rob was an enabler. He encouraged me to come close to death on several occasions. One was when I took an exit ramp with a recommended speed of 20 mph at 112 mph and completely lost control of the car. I span around maybe ten times in an open (normally congested) intersection. I pulled up right next to an old lady at the light on 281 and San Pedro Avenue going southward, ready to take off again. She was probably 90. She barely looked over at me and another guy in the car who could have caused the crash that killed her.
Finally at a dead stop, a few moments passed. The car wasn’t even rocking anymore. We could hear ourselves breathing. I looked over at Hernandez and said: “We better pray and ask God for forgiveness for almost killing ourselves!” We prayed that prayer and went on. The old bird wasn’t even looking our way anymore.
My dissatisfaction with my “slow” Supra was alleviated now. Spending money to make my car faster was tearing into my bank account. I was now up to 177 horses, with a quarter mile time of 16.0 and a 0-60 of 7.6. Top speed: 112! It was it's own lesson in covetousness—the faster I made my car, the more it became obvious how far I had to go to make my car really fast. But I didn't have the money. Something had to give.
I thought I was the better influence on Glenn, with his dirty mouth and worldly ways, but he was a bad influence on me too. He had all this money. He blew up car after car modifying them, and still, his well was never dry. He inherited this shit-load of money from dad. The bastard once spent $12,000 putting a specially designed turbo in a car that would blow up from not being able to handle the power. Extravagant, wasteful SOB!
My well was empty. Disappointed, I gave up on hotrod-ism and all its tumultuous fury, but not before it cost me a new tranny. I was headed past Rolling Oaks mall when I blew out second gear while power-shifting to try and keep up with the beautiful new Twin Turbo Supra as it jetted by me down the road late one evening on the way home from work. $1,093.11 later, I was back on the road.
But the racers I got to me at the clubs, none of them ever seemed satisfied with their track times. Believe me when I tell you, there's something not too appealing in meeting 12 immigrant Asian dudes at a 300ZX racing rally, and a tinier one of them decides to start kicking and cursing his 25th Anniversary Edition 1985 300ZX Turbo because his quarter mile time isn't what he wants it to be...
“When injector go out, I no replace!!!! I get rid of fuck car.”
The dude washed dishes at China Garden Chinese restaurant, and thanks to grandma, he could afford a one-owner Z in new condition like that and still not appreciate it! Shees! You had to be there.
A Nissan truck was in my future, another reliable but noisy inline four cylinder, this time one with 134 horses and a crispy, 5-speed transmission, like the old Datsun before it. These trucks things epitomize reliability. I'd never again know the joy of passing with fury like I'd known with the Supra, but the old bird was overheating anyway. It was time.
Just as preaching school was beginning, I sold her. Dad and I almost cried watching her be driven away by some big-headed Mexican kid with cowboy boots on from E. Nueva Street who saw my ad in the paper and brought cash for the deal. He had the wide-eyed look going. I once had that look. Maybe the new addition to the family would win me over soon enough.
It was a 1989 Nissan truck, and again, it had a bad AC! I kept it a year. And, ironically, second gear went out just as it did with the old Supra, though I was never hard on it.
I ran into Langley at a grocery store one day. “You're driving a truck now? What happened?” he said. “Oh, I got the speed demon out of my blood.” Tada! Now, I officially had nothing in common with any normal people whose eyes were not buried in the pages of holy writ.
Truth be told, I'm not sure how much longer at the track any of them had. Chin's clueless date drove his Mazda RX-7 Twin Turbo off a peer one weekend. Then, it was into his new pre-owned automatic Nissan Maxima! Langley got married and had a kid. And Brian, well, he fell off the map. I have no idea if the poor fool is even alive.
I can remember the last time I thought about him. I was headed out to Camp Hensel where I was scheduled to preach at a gospel meeting. The drive was nice, and man did the AC on my brand new, 1997 Nissan truck blow cold! And I still remember the name of the salesman who sold it to me. His name was Elmer Fischer. There’s something about buying a new car. And no, it’s not just the new car smell.