Written by Larry Collins

In the winter of 1976-77, I quit journalism for good, sold my three-year-old Ford and headed to Maine to ski. I was 28. It was in Maine that I decided to spend the rest of my life with a lovely French Canadian woman, who at the time didn't share my decision. Soooooo...............

The bookkeeper at the hotel had a VW -- dark blue if I recall right -- that I liked. But she wouldn't sell. Said it was unsafe. And when I went to test drive a Saab that belonged to a local dairy farmer it wouldn't start. Then, one afternoon, I was reading the want ads while working the day shift at the small bar at the Red Stallion. I called Waterville to ask about a car -- I think it was a Corvair. One of the customers, a regular who worked for a real estate company, told me my worries were over. His father, who sold used cars in Portland, Maine, had called him just the night before about an old 1965 Dodge Dart he had picked up for cheap (probably gave some poor sucker $50 for it). Said the car was in `great' mechanical condition but it looked like all hell. He was going to Portland that night, and if I wanted to, he could catch a ride with someone and drive up in the Dart the next day. I wanted to and he did.

Blue and rust. Four doors, three of which worked. Three of the windows worked, too. The trunk was huge and there was this tiny engine....I called her Dorothy, the witch's Dorothy.......And so off I went to the Emerald City, also known as Montreal. The highway from Carrabassett Valley to Canada passed through the Chain of Lakes, so to preserve the aquatic life, the state didn't use salt on the twisting roads. There were summer camps off the road, but generally not a lot of people. And, from Eustis to the border, no one. The first time I drove it, I slipped off the road (triple axel) and had to be pulled to safety by a logging truck. (Hey, we don't get too, too much ice in New Orleans ... except in drinks.) Then Canada. LOTS of salt here ... for four miles at least. Then......

Route 212 (la route deux-cent-douze), unpaved, over the Appalachian Mountains. At most points it was only one lane, with ten-foot snow banks on the sides. Scared stiff. But Dorothy never skipped a beat. Then, when the roads became paved, I rushed down the highway, through Sherbrooke and then to the Eastern Townships Toll Road ... where everyone was doing 90 and 100 miles per hour, not kilometers. I, naturally, had no idea how fast I was going as my speedometer was broken ... as was the gas gauge. I made this trip every two or three weeks. (I think I was nuts....) On my second to last trip to Montreal, I was filling my car with gas when I suddenly realized that I didn't have enough money. In fact, I was 25 cents (more or less) short. I fumbled and pleaded with the gas jockey and promised to pay on my way back, explaining that I come through here regularly.... Yes, I know, he said. Everybody knows. You're on the CB from the minute you turn onto 212 until you hit Sherbrooke.

Then the snow melted, and things got worse. Coming down one of those huge hills at God knows how fast, I splashed into a huge puddle of water, a lake really (the judges gave me a 6.3). While waiting for a tow truck to come get me, I had a farmer pull Dorothy to safety, and away we went. The event caused a tear in the gas tank, which was sealed for a few dollars back in Maine.

The ski season was over, and my marital plans dictated that I go back to a real job.... Sooooo, I traded in my studded snow tires for two retreads and drove Dorothy to New Orleans.... It took me five days. The problem was me, not Dorothy. I had just had enough driving. Along the road, I stopped to help this guy and his wife whose car had broken down outside of Boston -- they invited me to their house where we had dinner and got stoned and I got back on the highway. I had the breakfast buffet at a Holiday Inn -- ate like a pig because i was sure I wasn't going to eat much the rest of the day. Picked up some hitchhikers, slept in a rest area. Stopped in Atlanta to see my brother and eventually landed in New Orleans after taking a hitchhiker from Alabama to Plaquemines Parish so he could get an off-shore job.

I found a job and commuted 25 miles each way for more than a year. The publisher at the paper refused to believe the bumper sticker on Dorothy: I Climbed Mount Washington. I guess he figured she could go up but maybe not down, especially after I drove into a ditch in front of the office to avoid his car the afternoon the brake lines finished rusting through. Actually, the brake lines were the only big repair item I ever experienced with Dorothy. (I put in a used generator once in Montreal, and then there were those tires ... and I kept changing the potato I was using as an antenna because kids would steal my spud.) Finally, after 18 months and 45,000 miles Dorothy died, a few weeks before I was to immigrate to Canada..While driving back to New Orleans from a meeting in Baton Rouge, Dorothy began overheating, something she had taken to doing a few weeks before. On I-10 outside LaPlace, she began smoking, so I pulled into the closed truck scales, turned off the engine and took a nap. About an hour or so later, I tried to start her again ... no go. George's Wrecker Service towed me to a Shell station, where the manager told me the engine was all froze up and he could get me a used one for $230 -- exactly what I had paid for Dorothy in the first place. I sold Dorothy to the wrecking yard down the street for $50 ... my brother says I should have taken the battery out first. Anyway, Dad let me use his car for a month until June 4, the day I left for Canada.... I am now back in the States, working for a newspaper, married to my French Canadian, and driving a Buick with air conditioning, cruise control and power windows ... but no soul....


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