posted in: Fiction, Memoir | 0

Stirrings and strandings, with excerpts by Joyce Abell and Timothy Reilly.
6 minutes


On June 7, 1897, William Metzger opened the world’s first car dealership in Detroit. He sold Waverley electric cars, then steamers, and then gasoline-powered cars. It’s as good a reason as any to read a couple pieces about cars and driving, don’tcha think?

Joyce Abell had an interesting childhood traveling around the country and the world, often by herself. She wrote about those travels and more in her book Prickly Roses. Here’s an excerpt from the chapter titled “Journey to Albania.”

Kemal was the embassy’s chief chauffeur . . . Once in a while, my grandmother would order Kemal to take us, including her sisters, out into the country for “a healthful change of scene.” Once, our outing took us up into the Dajti Mountains, a few miles east of Tirana. We had a long, stately Buick limousine, befitting an embassy, which Kemal usually drove cautiously, as befits the driver of a vehicle of state, weaving among men, women and donkeys carrying goods to market. But on this particular day, as we rode up the mountains, Kemal began to go faster and faster, sweeping around the blind curves of the narrow, winding road, with cliffs on one side, a sheer drop on the other.

For some reason, my grandmother did not try to slow him down. Perhaps she rather liked doing something a little wild for a change . . . As Kemal barreled up the mountain path, we continued to pass, and barely miss, a wide array of humanity: farmers with carts carrying chickens and ducks, women wearing huge baskets of laundry or produce on their heads, lanky cows plodding slowly in spite of being constantly whipped with willow branches by children, Greek Orthodox priests astride their ragged donkeys clopping slowly down the mountain, young couples holding hands and laughing.

Finally, Kemal rounded a corner too fast and collided with a cart drawn by a donkey and filled with cackling geese. The donkey panicked and ran over the precipice. The cart would have followed if it hadn’t, by a miracle, gotten hung up on a small tree. The geese flapped and squawked hysterically; the donkey hung below, kicking and braying . . .

“My God, Kemal, what have you done?” cried my grandmother.

“No worry, madam,” he replied. “Kemal fix.” Whereupon he burst out of the car and began to yell at and shove the poor peasant.

My usually restrained and seemingly fragile grandmother had had enough. She rushed out of our limousine, ordered Kemal back into the car, paid the peasant a sum equal to the cart and donkey, returned to the car and, as Kemal started up the engine, said to him, “Kemal, The American Embassy Does Not Hit People!”

Back in the car, Aunt Violet just snorted and spat out a single word, “Men.”

When we pulled into the drive, my grandmother announced, “This is the last time we will take the mountain air, thank you.”

“Yes, madam,” said Kemal, allowing himself the tiniest of shrugs. We could almost hear what he was thinking, “Women!”

An excerpt from Joyce Abell’s memoir Prickly Roses.

And here’s a very different story about a car, excerpts from Timothy Reilly’s story “Down the Road.”

My 1959 VW bus had broken down in a neighborhood I had no business driving through. A resident of the neighborhood, a kindly grandfather type, asked me what the problem was.

“It just stalled on me,” I said. “The battery’s a little low, I guess. But I think I can compression start it, if I could get someone to help push.” . . . The old man smiled and told me it would be best if I found a gas station and got a tow. And I should do this before it got dark. He tucked his chin and raised his eyebrows. I caught his meaning . . . The problem was, I didn’t have enough money for a tow . . .

My V-dub bus had been, for the most part, a reliable companion . . . But I was now forced to abandon my old friend to uncertainty in a hostile environment. I might return to a scavenged hulk, or worse yet, a mere oil stain marking the vehicle’s last known whereabouts.

“Where’s the nearest gas station?” I asked the old man.

“About two miles that way,” he said, pointing south.

. . . A little while later, I was walking past the empty parking lots of industrial complexes, my feet crunching the glitter of shattered beer and whiskey bottles. It was then I began to feel a hard chill. It was a lonely and brutal place. The sky was darkening with rain clouds and I realized that I had left my jacket in the bus. My wallet and keys were in my jacket.

My father was right. I was scatterbrained. Irresponsible . . .

Excerpts from Timothy Reilly’s story “Down the Road” from Passager’s Winter 2017 issue.

To order Joyce Abell’s book Prickly Roses or Passager’s Winter 2017 issue or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.

For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.