'You're always welcome,' Pete said pensively, looking at Amber, 'The Titanic, that's mighty interesting! What is your connection?'
'With Amber I'll be discussing some legal sides,' I said, 'but I haven't asked her yet formally. And I am engaged in the public relations in connection with some commemorative events. Amongst others I am in charge of the website, and as you understand some field research.'
I laughed and said that I already had put Pete on my shortlist.
'When we first met,' Pete said, 'you were doing a photographic report on the American side of this large Dutch retail chain. Are you still working for them?'
'No,' I replied, 'I stopped working for them when there was a change of presidents.'
'I hope we may stay in touch,' I said, 'and I'll send you more information on what is being prepared. And I'll ask your reactions.'
You're always welcome!' he said.
Hill gave his phone number, which I already had. We walked to the Institute and we said goodbye to each other.
'Institute for Exploration' read the plaque. At the reception desk a young woman said that mister Ballard had left on a trip at sea, for about a week. She could not make an appointment for me, but she was willing to give my phone number to Ballard.
Amber looked at my card and tried to pronounce my name.
'The Dutch pronunciation of my name,' I said, 'is too difficult in English, you'll stumble on the 'g', so I don't force others to say it right. But please, try it once.'
'Rogier,' Amber said, almost perfect and sweet, so even lovelier than perfect.
'Rogier,' she whispered with an utterly charming and long 'g', 'I feel a craving to get back to our room.'
Traffic in Main Street was picking up, pickups, and elegant classic convertibles that gave a summer weekend feeling to the atmosphere. Wonderful morning light fell on the wooden houses and the old brick houses, and shops of all kinds, a gallery with watercolors on display, a pottery, seagoing fashion, hardware for yachts, all well restored and nicely preserved facades, like the watercolors in the gallery, or photographs by Stephen Shore.
'What else,' Amber said, 'what other notes did you make in your agenda for today and the coming days to come?'
We went up the stairs to our room and undressed without prompting each other to do so. And we rolled back the quilt and lied down on the bed, content with all we had done since daybreak.
'Yes, I made some notes, in the back of my head.
First , is to see my brother Allen and Katherine.
Second , to drop in at George's, my Harley dealer in Bloomfield.
Third , is to see the vice president of Iceberg Industries on Newfoundland.
Fourth , see William Carrington the writer and publisher, the writer of Cowboys With Chrome Horses, somewhere between North Carolina and here. Not necessarily in that order.
Fifth , the Franklin Mint Museum near Philadelphia would also be ideal to visit, to buy a scale model, so I also once more could see the paintings of Andrew Wyeth in the Brandywine Museum.
But these are all alternatives to choose from. But number one, Allen, is number one.'
I stopped stroking her skin and looked her in the deep blue eyes.
'In case of the Brandywine Museum I could show you a vast collection of the most wonderful paintings painted in America.'
Amber pushed me back into my cushion.
'Hey Roger,' she cried, 'stop being so paternal! Naturally I am familiar with his work since he's one of our foremost artists,' said Amber, 'On Mount Sinai we know what's going on in the outside world.'
'Even more so in Stony Brook,' I added. 'I'm engulfed by amazement feeling so at ease with you, also am I perplexed seeing and sensing and feeling your unbelievable beauty, which frightens me, being afraid that this might be become a hindrance. And you're such a great lass when you're serious.'
'Silly silly,' Amber said, 'see the appearance as an extra bonus, but don't let the exterior sweep you off your feet, regard it as energy, like I love your energy. Then it's all fun! Silly Rogier!'
She pronounced my name in just the right way, the way I loved to hear it.
'Ja,' I responded in Dutch, 'let's drop it until a week from now, but then I also would like to say that I don't want to let myself be overwhelmed by your wit and humor. You're so open and so easy going. My God, I repeatedly said to myself, who am I, being with this divine creature. By now I've known you not more than twenty-four hours. Sixth, comes Ballard, whom we want to see in a week's time. One through Five, what do you think?'
'Being practical,' she said, 'I've taken a week off. In fact Walter came with the suggestion himself since I had worked so hard lately, now is the time to seize the opportunity.'
She grabbed me and we swam until we almost drowned in a pool of pleasure, gasping for air.
Amber said 'Let's go! We'll see where fate takes us as soon as we leave and turn into Main Street.'
We showered and dressed and in a warm silence we stood in front of the window watching the gulls.
'This moment,' she said, 'is the beginning of a journey into the unknown.'
By midday we were ready to start. But we still did not know where to go.
'By the way, why Newfoundland?' Amber asked.
I hesitated and waited until the gulls had ended a dogfight.
'Until I had read Shipping News I regularly felt like writing The Brothers Karamazov; whenever the place and ambiance were perfect. But since I read Annie Proulx' book I felt the compulsion to write Shipping News.'
She looked amused and said 'Why don't you make the photographs for her book Postcards? Yes, a great writer she is, magnificent! What radius of action will allow us to get back in a week? Not Newfoundland I suppose. Let's see whether your brother's home.'
We went to the reception and settled the bill after I made a phone call to Allen's house. I got the answering machine.
'Probably they went to San Fran or Vermont,' I said. 'Let's drop in on George and than see where we may go from there. Let's take the ferry to start with.'
We took the road back to New London, across the bridge, seeing the Sound from afar and above. And we drank coffee while waiting for the ferry.
We looked at the waves in silence. I took several pictures of her, her blond hair in the wind, her elf's eyes, freckles and all.
'We'll pick up some gear at my house before we go west.'
'Then we'll swap wheels and continue our trip in comfort.'
Were these the same seagulls? It was the same sun, but now it was ours. Passengers in the cars watched us curiously.
'I would have looked at us in the same way,' I said. 'Such stunning wheels; who are riding them?'
'You really never stop commenting the scene,' dear Amber said. 'But then I like that, always checking the sights.'
'Oh, now I'm sure my impression was correct,' I said, 'you're into target shooting, one of the great American pastimes! And that's how Walter earned his nickname! And consequently your sharp eye!'
She gave me a light kiss.
'I'm not into heavy calibers though,' she said. 'Depending on the weather we practice on Saturday afternoons.'
'So you were born in Stony Brook but you now live here, over the shop.'
'Yeah, that's how it went,' she said. 'Sunny apartment it is, wheels in the shack. I love it here. Are you getting to feel comfortable with me as your buddy?'
'Yes, I feel in full harmony.'
'Whenever that changes,' she said, 'you should have to look me straight in the eye and tell me what you really feel.'
I started counting her freckles again, until I drifted into the faintly blue zone beneath her eyes. From the ferry we rode the same way to Mount Sinai, we passed her house and rode further down towards the café where we had first met a day earlier.
'Shall we have lunch here,' I asked, 'a day later?'
My Mustang had been moved to a space in front of the entrance. A stone red Studebaker Bullet Nose was parked next to her.
It was also quiet inside the cafe. An elderly couple sat by the window. The father of the man, or the woman, obviously had owned the Studebaker.
'That's a great legend outside,' I said to the man of the couple.
'It was my father's who bought her when new,' the man said, 'She's from ninenteen-fifty, and as you see she's very well kept.'
'Yeah,' I said, 'she really looks great, the bullet hit me straight between the eyes!'
'Aren't you the guy with the Mustang,' Bud, the man behind the counter asked, addressing me, 'who took off with our princess?'
'I'd say,' I said, 'we both took off. But as you can see I brought her back unharmed, and well taken care of, not a scratch.'
'As you can see you didn't have worry for a sec, Gus,' Amber said, smiling and radiating.
'And we all kept an eye,' Gus said, 'on the Mustang. She looks like the one Steve McQueen drove in Bullet.'
'Exactly,' I said, 'exactly the same color and specifications. It's a rented car, or rather, I loaned her; it's a special deal I made with a collector who's the owner of a garage in Jersey.'
'So apart from dames you're also nutty with cars,' Gus said. 'I'm glad to hear. The Mustang has been a promotional icon for the café.'
Bud said that Walter had told him that he would pick the Harley later that evening, so we wouldn't have to bring her back ourselves.
'Returning to our travel schedule,' I said to Amber, 'I'd like to cross The Narrows well before four, but that won't be a problem I guess.'
We said goodbye to everyone and drove back to Amber's house, changed and packed her clothes and drove west again after a quick goodbye to Walter. We settled to our new way of traveling, sitting next instead of behind each other. Traffic was low and easygoing.
'Walter is very open minded,' Amber said out of the blue, 'although I'd say, it is very unusual for me to go off with a guy just like that. Today I'll leave the choice of destination to you. I hope you'll surprise me.'
Whenever I had a chance, I looked at her, to see what she was watching, or I tried to guess what she was thinking. It was wonderful on the bike feeling her all the time, imagining what a visual spectacle we made, but this was a greater way to travel. We could talk, and we could almost listen to each other's thoughts. The sun was shining with full power upon us. East of Norwich we turned left taking the 106 to the Jericho Turnpike. From there, all the way down across the island north south to the highway running form the East to the West, the 27, a busy route. From then on further to the West past Kennedy on the 278, Jamaica Bay past Coney Island, and the Ferris Wheel as a landmark. No sidesteps.
The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the South coast of Long Island.
And we went on further west, to The Verrazano Bridge across The Narrows. What was she thinking where we were heading? I didn't want her to look at the map, wanting to keep her in the dark. Feeling her next to me, I thought this was a much better way, feeling her thighs and closing my eyes, seeing her in my mind. I felt as if I was drawn to our destination by a magnet. It should be easy to hit the 95 north, while coming closer to even denser traffic, it was almost the peek hour on the roads. Then we hit 280 I could still remember, to the West at Kearny, to the Oranges, almost as if on the autopilot. We talked about school and why I had left a few weeks before my final exams.
'Well my!' she exclaimed, 'I guessed that you had university degree in your bag!'
'But that's right,' I said, 'I have them in my pocket, all them chaps who carried on where I dropped out. In our circles, and in those days, a dropout was an unknown phenomenon. Compared to you I indeed am a bum.'
She laughed, and not an uneasy laugh.
'I've seen bums,' she said, 'in the gutter in Brooklyn, on the subway Manhattan ventilation holes, or warming their hands around a burning oil drum in Harlem, it's a good thing though I recognized you!'
The sun was getting lower but it was far from getting dark. The surroundings became greener.
'Are we on our way to meet George?' Amber asked.
'No,' I said, 'we're gonna have a nice dinner.'
It was a gamble, my search for the correct route, Prospect Avenue 577, then crossing over to Pompton Avenue. The houses were getting bigger. Fairfield. Left to Mountain Avenue, right on Greenbrook Road, ending on Passaic Avenue, as if I knew my way. I slowed down, all the way looking to the left.
'Look to the left,' I said.
I had opened my window. Sounds of light aircraft came in. Hangars in shadows against the evening sky, behind a fence, planes behind the hangars. Then a complex of ruins that seemed to have been a farm with assorted smaller buildings.
'Here we are!'
Amber looked amazed. A sign between two poles in the driveway read '94th Bomb Group'.
'Here we'll get our food?' she asked.
'Yes, here dinner will be served,' I replied.
Only then she noticed the tail of a Messerschmitt sticking out of the roof, and a Jeep that stood lopsided in a ditch, and the green Red Cross truck with flat tires, the driver's door hanging loose from its hinges.
We slowly drove across a bridge with loose timber that made frightening sounds as if it were to break. A man in an army uniform parked our car. Another soldier at the door greeted us.
'We're in a movie,' I said, 'and we're surrounded by legends, icons of the Second World War. This is a farm in England, 1944. It's next to an airbase that's been under heavy attack by the Germans, the Gerry's.'
'This is a pretty grim place for a romantic couple to have dinner,' said Amber.
It seemed that she wasn't annoyed but simply wanted to share a point. The reception room was lined with dirty sandbags. An old, antique telephone with a handle was hanging on the wall, surrounded by newspaper clippings and pictures.
'I could stand here and look at them for hours,' I said. 'It's much more real than in the movies and quite horrifying.'
A woman in a Red Cross uniform, asked my name, and then took us to 'The Officers Mess'. We sat on stools and had a drink. Photo's, billboards, battered utensils from 1944.
The nurse came back with the menu. We decided on lamb chops with a French side dish. After some time a loudspeaker near the ceiling in the corner made a crackling noise and a barely audible female voice announced 'Commander Sparks, party of two, dinner is served.' Then the nurse took us to a room with windows overlooking the platform of Caldwell Wright Airport. The sun had gone further down and lit the room with an orange glow. Just in front of us stood a parked Dakota in camouflage colors.
'It's strange here,' Amber said. 'But I like to share this with you, since I now understand that this place has a special meaning for you.'
A Cessna 172 started its engine and taxied away from the platform. After awhile she came from behind the Dakota.
'The food is really quite good,' Amber stated. 'Nice music I must say, although it's wartime music. I always associated Glenn Miller with war traumas. Yes commander, this has become a strange but very special occasion.'
'Although later, after we were liberated these war stories were told to me,' I said, 'They were handed down to me, by my father, but I also read a lot in books, great reading like Len Deighton, same goes for some movies like the Battle of Britain or Nevil Shute, all films made from books. From those emotional films I started to discover life.'
Not long ago I went to a show with Allen, in upstate New York, where dogfights were held on an old airstrip, by old planes out of the First World War. The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, dogfights and barnstorming rides. Shall I also put that on our list? I'll make it a five year list.'
She vaguely nodded and smiled. 'Compared to my down-to-earth life,' she said, 'yours seems to be quite hectic.'
'I am a simple guy,' I said, 'but I get my kicks from a variety of phenomena. But let me hear more about yours. I talk too much!'
We consumed the obligatory ice cream and strong coffee, after which Amber went to the ladies, while I mused over the classifieds in a yellowed newspaper.
FREE PUPPIES... PART GERMAN SHEPHERD PART STUPID DOG
GERMAN SHEPHERD 85 lbs. NEUTERED. SPEAKS GERMAN.
1 MAN, 7 WOMAN HOT TUB -- $850/offer
COWS, CALVES NEVER BRED... ALSO 1 GAY BULL FOR SALE.
SHAKESPEARE'S PIZZA - FREE CHOPSTICKS
NICE PARACHUTE: NEVER OPENED - USED ONCE
TIRED OF WORKING FOR ONLY $9.75 PER HOUR? WE OFFER PROFIT SHARING
AND FLEXIBLE HOURS. STARTING PAY: $7 -- $9 PER HOUR.
EXERCISE EQUIPMENT: QUEEN SIZE MATTRESS & BOX SPRINGS -$175.
JOINING NUDIST COLONY! MUST SELL WASHER & DRYER $300.
ALZHEIMER'S CENTER PREPARES FOR AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER
The parking officer who brought back the car from the parking lot was dressed in a corporal's uniform, and saluted when he opened the door for us.
'I wish you a good night Commander Sparks. You too milady.'
I suggested looking for a room in a nearby motel, which we found near the Passaic River.
'This has been another great day dear,' I said. 'You're really great in connecting with me choosing offbeat eating hangouts.'
'I love sharing these experiences,' Amber said, 'and that's what draws us evermore together, and that's the way I'd like it. It's certainly been another special day.'
'A lovely day indeed it was!' she said.
The motel appeared to be pleasant, with a pool in the inner court. The bed was comfortable after the long day. I told Amber that the dinner place was a kind of introduction into my world, in which the tone had been set by the aftermath of world war two, an atmosphere of sober seriousness, a hard working life the way we lived it in Europe.
'The deep feeling of threat,' I said, 'was overcome, but people did not dare to dream what we now regarded as simple life with the basics, like a washing machine, a fridge, a telephone, reluctant not to overdo things.'
'That's the same spirit as in many areas in South America,' Amber said. 'People just now are discovering paying for their goods in installments.'
She moved closer and asked whether I felt comfortable now.
'I feel heavenly,' I said. 'As a small kid I developed a longing for the US of A and Canada. Later I listened to a special Canadian broadcast in the evening for prospective immigrants, but that was when I was just a kid. But soon I had the feeling that my intrinsic age was forty-three, so for a long period I acted older, as if that was my age. After I passed forty three I reversed and started acting younger, and getting younger every day.'
'But then how old are you?' she asked.
'Forty-three, not much older or younger,' I said. 'To us, the people in the lowlands, you in the US of A enjoyed an exuberant wealth, so I think we both inherited vastly different expectations from our parents and the people surrounding us.'
'I hope to make you forget all this during the next hour,' she said and pulled me towards her.
The night was a comforting dream, and became even more fantastic when I woke up finding her next to me. She picked up an unexpected thread.
'My father was in retail,' Amber said. 'That's how I happen to know the people who live on the Tiffany estate. They were owners of a chain of stores that they sold to a Dutch company, very nice people. But how did you meet?'
'Via my Dutch client,' I said, 'Would you like Belgian waffles for breakfast?'
'No,' Amber said, 'I opted for a roll with Edam cheese to stay more in tune.'
'There are so many questions,' I said, 'but I'll try to interlace them with your lovely and wise chitchat.'
She picked up my teasing and again the atmosphere was light-footed and sunny.
'Shall we go see George since we get along so well? Don't we?' Amber said, 'And since we are so near his place why not? And while we're there, why don't you try the institute again, to check whether they've got any news on Ballard's return?'
'Will do,' I said. 'But hey, it surprises me that aside from being so open you are so uninhibited and natural. It makes me even feel prudish, but then I love that.'
'I was born that way, and can't help it.'
We enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant and left at nine fifty. A short ride through elegant green lanes until I found Valley Road in Montclair, and from there, on Bloomfield Avenue, I started looking for the railroad crossing. After driving slowly for a couple of hundred meters I spotted the crossing and right behind the crossing the aluminum front of the Harley dealership. I stopped the car. It was still early, but George should have arrived.
'Off and on I've been thinking about us,' Amber said.
I cut the engine and waited for more.
'Although I don't really know you,' said Amber, 'my gut feeling says I do, and what's more, from what I now know about you I wouldn't want to say goodbye and let you ride out of my life. Pffff, jeez! Where would I go from here, and lose what I've been looking for?'
She blushed. Her nose had become exceptionally kissable.
'You continuously amaze me, and I am still puzzled as to what business you're in. That shouldn't have to be an impediment I'd say, but at times I got the impression that you just as well could be a spy or something.'
I didn't kiss her nor embrace her in desperation to solve the problem, nor did I show her that I was at a loss of words, but maintained a pleasant composure.
'That's all very understandable.' I said. 'After we've seen George I'll try and bring some light into the darkness. I thought of avoiding what might appear to be a pompous story of vague plans for a megalomaniac business enterprise, pfffft, while I so dearly want to enjoy being with you and listen to your stories. But I'll tell you all you'd want to hear, after we've left George.'
We looked around for a place for lunch. She kissed me. It felt like a confirmation of trust or maybe an emotional commitment. Again I had suffered from this bizarre streak to mystify matters.
'You amaze me, but not in an uneasy way,' Amber said before we walked to the Harley store.
On the sidewalk she kissed me again. (Hey mom, don't worry about her or me, for she's the nicest girl I ever met, although not the mothering type, but a motoring type, but then I'm sure you'll lovingly give your consent. That's the only certainty I have presently.)
We went into the Harley shop, the Essex dealership.
'This is where I met Jan, my Harley buddy from Holland. The shop has recently been totally overhauled following the ambitious wishes of a presentation strategy from Harley-Davidson Company. Otherwise George would have lost his dealership. That's him, George has seen us.'
'Hi good old friend from Holland! Shopping with the lady?'
'How ye doin' George?' I asked, 'nice to see you again!'
We walked around the show-cases and I considered buying something or another and Amber and I both tried on some newly designed light jackets, black with an orange horizontal band, the Harley striping. I bought hers as a present.
'His and hers,' I said.
'You're mine,' Amber responded. 'Isn't it silly we left the wheels at home.'
'You could rent a bike from us, which should be easy for you,' George said, 'being a lifetime HOG Member.'
'Home to Amber means Mount Sinai,' I said. 'That's where she lives and keeps her own hog.'
'That's a bit too far from here,' George said, 'to become your dealer! But how's your bike?' he asked, addressing me.
I told him: 'You know that I've got this custom built souped up great orange Harley colored 883 with a single Corbin seat, and race muffler, with a peanut tank in race decoration. It was a one-off especially built by my dealer and now it's for sale as an official factory model. Ain't that peculiar?'
'You were riding ahead of time,' George said.
We had almost been there an hour, drank coffee and chatted about Jan whom he had seen not long ago, and as always I had bought some nifty gadgets.
'George, see you next time round!'
'Ride safely,' George shouted from the door.
'Let's surprise him,' I said, 'never done this before, but Jan told me that he always buys a white roll with Taylor ham and egg for George, and a light coffee.'
We bought George's preferred meal in the diner across the railroad tracks and were happy with his surprise. I stepped on the gas to go after our own meal.
We drove up north comfortably, past Cullen the camera store, A&P, the supermarket, and King's, a smaller grocery store and Towne Video, the video store where I had hired videos when staying with Allen and Katherine. I steered the Mustang up a side street to find out at the end, at the last crossing that nobody was home.
Then I wrote a note on the back of my business card and we drove to Valley Road.
At the crossing where the Volkswagen dealer was located I turned left onto Route 46, and drove down a nice road shaded by trees, until the elegant glass palace appeared where I once had lunch: Park West Diner, that Allen had revered to as the gleaming chromium dining emporium.
'That's where we will have lunch,' I said, 'or just a bite to eat.'
'I am amazed continuously,' Amber said.
'But then you should have seen Allen,' I said. 'In the weekend he went to places in Germany and Belgium I had never heard of, just to have dinner, or to see an exhibit. The distances he traveled were unheard of.'
'Since I have been coming here in the States,' I said, 'I've gone to Hilton Head for instance, to see my Amsterdam neighbors, who also are friends, who live there in the summer, just a friendly visit. Yes, I've become more American than any Yankee in Holland, in a manner of speaking.'
'It's good you made that transformation, and that brings you here,' Amber said, 'otherwise I would have been working now and would not have met you.'
We had a light Italian lunch, and Italian coffee and I tried to find the beginning for an explanation that I wanted to give Amber.
'Do you ride on your hog often?' Amber asked.
'Last year only a few times, but in the preceding years I quite often took rides with my buddies Jan, who calls himself Jack, and William, who is called Bill. This year I've planned to ride with another old friend of mine, Hank, to Italy.'
'Since the beginning of our relationship,' Amber said sternly, 'I've had this vision of us wandering around, explore both our worlds.'
'I propose...' I said.
She smiled, and I continued.
'I propose to postpone my explanation till tonight, because the traffic may disturb any light I might bring into the darkness.'
'Oh,' she said, 'that's fine with me. Where are we going from here, travel wise?'
'This is the road along which I discovered two DeLoreans on the parking lot of a car dealer. A policeman then stopped me for crossing the line. He let me go, after I had told him I was a foreigner to this country and had lost my way. Wait, wait, here it is, see on the other side?'
We stayed on the right hand side and after a mile we made a u-turn at traffic lights and drove back. She held her hands modestly over her knees and I saw her look at the cars on display with some interest. For a minute the freckles on her cheek mesmerized me, and again I couldn't believe my eyes, this delicate complexion and her strong presence that close. This made my mind pulsate! On the side of the office on the parking lot stood the DeLorean of which I still had an image in my photographic memory.
'Two or three years ago,' I said to the salesman, 'I saw two DeLoreans, but in an deplorable state, flat tires and rather dirty.'
'That must have been just after we had bought them from the repo man,' the salesman said.
'We restored both cars and sold one soon after, but this one seems to like it here.'
'At the time they were around twenty-five thousand,' I said. 'What's the price now? I've been thinking of buying her after all.'
'If you're serious about this,' the man said, 'I could give you the keys for say an hour. She's ready to go for a demo-drive.'
The salesman opened both gull wing doors and gave me the keys.
'You've got a mighty car I must say,' the salesman said. 'Looks like the car in Bullet.'
'Yes,' I said, 'McQueen's car. We'll just take her for or a spin.'
We drove down the avenue and turned left into what looked like a hilly road, snugly seated in contoured seats.
'For this kind of road the power is quite adequate,' I said, 'but my criticism is that she's underpowered in general. Since I first saw her I fell in love with this car, although she was branded the poor man's Mercedes Gullwing. Soon after she was introduced the company went under, like the Titanic. And since then she has become a legend. Neatly designed and wonderfully engineered by Lotus. Mister DeLorean had sunk more money into the development than he could make on them. He failed, although he was enormously supported by gigantic sums he got from the British government. I loved the concept and the stainless steel skin. If not pressed too far she's a wonderful touring car.'
'To me it's less than I'd want,' Amber said, 'from a comfortable and predictable car, but the skin's really nice indeed.'
'It's odd,' I said, 'that we value a car by the material we see that had been molded into specific and elegant forms. But when you look deeper than the skin, you'll discover the thousands of man-years that went into the development of the car. In this case you may certainly compare the building of this car with the building of a cathedral, or the Titanic.
I stepped on the gas and immediately the back broke loose, but that was easily corrected. The interior was well restored, or lovingly kept in new state condition. The feel was fine. But she needed some improvement in road behavior, in road holding. Amber looked relaxed. She accentuated the elegance of the extraordinary looks.
On the next bend she skidded on the gravel and broke out fiercely, left the road, down the slope next to the road and bounced across swampy ground spraying water up the windows and then she came to a halt. I cut the engine and looked at Amber. She looked at me, in surprise. I swiveled up my door and so did she.
We climbed out straight into the mud. Our shoes we swallowed. Amber frowned. I loved her laconic expression.
'Dangerous at any speed Ralph Nader had said,' I said, 'in his crusade against the dangerously behaving Chevrolet Corvair, do you think that applies to me or the car?'
'For a standup comedian,' Amber said calmly, 'I'd say, you've chosen a frightening detour.'
The DeLorean slowly started to sink into the muddy ground. I called the telephone number on the business card. (I really am terribly sorry dad, I shouldn't have driven so carelessly, and I did not want to impress the girl.) Lewis Porter, the salesman, dealt with this setback as a matter of fact when I phoned him. It was my luck the car was properly insured. Porter soon came to pick us up brought us back to the dealership. The DeLorean would be towed back and then would get a new lease of life. After Porter made a photocopy of my passport and I had given my card with address and phone numbers he let us drive off in the Mustang.
'With you,' Amber said, 'the film is played at ten times the speed I am used to. I'm not upset, and if I were, I'd tell you. But I've no idea what to think of this bizarre accident.'
The little outing had taken us more than two hours. The jolly spirit had also sunk. Amber looked a bit gloomy, but her voice didn't sound angry. Let's go down to the Tara Hotel I suggested, which is not far from here.
'You won the humor contest,' Amber said. 'You seem to operate under a computer compression program. Is this your default mode of operation?'
'This indeed was virtually the shortest of my greater adventures. Man am I glad that we didn't scratch Walter's bike!'
'We?' Amber asked.
She held me, gave me an emphatic hug and looked her sweet self.
'The analogy with the Titanic,' she said, 'which was said to be unsinkable, is that the DeLorean wouldn't rust, but I'm afraid the upholstery will remind you of this disaster for a long time to come, that is if you're in a buying mood.'
'When one is distracted a sec in Amsterdam,' I said, 'one can leave the road of life by walking into a tram, so I'm used to living on the edge. This was bound to happen someday. It was a close call, and I am sorry I dragged you into this. According to the theory of probabilities we'll be lucky not to run into other walls for a long time to come.'
'You may communicate that to Porter,' Amber said. 'And I should remind you that this is the third time you escaped and were lucky. All that happened last couple of days is very unreal to me. What day is it anyway? I'd suggest taking a sabbatical hour. What's this castle!'
'It's the Tara Hotel.'
'Oh no not again! Look at the porters!'
The porters were dressed in a uniform, the kind you see in an English promotional film or in tourist material. These enormous white walls of a castle you'd expect in the English countryside, with battlements on the roof.
'I beg you, let's look for a more sober place,' she said. 'This is a too large hoax for around here. It seems to me that the hotel belongs to a Walt Disney theme park.'
We didn't stop at the hotel after all. I didn't step on the gas, but calmly drove on. Traffic was getting denser and slower.
'I've stayed in the Tara one night,' I said. 'The room was booked by the company I then worked for. The occasion was the opening of the head office in Parsippany.'
'As long as you don't drag me into dangerous situations,' Amber said, 'I'll join you, and I love listening to you.'
We continued cruising, passing an Embassy Suites motel, a Holiday Inn, several faceless sleep-inns, and a Howard Johnson.
'That's it,' I said, 'old fashioned and trustworthy.'
'Suits me fine,' she said.
And indeed it was not at all bad. And a sober room it was, but nice enough, a picture of Manhattan on the wall with protruding Twin Towers and a seagull flying through the air. Later we could walk down the strip for some simple food.
'Let's merge,' I said.
And we did, a bit hesitative but lovingly. We stayed in bed for a long time, exhausted and in a pleasant mood, but still a bit in shock after the absurd car incident.
'How did you undergo the attack on the Towers,' I asked.
'It felt like a heart attack on the nation,' Amber said pensively, 'otherworldly, science fiction like, but essentially so devilishly human. It was ghastly, still is ghastly.'
'At the time it happened,' I said I ran from the Coffee Company where I had been drinking coffee and writing emails on my Communicator©, 'I all of a sudden ran out and towards my house, close to the World Trade Center Towers in my city. Almost there I discovered I had left my cell phone in the shop and ran back. The waitresses were standing around the Communicator© watching it ring. It was ringing because I had a phone call. First I was told that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, which was located near my house, but this was corrected because it was said it happened in New York. I felt numb for the rest of the week, in tears when I imagined the images. A few years earlier I'd circled around the Towers in a helicopter. I've been on top and made pictures. I've seen the people who worked there. I still haven't come close to sorting this out.'
Silence followed. I held her face, looked in her grave, otherwise always playful eyes.
'Shall we drive up to Newfoudland tomorrow?' I asked, 'I don't feel like flying.'
'Let's decide tomorrow,' Amber said, 'after we opened the curtains of our mindset.'
'I've seen this picture before,' I said pointing at Manhattan, 'or something like it, so probably it's a stock photo, but then I clearly remember taking it myself. Compared to the tragedy of the Titanic the Tower murder is even more appalling, in the magnitude of mass massacres of the World Wars.'
'This seems to be the beginning of another world war. How about trying to see Ballard?'
'Yes, we'll try to make an appointment,' I said.
We walked down the strip looking for food and decided on Chinese. The food was fine, and the atmosphere was quiet. We mused on various subjects.
'I bet you've had countless romantic or say erotic adventures on these trips,' Amber said, 'did you?'
She looked naughty, teasingly, but her eyes were serious, I imagined.
'I once took two days off in my tight schedule,' I started my story, 'to drive to York, the factory where the Harley-Davidsons are assembled. In the evening I found a room in a Holiday Inn close to the factory. Being a Dutchman, and being used to eating around six, I went to the restaurant, around a quarter past six. The dining room was dimly lit, with candles on the tables. All was set for a romantic dinner. On the side was a grand piano, with a grand lady dressed in green playing Chopin. In a notebook I wrote down ideas, not related to the scene, but on something I wanted to work on later. I could have gone back to my room, but then I liked the music, I even enjoyed listening to it, and just sitting there seemed better than watching the news. I had to wait forty-five minutes, the waitress said. The melodious grand piano and the lady really looked stunning, in a green velvet long dress with a bare back, which looked very attractive, almost kissable if you asked me. The music made me sentimental and my emotions broke loose, and I almost broke down in tears. I felt very alone.'
After forty-five minutes, I had almost finished my Caesar salad, and was still slowly working on my dessert; two women came in for dinner and settled down at the table next to mine, within hearing distance. Although plain looking, they were cute and energetic. I then started thinking of the eternal questions, am I going to have a romantic adventure on this trip. I always truthfully have to say that I never think about chances and occasions. With great sentiment I watched the women and listened to their chatting. Gradually I became sick of their common plain family and neighbors' nonsense they were talking about. I concentrated on the heavenly candle lit piano and the flamboyant musician. I felt a strong urge to go to bed, and sleep. Not being able to stand staying in the dining room I decided to leave after having whispered a compliment to the pianist. Slowly I walked up to the grand piano, with misty eyes.
You made it a grand evening for me,' I said with a muffled voice.
Only then I saw that the right shoulder of the lady showed a tiny dent all around, like in one of those show window figures. She moved her hands over the keys without touching them. I had never seen such a musician before. I felt ashamed, as well as found it funny, and without looking at the housewives, I left the room with a dignified stride.
'And that was how you came to romance?' Amber asked.
'Thinking of my American trips,' I said, 'this was all the romance I encountered.'
She gave me a consoling touch and I switched to another subject.
'I have been thinking about Newfoundland the other minute,' I said, 'you know that the gross national product of Newfoundland is icebergs!'
'I thought that it would be fish,' she said.
'No, it's ice, the bergs came loose from the polar icecap and drifted past the factory, that's where the ice is grounded to water, that is if I'm correct and bottled and sold by the truckloads, maybe even by ships I would imagine. We, of Titanic Publishing and Publicity, that is, my partner in this case, have established a promising exchange of ideas concerning both our publicity and decided to discuss opportunities and plans. Sounds fantastic, but this promises to be fantastic connection for both of us. Now here you see what I am up to and what our plans are, that is, more or less. When you say iceberg you immediately think Titanic, and when you hear the word Titanic you think of iceberg. Iceberg means water for the future. That's the underlying idea.
'By promoting this intriguing iconic perception in various ways we'll become widely known with all that we have to offer, ice water and legends and fantasies, in bottles, in books, in three dimensional art, and on linen. Then we've also finished a scenario for another movie, and a composer is working on a new musical. In April this year the wreck will be lying on the ocean floor for ninety years. Then a Titanic Art Expo will be organized in the port of Rotterdam, the greatest harbor in the world, with paintings, bronzes and other forms of three-dimensional art, specially created photographs all based on the Titanic, which will be opened by a choir of hundred and twenty sea captains.'
'That sounds almost too fantastic to believe,' Amber said.
Further remarks and ideas were smothered in kisses and light cries were damped in the ensuing exhaustion. The next morning some loud birds woke us up early. We were also early birds, rummaging through our love nest.
'Looking back,' Amber said, 'I was thinking of the cuckoo you had seen on one of the hogs at the Harley café. I've been wondering ever since. For there are no cuckoos in America.'
'But I always thought so. Then how about the movie with Jack Nicholson,' I said surprised.
'Hey man,' Amber said, 'that's a movie about lunatics!'
We had a quick breakfast, and I seized the opportunity to tell her more.
'Another mate on the ship is writing a serial on all the forthcoming events in 2012, the year that the Titanic rests one hundred years on the ocean floor.'
She listened attentively. She laughed when I stopped talking and watched her eyes.
'We'll then take down a ribbon and drape it over the wreck. And the most fantastic plan of all we're currently working on is, as I told you, organizing trips with a cruise ship to the spot where the Titanic lies, and where during the night an iceberg will appear on the horizon, yes, towed by a large tugboat of Iceberg Industries. We're also talking about building a new Titanic, but therefore we would need quite a berg, and a heap of dough. So, what do you think, interested in driving north?'
Amber looked at me a little hesitant and didn't say a word for what seemed like a long time, it felt like ages, but then slowly she started to smile, which was then followed by a burst of laughter.
'You are such a boy, like all these hog riders, and the whole Harley bunch, just boys! Don't you have work to do, or hasn't your father taught you a lesson or two?'
'I dearly would have liked to talk with him about all these things,' I said, 'if he were alive.'
'No no,' she said, 'don't get me wrong; I do not reject your plans as being silly. I am laughing because of that serious and ambitious look on your face. I like the plans as much as I like you, and I don't see you, nor do I see your plans as a dayfly. Come on, let's go!'
We studied the map and found a nice way to go. We both were in a good mood. Amber started talking and didn't seem to want to stop over but head to Newfoundland.
'Compared with your life,' my dear said, 'mine has been quite sober, seriously studying law in Manhattan, but there were sunny days sailing on the Sound, and a party now and then, and since I joined the biker friends, a lot of laughter in the cafe. I had a few flings but they didn't work, so nothing permanent came of them. Being heavily into law I am now engaged in the most realistic reality soaps imaginable, but something is lacking in my life, I'd say the spiritual side of it like when I was young. My life is pretty elegant and joyful. I love my family. I get on well with my brother and also with the others in the firm. They all appreciate me for my taking initiative and other qualities. Kids are not lacking in my life, and besides, I have no craving to settle down. I'm almost jealous of the freedom with which you step into your fantasies. That'll possibly be the essence of my attraction to you. Today I resist looking farther than today, but then I am curious as to what roads I'll be traveling tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll be with you. I decided to prolong our being together.
'That would be grand! I said. 'I visualized you to be a model, a top-level fashion model, or a movie actress, or a princess. On this trip you'll be my princess.'
'I've often been asked for a modeling job, but I'm afraid that's a timely and tricky business. In my circles it's simply not done, to take such a flight of fancy. And what I see, more and more see around me in my social life, is the gilded veneer, with rust and woodworm underneath, and a sneaky, unstoppable, sprawling perfidious morality and a ghastly decay. I've decided to go for the dream, poetry and fantasy.'
'I now have decided, here and now, that you're going to be my mate on this trip,' I said, 'however long that trip will last, so help me God.'
We drove north leisurely but with a comfortable velocity, staying just under the speed limit. After our bountiful breakfast we didn't long for coffee for some time. The sun was on our right hand side just behind us. We listened to the radio for a while and then Amber seemed to want to chat.
Comfortably we had driven up the 502, the Garden State Parkway from where we switched to the eastbound New York State Thomas Dewey Toll Thruway, passing the exits to West Nyack, Central Nyack and East Nyack. A consoling drone came from the tires, heartwarming sunshine on Amber's thighs and knees. I tenderly grabbed her nearest knee, which had a gorgeous complexion and moved my hand upwards and again felt the radiation she was generating.
'I have been wondering all along,' she said, 'if you had ever been married, assuming you're not married at the present, but believing you possibly could be. I can't figure out why I haven't asked this earlier.'
From where I sat I couldn't make out whether her eyes were expressing playfulness, worldly wisdom or an inquisitive look. I loved her nose, a well-lighted contour.
'In what month are we living?' I asked, 'and what year is it? How old am I? Who am I, sitting next to this fairy Viking Princess? This trip has become a voyage through my dreams. What kind of dreams do you dream?'
Across Tappan Zee Bridge we entered New England. The wide Hudson River looked a bit like the Long Island Sound, a vast body of moving water but moving, feathered patches of reflecting sun. Shadows of the beams of the bridge flashed over her thighs and her wonderful bosom, and a glimpse of a protruding nipple beneath the simple and nice fabric. I would have run into trouble trying to keep an eye on the road and I did this with difficulty. Amber started to sing a song by Burt Bacharach. I entered the state of Bliss, and hoped that Amber would join me.
'Of course you know the Bacharach Hotel on your island,' I said.
'Oh yes, it's nice,' she said, 'had a party there once.'
'Instead of driving north,' I suggested, 'and take the scenic route along the banks of the Hudson. Then see the dogfight airstrip of The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and drive further up to Poughkeepsie. We could have coffee there in the grand mall, or should we better aim for Hartford. The countryside will be just as nice and besides, we then would not be making a detour.'
'It so seems that I can leave the navigation to you,' she said. 'You're a real globetrotter.'
'I haven't forgotten your question about my being married,' I said, looking at her as long as traffic permitted, 'I married young according to today's timing.'
'Yes,' she said, 'I couldn't imagine you as not being married.'
'Over the years I thought that I was providing an utterly satisfying basis for a joyful family life, but my impression had been totally wrong. We had more and more arguments, about what I now regard as trivialities, which after a long battle inevitably lead to separation. From then on I became more of a loner, even more so than before my marriage. So here I am, not feeling lonely at all, and this after a long time.'
'Yes,' said Amber, 'our meeting is, and even more so this trip, is almost too out of this world to be true.'
'I never panicked,' I said, 'never thought that I would end up miserably, because there always we friends around, no love affairs, but lovely friends with whom I had coffee, or tea and long chats, lunch dates and dinner meetings. I loved being enveloped by my work and making these trips regularly.'
'Hartford,' I said, 'is a mini-Manhattan in the midst of the green fringes north of New York. Quite a few magnificent buildings have been erected there. White collars take the train from there into Manhattan, but a growing force finds work right in Hartford. I like Hartford. It is magnificently designed public squares. Across the river the airport is located, a small strip that is. I once hired a helicopter on that field to photograph a building that was owned by a client of mine, situated in a business area across the river. I had to pay the minimum of one hour, and in fifteen minutes I had finished shooting the building from all sides so had plenty of time to fly around, around Hartford. And I saw really colossal mansions in the middle of the woods!'
On the left, close to the highway, comes the dome in an Asian architectural style, as part of the Colt gun factory.
'Look, look, that's where your snub nose comes from!'
'You sound like a guide on a tourist bus,' Amber said.
We passed gigantic flyovers across the river, and continued our drive north.
'Windsor Locks,' I announced, 'another head office of a former client. And Bradley International Airport and the Air Force Museum.'
'Now's the time for coffee,' announced my dearest passenger.
'I can't remember,' I said, 'anything nice north of Windsor Locks, so please check the map, otherwise I'll stop the car, to kiss you and inspect the map and discuss route and planning.'
'Roger! Over and out!' she said with a would-be air of authority pointing at a parking space at the side of the road.
'We've been driving the 91 north,' Amber said, pointing with her ivory nailed forefinger. 'We could have taken a short cut, but that would have slowed us down, and anyway, the real nice scenery we'll find in Maine. To my taste New England is too pretty. Wait and drive and you'll see. From the 91 we turn eastward, straight into Boston, and from there, straight into Maine. But then I'd suggest to avoid Boston and drive via Worcester, Leominster, Nashua and than hit the State Turnpike to Portsmouth, and than up to Portland. That'll be a real joyride.'
The weather had become a bit cloudy, giving more saturation to the foliage, and countless variations of green.
'It's so odd,' I said, 'all city names seem so familiar, from driving in old England. But then the road web is not laid out in the same way as in Old England. So I decided you're fantastically at my service.' In Springfield, although desperate for coffee and a bite to eat, we pushed further on eastbound 90, without seeing a coffee hangout that appealed to us, but all of a sudden there it was in front of us, a choice for lunch. We chose an Italian restaurant, with a red Corvette coupe parked in front, and we ordered cappuccinos and pizzas and a side salad.
After having given all my attention to the road all morning, and seeing interesting vehicles and wheels like custom Harleys and many road signs and hearing her voice and seeing her angelic face and feeling her knees and thighs and her hands on me, I at last could see her in front me. I could easily bend over and stroke her nose, smell her hair, check out all the attributes, veins come faintly through the light colored skin texture, features, endearing characteristics, freckles, delicate earlobes, appealing intellectual qualities, ever changing cleavage and other niceties. We were hungry, Amber was.
And I too was hungry for food, but also for new impressions, new excitement of whatever kind. From time to time Amber had a forlorn look that made me want to cheer her up.
'I wonder,' she said, 'I've been wondering what kind of man you are, an ancient mariner, a lover of science fiction, or a poetic biker, or a chameleon, I cannot make up my mind.'
'All and neither,' I said, 'I am a Gemini, or rather we are Gemini's. It's a long list of everything. Some strangeness probably will be caused by the fact that English is not my mother's tongue, which governs the way of seeing things differently. It's a way of seeing and of craving, like the way a roguish guy sees a great kisser in your mouth, whereas I see a lovely communicator with a unique and classic but independent mind which I can't resist admiring.'
She smiled and touched my hands. I asked the waitress to bring us another wine and a Coke©.
'It takes a lot of insight,' I said, 'to understand the differences in personalities or characters, or a world not like one's own. I am a catalogue, edited by dna heredity, coincidence and sheer luck. I wish you might see the coherence as I feel it.'
And on we went.
'Tell me,' my dream girl said, 'what do you see in me, if you don't mind my asking?'
I smiled, and laughed.
'Let's keep this off the record,' I said, 'because I'm still thinking about it. It would be better if I answered your question in writing. Well, straight from the heart you're in the first place naturally my personal fantasy, exotic and inspiring. I am not thinking of your blinding beauty, but the lightness and spontaneity with which you flew into my life. When I see you, or think of you, I see you sailing on the Sound, I hear the cries of seagulls, and I feel a happiness that I'd like to share. With every glimpse I get of you I see a world I'd like to live in. I honestly believe that this world is not necessarily the Eastern seaboard, but your internal world as you experience it. I might as well have met you in the grocery store around the corner of my street, although the Harley obviously did a lot of affirmative screening for me. Now I'm afraid that you may perceive this as platitudes, but then I hope you'll give me some time to hear me out in the coming days, for I may come up with some more inside news.'