a.k.a. Inner Soul
You never know a car until you step into its treads and drive around in them. Hutch's clunker is redeemed as the mystery of why handsome Hutch drives around in it and sees its soul and dignity unseen by everyone else, is revealed. Includes a missing scene from "Survival."
A partner story to "Mashed Tomato" by survivor10.
When you look at me, I know what you see. A wreck. An ugly bucket of rust and bolts. A faded glory lost in a disheveled body.
But when Hutch looks at me, he sees something else. Someone else, someone very special. That's why he can always get past my war wounds.
Tonight, Hutch sank into the familiar depression of his sofa, while I sat outside in my usual parking spot. I might have been outside, but you have to understand, I have a psychic connection to my driver. There he sat upstairs, despondently dwelling on the events of the past few days. It certainly had been an eventful time with Starsky's car smashed in that collision when Hutch and he were pursuing armed robbers. My stalling in the middle of the intersection was the catalyst that caused the accident. I wasn't exactly Mr. Popularity with Hutch's partner afterwards – not that I ever have been in his good books. The insurance company wrote the mashed tomato off. Thankfully, Hutch saved the day by buying the car back from the insurance company and covering the cost of its repairs.
Fortunately, no-one was hurt in the accident. This time.
Still, Hutch couldn't get what might have happened out of his head. The "What if?" mind game was usually Starsky's domain. But Hutch couldn't help indulging himself tonight.
He thought about the troubles we'd been through together. My horn that would blast off at all the wrong times and tip the perpetrators off before we got there. My doors that could stick like Super Glue, slowing up our urgent action. My window handle that parted company with its socket. My breakdown a few months ago that had cost Starsky and himself an important bust. Ray Pardee was the perpetrator's name, as I recall. The incident catalyzed their "Hide 'n' Seek" bet for a weekend to see who the better detective was. No prizes there for the better dick – they were as bad as each other! Their ego-fuelled bet all but lost Hutch his life with a lethal dose of botulism. As I sat on the sidelines in Merle's shop while being the butt of derision and failure, that whole domino effect made me feel sick to the bottom of my gas tank, too.
And now this – the aftermath of last week's incident that made mashed tomato of Starsky's car, thanks to me. I feel like an inanimate object, an abject failure, while Hutch sits on his depressed sofa, downing beers and wondering if he should trade me in for a more reliable car after all.
To most people, this question would be a no-brainer. But the problem is, Hutch and I go back a long way. We're held together with a bond stronger than any welder's gun.
In days that were good, Hutch and I lumbered along together in a rhythm that was comfortable for us both. I had my quirks and, heaven knows, Hutch had his. But it was knowing each other's foibles that kept us running. We were tight. I didn't want anyone in the driver's seat except Hutch – he was the only one who could turn my ignition key and make me run.
His partner did not want anything to do with me. The feeling's been mutual – I certainly haven't wanted him anywhere near my start-up gears! Except once when Starsky shunted me to a gas station to top me up at Pine Lake, referring to me as "this thing." Enough said. (There was another, very special time when he drove me, which I'll get to shortly.)
Hutch has the right touch, all the special tricks and adjustments to make me run. He knows my faults and loves me still. He calls me "Sweetheart," and I call him "Soul Man" because, well, Hutch is my soul. You know what I mean? Together we ride with a quiet dignity and an inner flash only we two know.
Now I know the question that's most likely rattling around in your head. Why does handsome Hutch hang around with the likes of me, a bucket of rusty, old bolts? Believe me, that's a question on a lot of people's lips. Hutch is so good-looking, he makes the men jealous and the ladies go *thud*. I can't say I have that same effect. He looks pristine, and he never misses a beat with a comeback to his partner or a come-on to the ladies. His mind works like a steel-trap when he's on the the job, and out on the streets, he's right there in the action, reliable as the sun coming up in the morning – just ask his partner.
I am the antithesis of my owner. I'm ugly and beat up. I often miss, which makes Starsky very anxious. The littlest squeak cuts through his curly-headed brain and drives him nuts. He's very in tune with car engines, and knows the second his car engine is missing. But Hutch, he loves the whole package, and doesn't get bothered by the little things – even if his partner thinks he should.
If anyone was to analyze the difference between how Starsky and Hutch relate to their cars, you might say Starsky has engine empathy that he wraps a flashy body around, whereas Hutch has car attachment with inner soul.
Some speculate we're attached because Hutch is environmentally inclined. Waste not, want not. Well, like a patchwork that unravels sometimes, I am made of a lot of recycled parts, it's true. But anyone who thinks this is the reason, need only recall how often Mr. Environment throws litter out of the car window, to debunk that theory.
Other folks theorise that Hutch is eschewing materialist trappings by driving around in an old clunker like me. Hutch certainly turned his back on the prospects of high-income living when he broke away from his father's wishes to study law. After that life-changing decision, he was out in the cold from his father. He knows what it's like to be on the scrap heap, and heaven knows, he wouldn't want me to be junked – even if his partner keeps entreating him to check out his Uncle's car sales lot. When Starsky rebuked his partner – and I remember his words exactly – "You really oughta do something about this car, like take it to a junk yard!" those words stung Hutch more than he let on.
Some say that Hutch and I have been through so much together, we can't let go. They call it Stockholm Syndrome. If that's so, then who's holding who hostage? Seriously, though, there is a lot we have endured together. The job. Taking a tumble down into the canyon where we were stranded for days. Hutch courting the lovely Gillian and springing over my bonnet in unadulterated joy. Poor Gillian. Poor Hutch. That was a tragedy all the way around.
People can try to rationalize our close connection this way and that – and there's some element of fact in any and all of it. But the truth of the matter is more simple and direct than folks know. The stuff people hold on to, speaks volumes about the person – and for Hutch, it's who I embody that matters most, which gives me lifelong guaranteed protection from the scrap heap.
I am not a garbage dump. Not really.
Hutch would never abandon me. Even if I was stalled during an earthquake with balls of fire hurtling towards us on one side and a tsunami on the other. I just know he would keep turning my ignition key, keep pushing my gas pedal and pleading, "Come on Sweetheart, please start. Please start!"
"Come on, sweetheart!"
I remember it well. Hutch was cajoling me to start, anxiously turning my ignition while his partner rocked back and forth in his seat, willing me to go. I can't tell you what it was, but at that point I'd lost my mojo, my inner flash. It had been a hard week on the beat. Make that a tough month. On top of that, I was feeling jaded, fed-up with the brunette's wisecracks about my being a hunk of junk, an embarrassment to his image and a dint to his ego. For Pete's sake, he'd just tossed Hutch's empty soup can into my back seat!
"Starsky, this is not a garbage dump," Hutch had admonished him, and rightly so.
"You could've fooled me," came the usual kind of churlish response I've come to expect from him all too often from him.
There's only so much a car can take, even a clunker like me who's been around the block a few times. Suddenly, I stopped caring how much the Ray Pardee bust meant to them. I couldn't start if I wanted to. Something was missing all right – my will to go on.
Starsky never had been fond of me. Back in our early days together, he'd gripe to Hutch about me hurting his image. He was ashamed to be seen riding around in me. There was many a time he'd beg Hutch to give me a wash and tidy me up, afraid of what diseases might be lurking inside me. He'd complain about my workings, entreat Hutch to go see his Uncle to look at his latest souped up cars. According to Starsky, I was a piece of garbage. A jinx, a tub, a public eyesore. An ugly hunk of squash.
Starsky hated me inside and out. All he saw was dirt, stains, dings, dents and rust – not to mention putrefied upholstery. True, I am a patchwork of parts, like I said. And yes, sometimes I do top out at 40 miles per hour, 45 going downhill. I do break down. I could be mistaken for parking ticket violations while in motion. And yes, my horn malfunctions, my doors stick, bugs infiltrate me, and sometimes a push will get me there sooner than pedal to the metal. Guilty as charged.
But to say that my tire recaps are worth more than the whole of me put together could not be farther from the truth. Little did Starsky know that every whine, every complaint he made was a slur not only against me but something so much more. Starsky was to finally learn that truth after Hutch and I went for a somersault down a cliff into infinity.
In the depths of the canyon
I held on to Hutch for dear life, down in the depths of Topanga Canyon where we lay broken.
I would never abandon him. We were in this thing together.
I didn't let go – afraid if I did that he would tumble, lose his way, be gone forever. The best way to save him was for us to to stay together.
I gave him shelter and visibility.
I flung my rearview mirror in his reach so he might try to flash a signal in the sunlight searing through his skin.
I was his companion through long, lonely nights beneath the stars.
And I gave him a life line through my radio that finally brought our rescue in the form of one very worried and frantic curly headed friend.
"We made it, Partner," Starsky gasped as he gently cradled Hutch's head in his hands.
You got that right. Hutch and I did make it.
The providence of Me
I might have been a written-off wreck sitting in the repair yard after that three-day sun-bake in the canyon, waiting for the assessors to determine my final fate. But I could still channel in to my Soul Man, lying there hurt and injured in Memorial Hospital. He and his buddy have notched up quite a few frequent flyer points at that place of mercy!
Starsky had all but taken up residence there, too. Just early this morning, he came bursting in Hutch's room with a bundle of auto magazines to help Hutch out of his funk. They were going to choose a new car for him! So Starsky thought! But his face clouded with concern as he saw his friend sitting by the window, dejected and morose. Just like I was feeling in the yard.
"Hey buddy,' Starsky ventured. "How ya feelin'?"
"Like I've been hit by a truck," Hutch bemoaned.
"Funny, you look like that, too," Starsky rejoined in an attempt at some humor to lighten the load. "Hey, I brought you something to take ya mind off ya troubles!"
"What's that?" Hutch asked wearily.
"Here!' With a flourish, Starsky placed the auto mags down on the tray table in front of Hutch, a feigned glee of expectation filling Curly Top's face.
But Hutch was not moved. "Not now, Starsk."
"I've got a headache."
"Aw, c'mon, Hutch I know ya hurtin'. But hey, it's not exactly like you've lost your best friend."
My Soul Man fixed Starsky with a stare so mournful, so sorrowful, that Starsky became alarmed.
"That's just it, Starsky. That's exactly how I feel."
But Hutch didn't say anything as a lone tear started to trickle down his cheek where a bandage covered a deep gash.
"Hey Hutch, ain't I your best friend? I'm still here."
"It-it's not that. You don't understand. You don't know …"
"Know what?" Starsky suddenly felt a tingle of fear run down his spine as he looked at Hutch staring off into the distance through the window where he sat. I think he was worried that this post-trauma thing was worse than he and the doctors had thought.
But then finally, my Soul Man spoke as he began telling Starsky about the providence of Me. The Me he was grieving over.
"You see, Starsky, that garbage dump you love so well was originally my Grandpa's backyard project."
"What…?" Starsky softly gasped
"Grandpa loved to tinker. He was a cabinet-maker, as you know. But he got a hankering to do a little mechanical work. Never tried it before. It wasn't very good. Just before he finished it, he had a stroke. You remember."
"Yeah." Starsky remembered all too vividly. Hutch was shattered as he rushed back to Duluth to be by his cherished grandfather's side. From the moment Hutch was born into this world until Grandpa passed into the next, the two had been inseparable.
"Like you also know, Grandpa married into wealth," Hutch continued. "But he never forgot where he came from and the work he did with his hands. After he retired from the farm, he embarked on rehabilitating a 1973 Ford Galaxie. The car had fallen on hard times early in its life. Iron Guts, he called it."
Hutch smiled fondly at the memory, and Starsky joined him in a wistful smile of recalling something he knew nothing about.
"Grandpa was seventy-seven at the time," Hutch continued. "But that didn't hold him back none. Slowed him down a little, maybe. He procured parts with the help of connections to the car and steel industries on Grandma's side. Then he had the stroke. It wasn't too serious, thank God. But it was a wake-up call. After that, he handed in his driver's license and wanted me to have the car. So I took it. It's all I have of him now. That and the fob watch."
Hutch stopped again as Starsky stretched his arm out to him. Hutch reached for his pocket where the watch ordinarily would be. He could feel the watch, hear its soft, constant ticking, even though it was safely tucked away in a drawer back home.
Hutch went on. "The panel beating and paint job hadn't been done, hub caps weren't fitted, other details were missing. And you know me, I'm as useful with cars as that door knob over there. Besides, I didn't want to mess with it. It was Grandpa's, you know?"
"Yeah," Starsky softly replied, a lump in his throat.
"I had no idea what to do with the car except drive it. So I did. And it made me feel connected with Grandpa. Still does, especially now he's g-gone. It, it …." Hutch's voice trailed way.
'It has inner soul," Starsky quietly finished Hutch's sentence as he recalled Hutch's previous words about his beloved car.
He realized now now the full import of those words. A soul invested with his grandfather's spirit. That's who I was.
At last Starsky understood why Hutch was always so protective of his car – of me. So defensive of my flaws. So loyal. Despite it all.
With a new sense of shame now, Starsky thought back to the day back in '75 when Hutch appeared with me, without any explanation. Curly Top was flabbergasted and horrified, not knowing my providence.
"It hurts (threatens) my image," he'd complained.
Thus had begun Starsky's campaign for Hutch replacing me with something more flashy, more him.
But now Starsky resolved to begin a new campaign. He knew what he had to do.
In the days that followed this soul-baring conversation, Starsky rounded up the help of his car business uncle, as well as Merle and Kiko, and called in a few favors from other folks straddling the line. He acted fast, and before he or anyone could blink, the job was done. It was nothing less than a miracle – with a little grandfatherly help from upstairs too, if you know what I mean, just like that time in the canyon.
So there I sat in Memorial's parking lot, as good as I ever was, when Starsky wheeled out our Soul Man to meet the renovated but still original Me.
"Hey, where we're going?" Hutch inquired.
"Takin' you for a little stroll."
"What, what for?"
"I wanna let you take a peek at your new wheels", Starsky replied as he turned them both towards where I was waiting.
"Oh Starsky, you know I love you but ou-our, our, our taste in wheels don't exactly match, you know?"
"Yeah. Mine's better."
Just then my Soul Man saw me. He could not believe his eyes, and just seeing that expression on his face made my headlights tear up. Up from his wheelchair he stood, transfixed as he leaned on his crutches.
"Yes sir," Starsky proclaimed proudly. "You're gonna love this little buggy, a Genuine Hutchinson Original! Or should I say replica of the same, complete with assorted dents, dings and putrefied upholstery. Not to mention as an added extra which I'm gonna throw in just because I like your face …"
At that point, Starsky opened my door and my horn happily blasted off to greet my Soul Man. What joy to his ears that brought! But he wasn't saying anything and that had Starsky worried.
"What's the matter, don't you like it?" Starsky asked
Finally, Hutch spoke.
"Starsky, it's beautiful, it's just beautiful!"
"That's what I was afraid you were going to say."
Hutch let out a sound of pure joy as he stretched out his clutches as if to embrace us.
That did it, me headlights were really pouring tears now.
Yesiree Bob! I was indeed the Genuine Hutchinson Original, back to what I was when I was just a glimmer in Grandpa Hutchinson's eye. No replica, no sir, not at the heart of me anyway.
So where does this trip down memory lane leave me and my Soul Man, following the latest incident with Mashed Tomato? The good news is that Hutch lifted himself out of his funk, thanks to some salsa and beans. That's right, you heard. Salsa and beans.
You see, Starsky came to Hutch's door one night, bearing a bundle of his favorite Mexican food in one hand, and a six-pack in the other. Ignoring Hutch's protestations of not being hungry, Starsky laid out the food with much flair and ado on the kitchen table.
"Now buddy," Starsky announced as he tossed Hutch a beer, "You can either stand there, or you can take a seat and wrap that open mouth of yours around a burrito or a taco or a tostados. Or all three! Hmm?"
"Cutting back, are you, Starsk?" Hutch asked as he begrudgingly popped the lid off his beer and took a swig. He had to admit the cold amber felt good going down.
"Don't worry, there's salad too," Starsky reassured his friend. "I know you're funny like that. And oh, over here we've got tomato salsa, and there's the refried beans."
"Now," continued Starsky as he ladled the tomato salsa and refried beans onto his plate. "This tomato salsa is kinda like my Torino last week."
"You don't have to remind me," Hutch grimaced self-consciously.
"And the refried beans is sorta like your car of recycled bits."
Hutch looked at Starsky quizzically. "So?"
"Oh come on, Soul Man," I thought to myself. "Even I can see the point Starsky is driving at here!"
"They go together," pressed Starsky. "Like you and me. Like our two cars."
Starsky paused and watched Hutch closely. "So you're not really gonna get rid of that thing, are ya?"
Hutch looked bewildered. But then, just like that, he cracked a smile that spilled over into a laugh, the first since this whole drama began. He kept laughing. Starsky seemed puzzled at first, but then relaxed into a long laugh with him.
"No, I guess not," Hutch finally replied. "Not since you put it like that." He helped himself to a big serving of the salsa and the beans to go with his taco and salad.
"'Salsa and beans are like our cars!'" Hutch mimicked. "Where do you come up with this stuff?!"
"Down at the local Mexican take-out joint," Starsky rejoined.
Somewhere off in the distance, I heard a gruff laugh. A real Genuine Hutchinson Original burst of mirth, the kind that comes from the depths of the belly or, in my case, the gas tank.
"Good one," I heard Grandpa Hutchinson chuckle. "Now for some rest."