I lived in Charlevoix for a stretch during the summer of 1987 with a few guys from Flint. They did all the planning and I just sort of showed up and slept on the floor of this tiny three-room house they managed to talk Joe the landlord into renting them. We jokingly called it "the Condo," which allowed us to hold our own with the rich dilettantes in Charlevoix who actually had condos and summer homes, provided, of course, that they never actually saw our place.
Joe lived right next door in a much larger house. We heard he had his license revoked for several drunk driving incidents, but through a quirk in the laws was able to legally drive a moped around town. Sometimes we’d see the moped ditched in the driveway or the yard when Joe couldn’t negotiate parking it in the garage. I vaguely remember that he had been a pilot, and if you were talking to him outside — usually about some loud incident that had occurred at the condo the night before — he'd often stop, peer up into the sky, spot a minuscule jet, look at his watch, and say something like "Oh yeah, that'd be the 8:29 out of Toronto." It was impressive, although I later realized he could have been making all the information up, which would have been even more impressive.
One of Joe’s lone requests was that we not have a lot of guests stay overnight. According to my sporadically kept journal, there were occasions when as many as 13 people slept at the place. Two of the guys even constructed a bunk bed in the lone bedroom in an attempt to accommodate the crowds. It collapsed sometime in late June. There were no injuries.
I was driving my grandma's old Buick Electra 225 at the time. It came in handy because it functioned as a camper on some of our road trips out of Charlevoix. It could comfortably sleep three — one in the front seat, one in the back, and one in the spacious trunk. It was much more luxurious than the floor at the Condo.
My friend Jim was driving the first of what seems like several dozen old Saabs he has fixed up over the years. Jim has always been able to find great deals on cars and, later, houses. (He managed to buy his first home in Ann Arbor at a rock-bottom price after he casually struck up a conversation with the owner at the Del Rio bar.) The first Saab fit right into my sad and misguided attempts at the time to be the Great Gatsby of Michigan, so I liked to borrow it.
It was an exciting car to drive. It didn’t have great power or superior handling. Instead, it had six inches of play in the steering wheel. When you wanted to turn right, for example, you had to spin the wheel for half a foot before the tires would actually start turning. As you can imagine, this revolutionized the driving experience. A lot of the lessons I learned at Southwestern High’s driver’s training program went out the window. You had to do some serious advanced planning on turns, and you had to have strong arms and quick reflexes. Driving with anything in one hand — like a Stroh’s bottle — was out of the question. I know I personally scared the hell out of numerous Fudgies and locals alike when I crossed the center line making the right turn from Michigan Avenue to Petosky Avenue heading north out of downtown. Between Jim’s Saab and Joe’s moped, I sense the thoroughfares of Charlevoix could be a very unsettling place that summer.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I have a nostalgic attachment to Saabs. I’m not sure you could call the classic Saab profile beautiful, but it’s certainly distinctive. When I look at the latest Saab on display at the Frankfurt Auto Show, I can’t help wondering what went wrong. Is this bland, indistinguishable sedan really the offspring of the car I grew to love while terrorizing the populace on the roads of Charlevoix?