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Rolling Thunder, Horizontal Rain

Clear skies and a sunny summer sun can coexist for only so long here in North Carolina.

Temperatures rise. Pressures escalate. Opposing fronts assemble, square off, collide. Things quickly become precipitatious, as they recently did in my neighborhood when graying skies grew cluttered with hostile forces converging from all directions, then lingered and rumbled abuse at one another.

Brawl-inducing squabbles grew bigger and noisier and burbles of thunder began shoving clouds around, unleashing a tempest worthy of Jupiter himself, or maybe something assembled in the Pixar studios.

Growling and grumbling escalated, lightning bolts flashed, crackled and popped. As thunder bombs threatened more violence and rain began a harsh, thick downpour wife Trophy and I knew just what to do: Grab a pair of plastic lawn chairs and set ‘em up in the yard. 

Now fetch a beer (and a wine for the wife) take off your shirt (blouse optional) and set on down for the evening show. It’s pouring hard, horizontal rain while lightning explodes behind gray mountains of the cumulonimbus species, turning our panoramic stage into a festival of savage sight and sound. 

Rainwater rolls off your hair and chest and drips from the end of your nose. 

My friends, there are things you can enjoy down south you can’t in California without risking neighbors calling Adult Protective Services. Sitting out in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, at night, semi-naked, drinking, laughing, pointing at lightning bolts, might not be OK in Ukiah. Agents might turn up at the door.

The main difference here is the weather, especially in the summer, especially at night. At 8 p.m. it’s 81 degrees and raining hard, and I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock it’s 81 degrees and still pouring.

Just balmy I tell ya. Thunder is shaking leaves from the trees and making my beer foam up. Trophy is three feet away laughing and pointing like she’s never seen anything like it, because she hasn’t. 

California gal, y’understand. 

All Hail Crown Vics!

One of the more startling realizations in relocating to this part of the country, or maybe just this particular town, is the love and affection people have for 30 and 40-year old Ford Crown Victoria automobiles. 

In California a Crown Vic is the last car you’d want to inherit and the first car you’d send to the crusher. Crown Vics have always been the plow horses of the automotive world, the dull, anonymous hardworking beasts assigned to every taxicab and every police cruiser all through the 1980s and early 2000s before at last sinking into the La Brea tar pits with all the other dinosaurs.

And being dinosaurs they never evolved much beyond airbags and radios. But Crown Victorias (and a twin brother, the Mercury Gran Marquis) carved out legendary status among a small sect for being “The Cars You Can’t Wear Out.” Some were driven 500,000 miles without so much as a new spark plug, let alone an engine rebuild or a transmission overhaul or any of that other dainty stuff troubling Hemis, Humvees and Mack Trucks, never mind the wienie machines spit out by Hyundai and Honda.

To see these elderly Motor City behemoths treated with such apparent affection here, lovingly restored to showroom condition is quite cool. It’s like Californians restoring ’40 Fords and ’57 Chevys and, in the future, Volvos and Subarus. 

But here nothing’s close to Crown Vics as favorites in the local restoration world, all dolled up as if tomorrow they’ll lead a parade. A neighbor around the corner has a side business detailing cars and for advertising he’s got big signs on both sides of an old Crown Victoria. (Labelling a Crown Vic “old” is redundant by the way, as no such beasts have been built since 2011.)

In Ukiah if you spot a teenager driving a Crown Victoria you know his grandfather just died and the kid had the misfortune to inherit the most low-status set of wheels imaginable. 

Put a 25-year old behind the wheel of a Crown Vic and people will immediately assume she’s at least 65. 

(Tom Hine is the author of all these Assignment: Ukiah columns, written under the byline of his imaginary playmate, Tommy Wayne Kramer. They recently returned from a trip to the British Isles where they learned there’s no such word as “precipitatious.”)

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