Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Showing a lotta leg

Johnny Cash spent a career brandishing his toughness by dressing in black. Big whup. Snooty scholars with hands as soft as day-old croissants have been wearing black forever.

You want to really be tough? Wear shorts.

Wear them for 2,135 days straight (as of yesterday). Shovel snow in shorts. Whistle past a glacially cold graveyard in shorts.

You want to know tough? Go into The Snap Shop in Great Barrington. There you’ll find Steve Carlotta and his bare knees. He’s been wearing shorts everyday since Feb. 26, 2000.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

This baby could shine like a new dime!

There she is, backed into a stand of common yew, this former queen. The words “Gt. Barrington” and “Engine 5” still painted on her doors. But what’s she doing here, on a golf course in West Ghent, in the middle of Columbia County, New York?

I’ll tell you what she’s doing: She’s waiting for you to whip out 500 bucks and buy her, that’s what she’s doing. Bring her back to the Berkshires.

I’ve read enough children’s books to understand one thing: Fire trucks have feelings. And this old girl, old Engine 5, a former workhorse out of the Housatonic House, needs a little loving.

Think of the possibilities.

Be an instantaneous, one-person parade. Use it for camping, even. Plenty of water. Or maybe park it in your driveway and sneak in there late at night to dream the heroic dreams of youth. Or better yet, take off the tires, plant it in the backyard and turn it into a jungle gym for the kids.

Or maybe it comes down to two words: chick magnet. Hop in. Hobnob. Hot rod. Cool down.

Think about it.

It’s big and red and it works. It’s made of steel — nearly everything but the seat cushions. And it’s tough — tougher than a Tonka.

Did we say steel, or steal? Five hundred bucks. Now that’s a steal!

And it’s got switches and knobs and dials and lights and other gadgets, too. What else? It was built in 1969. It’s a Maxim It’s a pumper. Talk about an idea that holds water.

Seriously, the thing holds water. And she’s faster than a camel.

But don’t think camels. Don’t think humps. Think Waukesha engines, and think pumps. This baby’s got a 500-gallon tank. It pumps 1,000 gallons of water a minute. It can suck up a pond then spit it back out.

And it’s got merely 20,000-something miles, and that ain’t much at all, really. And though Waukesha engines are known for throwing their rod, it hasn’t thrown it’s rod ever, and you wanna know why? Because this engine knows only how to give — indeed, how to indulge.

She purrs like a kitten, when she starts, says John Kozen, her current owner, patting the side of her. You know what: He’s right. She’s a big cat.

Great Barrington retired her in 2000. She put her years in.

“It was a real functional truck,” recalls Fire Chief Harry Jennings.” He also recalls she has no power steering. “I can remember we had a guy a little shorter than most who had to stand up to turn the wheel,” he says. 

True, she can be a bit obstinate. And she’s got a nose like a bulldog. And, yes, she may only get about three miles to the gallon. And she might suck your bank account dry. But wait, if you washed her and waxed her, there’s a bright coat of red under there. She could shine.

Kozen says he bought her four years ago from a guy in Philmont, N.Y. Until last year, Kozen had been using her to pump water to the greens of the golf course he runs beside Columbia County Airport. That must’ve been some sight to see: a red fire engine puttering around a green golf course.

“Oh yeah,” says Kozen, “I’d have the fire truck up by the pond out in the middle of the night, the lights on. The cops would come out to see what the hell was going on.”

That’s $500 — and did we mention the tires? Big. Good condition. You could put on drop chains for wicked weather.

“The tires alone are worth five hundred bucks,” says John, sounding kind of miffed about it.

So what’s there to think about? This thing’s the real deal. From 1969 to 1984, she was the first engine sent out on fire calls from Housatonic. From 1984 to 1999 she was used as a back-up. But don’t hold that against her. There are no small players in a fire department’s grand theater, right?

She’s a real unsung hero is what she is. Can’t you see her, by the river or beside a pond, a hose hung out her mouth, slurping away? Yes, she’s a heavy drinker. Fast? For a fire truck.

Kozen says he’s gotten a lot of interest, but no offers.

“People stop by all the time and ask about it,” he says. “If they want it, there it is. I ain’t going anywhere.”

Forget the old hearses. That’s morbid. Forget driving old school buses. Too Partridge Family, too pitiful.

You need spark. You need flare. You need big, red and beautiful.

And, boys, she’s available.