A GUY NAMED VERN says hello when I sit down at the counter at Corky’s Café and Bakery in Upland, over on Mountain Ave. Vern knows everybody there and wants me to know. Waitresses, the manager, he calls them all by name. He’s bored but he doesn’t know it, pretending he’s all up on who’s the oldest server, going to school with the manager who he says he used to peek at through the fence in junior high. She winces, moves on. Athletic Director at some high school, he takes his grandchildren to school and it’s all so wonderful he gets up every day in a great mood.
“It’s all in your mind,” Vern says. “You make up your mind every day to be happy, and it’s just that simple.”
LATER I'M DRIVING over by the Montclair plaza and stop in for a small car show. It’s the American Motors confab, bunch of guys showing off their AMXs, the old Rambler motors turned into American Motors before being bought out by Chrysler, for the Jeep brand, Jay Baker tells me. Jay has four American Motors cars, and other brands too, tucked away in a garage.
Mark Melvin is in charge. One big event each year, Mark says, and a few other get-togethers where the guys show the automobiles, talk parts and where to get them, who has what, that sort of thing.
HOBIE KAPTAN is pumping up his AMX to go two hundred miles an hour.
“Jay Leno will be there to video tape it for his show, Jay’s Garage,” he tells me. Up in Mojave, at an old air strip that’s two miles long, guys with laser radar guns will time him, see if he’s ready to break two hundred at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where the need for speed really gathers momentum.
His AMX has a fuel cell that pumps gas into the engine, and a special suspension is needed to stabilize the ride. He’s sixty one years old and he’ll be behind the wheel for all the speed trials.
“Just polished up the wheels,” he says, beautiful chrome rims riding with BF Goodrich tires.
Hobie will dump thirty thousand dollars in the AMX to get it where he wants it. New suspension, twin turbo-chargers feeding a six-speed manual transmission pumping out six hundred horses. That’s a lot of ponies.