Timeless Vehicles Repurposed in The Dear Maude Trilogy
In time travel fiction, something—a machine, a watch, a phone booth, standing stones, etc.—transports the character(s) back in time. For Emily, in The Dear Maude Trilogy, vintage cars and other vehicles often serve that purpose…but why did I choose that method of time travel? In my mind, the choice was clear.
Despite the fact that I’m not a gearhead nor does my car lingo expand beyond the use of “that thingy” to describe most parts under the hood, I needed to find Emily a ride, and, quite frankly, old cars are flat-out awesome. Their unique lines, colors, gears are true feats of innovation and imagination before the age of computerized technology. For me, any excuse is a good one to attend a car show—the older, the better. In fact, most forms of old machinery such as tractors, bicycles, motorcycles, and other things with wheels and belts are often worth a few minutes (or hours) of my time.
Researching vintage vehicles always adds to my appreciation, which, in turn, extends into my writing. In Dear Maude, Emily’s life after college is a rollercoaster ride both physically and emotionally, so it seemed fitting to start her adventures in time in a basement laboratory in this way:
Once the door was open, we were met by another darker, cave-like entrance that housed what looked like an old rollercoaster car, complete with four rows of leather seats.
‘Did you borrow this from an amusement park?’ I walked to the front of the car to see if any identifying words were painted on the front, but it was solid black with no writing. I looked up and was met by the cold eyes of my three unamused escorts. ‘Guess not.’
The car was attached to a track that led straight into the darkness of the tunnel. I shivered and walked to the last row, then stowed my suitcase on the floor before strapping myself into the red leather seat with the attached belt.
A man in a white lab coat checked all our seatbelts, pulled a long lap bar down in front of every seat, and handed each of us a set of goggles, similar to what a skier would wear. ‘Put these on,’ he said. I did as I was told.
Once we were all belted in and goggled, he bolted a cover over the top of the car, one that had been suspended above us in the darkness. When he was safely behind the vault door, a bell sounded, and the car lurched forward. For some reason, the memory of the crazy limo ride to The Garden came to mind; as a precaution, I closed my eyes.
As soon as the car began to move, it accelerated at such a high rate of speed that I thought I would disintegrate. About halfway through the ride, I started to feel dizzy, and I had to open my eyes to try to stop the spinning. The walls of the tunnel seemed to ooze a sort of iridescent green liquid that changed from purple to yellow and back to green as we moved forward. The air became heavy with an odor I did not recognize—a combination of leaded exhaust and fried food that seemed to permeate my being. I squeezed my eyes closed again, fighting the urge to scream by gritting my teeth behind sealed lips and gripping the bar for dear life.
The ride felt as if it took an eternity, but it probably lasted only minutes.
Nothing helped the dizziness until we finally started to decelerate. As the car slowed, I was able to take longer, deeper breaths and realized I had probably been holding my breath off and on throughout the trip. Once we came to a stop, I opened my eyes and looked ahead at the tunnel.
Although Emily’s employer, Evergreen Research Corporation, is new to time travel, their unknown competition, Holtz and Sons is not. Holtz and Sons' technology allows them to travel to both the past and future often using specially modified vintage automobiles that can reach speeds fast enough to break the sound barrier, generally within tunnels underground. On many occasions, Emily bonds with vintage Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts. The following is her first encounter in 1910 in Dear Maude:
As my eyes adjusted to the lack of light, I was drawn to something in the center of the room that was almost glowing from beneath a single overhead light. It can’t be! I squinted as I walked closer.
Within a few feet, I stopped mid-step. It is…and it’s my ride! I inhaled, trying not to suck all the oxygen from the room as my hand flew to my mouth to stifle any sound that might have normally left my lips. ‘A Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost!’ I mouthed in amazement.
The gleaming object before me was one of the most beautiful cars I had ever seen. Its sleek black frame radiated an energy that made it seem alive. It was like a magnet, drawing me closer with every breath.
I couldn’t fight the attraction, but as I slowly neared the magnificent machine, I felt almost afraid to be in its presence. I’m not worthy! I remembered Dr. Moore caressing his laminated photos of cars from that era, forever talking about how rare each one was, especially the Ghost, as he called it. Now I knew why.
Within a few yards of the passenger side, I was unable to move. I could only stare at the shiny beauty. I hadn’t felt that way about a car since I first encountered Gerd’s.
It came complete with a chauffeur, who was already sitting in the driver’s seat, smiling at me. My assistant led me the rest of the way to the car and opened the back door for me.
I nodded, and she did the same, as I loaded myself and my suitcase into the back seat.
Aside from transporting Emily in time, vintage vehicles are used aboveground, at normal speeds, so Emily can blend in with the time frame she’s visiting. These include a 1926 Mercedes 24/100/140 PS, a 1957 Corvette, a 1931 Bugatti Royale Coupe de Ville, a 1932 Chrysler CL Imperial, and many others, as well as prototypes meant to mimic vehicles of the period. A few horses and both opened and closed carriages are thrown into the mix too. But one of Emily’s most mind-blowing car experiences came when she traveled across the Mojave desert in a convertible 1950 Buick Super Series 50 in Forever Maude:
Without hesitating, he turned on the engine, put the car in gear and smiled. ‘You might want to use your buckle.’
I seldom rode in cars equipped with seatbelts but didn’t delay my search just to debate the car’s vintage or its aftermarket optional equipment. Instead, I squeezed my hand between the seatback and bench to retrieve my lap belt, then buckled it. Johann stepped on the gas. My head snapped back, making contact with the top of the seat. In a different situation, I might have complained about whiplash and the lack of a headrest, but the demonic look on Johann’s face pushed my comments back down my throat. Instead, I slid lower on the bench seat and used its back to support my head and neck.
The scenery flew by while Johann gained a tighter grip on the wheel. Within seconds, the speedometer reached 110 mph, and we were still accelerating.
Please don’t blow a tire, please don’t blow a tire! I feared for my life and that of the desert tortoise as we raced forward, leaving a plume of dust and debris in our wake.
Suddenly, an explosion nearly ripped my ears off my head, and flashing lights seemed to shoot in all directions around us. I instinctively threw myself at the mercy of the bench seat and tried to protect myself with my arms. Fortunately, my lap belt was worthless, because it allowed me to curl up into a ball where I remained with my eyes firmly clamped shut.
Within seconds, I heard the engine decelerating.
‘I’m still alive!’ I screamed to the floor boards.
As the car slowed further, I heard Johann let out an excited cry.
I cautiously worked my way to a sitting position. The look on Johann’s face was a mixture of elation and pure adrenaline.
I couldn’t relate.
What happens next only adds to the twists and turns Emily experiences as a time traveler. And, unfortunately, riding in a cool vintage vehicle doesn’t always make up for the crazy life she’s living.
Read more in THE DEAR MAUDE TRILOGY!
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THIS is a great resource for car facts.
I like THIS one for its non-technical, social history of cars from the 1880s to the 1980s.
Next time, I’ll explore the art world Emily studies in Dear Maude.