By Daniel Pinkwater
Perhaps you would like to know what became of Juno, and what followed my poignant and painful relationship with the Citroen.
Juno grew up to be a remarkable dog, a wonderful companion, and well-behaved. Like any Malamute, she was quick of tooth should another dog give offense, but was never the instigator. One of her best moments came when five dogs, a pack, all belonging to the same owners, attacked her in a park in Hoboken. She shot me a look, "Oh, thank you for bringing me here, boss! Is it my birthday?" She then proceeded to fang each of them, in the foot, in the nose, on the face, conferring an honorable scar--nothing devastating, just enough to make her point, all the time with a dreamy expression, and her tail waving side to side in a kind of ecstasy. It was an artistic performance.
And she was a good traveler, in my brand-new...wait for it...Renault 16. Yes. After the Citroen, I was not bitter. I did not blame La Belle France for anything. I bought the Renault fresh off the boat. It came with a lively infestation of imported cockroaches. I brought my complaint to Jimmy, proprietor of Paris Motors, the authorized all-French-makes repair facility in mid-town Manhattan. Without a word, Jimmy reached into a large carton beneath the counter, and handed me an aerosol can of imported roach spray.
The car had no other issues. Where the Citroen was sexy and beautiful, and chock-a-block with daring but problematical engineering, the 16 was completely practical, not a sedan, not a station wagon, not a hatchback, it was a combination of all three, and as unpopular in the U.S. as every iteration of the general idea, such as the Pontiac Aztek and the R-series Mercedes. Roomy inside, nice ride, good handling, it was also, in my estimation distinguished by being ugly as possible from every angle. It was like the anti-Citroen. It was a car you could almost love, and the chances of it being stolen were nil. I mean, car thieves would laugh at you.
It was quite a performer in the right hands (not mine). David Jacobowitz, experienced former racecar driver and cycling psychologist, put our 16 through its paces on back roads near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and scared the grits out of me.
Jill and Juno and I had taken a ride down south in the Renault, with no particular timetable or plan. We needed to wind up in Norfolk, Virginia to pick up our camping gear, which we had shipped back to ourselves from a vacation in Iceland, where the deceitful steamship people had promised it would be offloaded in Hoboken at the end of our very street. We were in no hurry. We wandered here and there in the southland.
And so we came to Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, on the Virginia-Maryland border. This is the place made famous in the children's book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. There are wild horses on Assateague--they've been there since the 1600s, possibly having swum ashore from the wreck of a Spanish galleon. The local fire department maintains the horses, minimally, making sure they don't starve in the winter. There isn't a lot more to do for them--they're wild, not semi-wild...wild. Once a year they round up as many as they can, and swim them across the narrow channel to Chincoteague. There they hold an auction for some of the foals, which are carted off to become children's pets, and swim the herd back. It's a big event, thousands of people wait around to watch the swim and the auction, and there's a carnival. And clams.
We turned up at the very end of summer. The launch the National Park Service runs, carrying tourists around the islands, was about to make its last run of the year. There were three tourists this time, Jill, me, and Juno. Juno was a great fan of boat rides, and gave the Parks Ranger no cause to regret allowing her on board. It was a deluxe mini-cruise. Nothing is better than being on East Coast waters just at that brilliant change of seasons--the sky was clear, the temperature perfect, and the afternoon stretched out before us. Not only did we have our own private launch, but the ranger brimming with history, notes on flora and fauna, the fascinating local shellfish industry, and the horses--we'd be lucky to see one, said he.
We didn't see one--we saw many. We were floating just a few yards off shore, when there appeared, coming from opposite directions on the beach, two herds. Each was led by a splendid stallion. The stallions faced off, reared up, pawing the air, snorting, nostrils flared, eyes flashing, manes flying. We held our breaths. At another time of year, this encounter could have gone past mere display. After impressing each other, the stallions wheeled and led their herds away, galloping down the beach. We exhaled.
I have witnessed a few things in my life that I can see again just by closing my eyes. This was one of them.
This is all about why I loved my Renault 16--not because it was a great car...it was an okay car, albeit ghastly ugly. See, the thing about cars is...they take you places.
By the way, the Chincoteague Pony Swim for 2013 is scheduled for July 24th. I might go.