"Hey, Dad, uh, whatcha doing?" Ron Witwicky looked up from amid the several bags of empty cans and bottles, all neatly tied up and awaiting recycling. His son had come to an incredulous (and slightly nervous) halt just inside the kitchen, and stood staring at him.
Ron raised a brow, then gestured largely to the bags. "Recycling," he said.
"Uh, yeah, but, um, wasn't I supposed to do that? You know, while your car's in the shop and all that?" Sam demanded. Ron's car, much to his chagrin, had picked up an irritating rattle three days ago that the mechanics were having trouble tracking down. Bad timing, as it threw off the schedule Ron insisted on, never mind that it his family rarely abode by it. But bad timing or not, Ron would make the most of it. Indeed, Ron was a man on a mission, and much though he would grouse about the repair bill later, this was probably his best opportunity to do what he had in mind, impossible as it usually was to pry Sam away from the driver's seat. Plus, it was a nice change of pace to see the kid standing there, mouth hanging open, actually wanting to do the chores for once...
"Yeah, well, it's your lucky day, son," Ron replied, grabbing the three bags in one large fist, and made for the door. "Gettin' a little stir crazy, so I'll go take 'em in to the depot. Get a little cash back."
"B-but how are you going to – ?"
"Easy," Ron said, and snatched a set of keys off the counter. Sam's set of keys. "I'll just take your car."
"But Dad, that's – I've, um, gotta meet Mikaela, ah, n-not, like in twenty minutes down at the mall, I can take – " Sam protested, even as he grabbed at a bag. And when Ron just kept moving, the kid rammed himself in his father's path, feeble attempts at excuses giving way to all out stalling. "Whoa, whoa, Dad, chill! I'm the designated dumper, I can do – "
"Your Mom'll be back in ten minutes. She can take you to the mall. And I'm going." Ron leaned a shoulder against the front door, and at the same time gave the bag a sharp tug, pulling it from Sam's hands. "Now."
But Sam wasn't giving up quite yet. He followed Ron out, protesting the while.
"Uh, seriously, Dad, that's cool, um, but why don't I just take those, and you can take Mom's car – "
"Hey, did I not pay for half of this?" Ron demanded as he marched imperiously down the drive toward the Camaro that was parked there.
"Er, yeah, but – "
"Then I'll drive it. Don't worry, Sam," Ron said and grinned broadly at his son. "I'll make sure you get plenty of chances to do the recycling. Meantime, you can sweep the porch and water the roses while you wait for your mom."
So saying, he popped the door lock bravely doing its job in the face of a completely open window, tossed the bags in the back seat, and climbed in. Sam was still staring at him, agape, and so Ron smiled once more, stuck the key in the ignition, and wiggled his fingers at him. See ya, kiddo! The engine coughed to life surprisingly quickly, and as Ron adjusted the rear view mirror, he stared at the clear image of his garage door reflected in it. He pulled the seatbelt on, put the car in gear, and pulled out onto the street. As he rolled toward the intersection, he noticed a black SUV with tinted windows parked by the neighbor's driveway, facing toward his house.
"New car?" he'd asked Tom Denning when it had first appeared.
"Nope," Tom had said. "Carsons've got a live-in nanny now."
Right,Ron thought. New nanny.
It had been a month since that Simmons fellow had barged in and tried to arrest them all. He still wasn't quite sure why, but he had his ideas. Giving the government car a discontented, defiant glare, he flicked the turn signal and headed for the recycling depot next to the supermarket at exactly the speed limit.
By the time he arrived at his destination, he had determined that his son was going to get an earful about just how loudly he played his music while driving, that for a '76 Camaro, the clutch was in terrific shape, and that the shocks were remarkably springy. He made a mental note to tell Sam to start saving his money so he could get them replaced before a close encounter with a speed bump took out the undercarriage.
Once at the recycling depot, it took Ron all of fifteen minutes to get all the cans taken care of and then another five to get his money from the supermarket next door and a coke for the ride home. The car started easily once again, engine purring happily as Ron left the parking lot and merged into traffic. He sighed as he leaned back in the seat, testing the give a bit, then dangled an arm out the window. Yeah, it wasn't a bad car for being thirty years old and four thousand dollars. Not bad at all.
Too good, really. Ron glanced once more in the rear mirror and took a good look all around. Nope, no black SUVs in sight...
Ron signaled left and pulled onto the highway leading out of town.
Perhaps a half hour later, at the end of a dirt road that ran out next to an old power relay station, Ron slowed to a stop. For a moment, he sat in the car, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel and scowling, before he got out. He shut the door and ran his hands over the rusting frame, following the roof back to the trunk and around until he was standing in front of the car, leaning his hands on the hood.
Ron Witwicky was a practical man. He took things in stride with a glib comment and a great bulldog impression when called for, never mind that Judy was the one who actually bit. It wasn't that he was a softy. It was just that conserving energy was important. Raising a teenager was trial enough to make a man a Taoist to survive the experience, and Ron Witwicky was a survivor in a line of survivors – so he told himself and took pride in it.
But this past month, he just had to wonder whether seventeen years of fatherhood had finally done him in, driven him batty as his great-grandfather was said to have been. It wasn't every week your kid got arrested twice, after all, or that you got arrested with him by a secret government agency. It wasn't every day the government fixed your house and garden up free of charge or paid your son's hospital bills. Ron hadn't even had to threaten to sue and they'd done all that. He'd been suspicious in the worst way, but Sam had insisted he hadn't gotten all bruised up by the Feds, but that there'd been some sort of attack.
"Like terrorists, or something," Sam had said and shrugged. "Buildings sort of fell over."
That definitely didn't happen every day. And it wasn't every evening you got your mug splashed all over prime time.
"Sir, Ma'am, has anything been said about aliens?" a half dozen reporters had shouted as he and Judy had been escorted out of government vehicles in front of a hospital to pick up their son. A hospital that not only was not in their health care network, but was actually the next state over, in the middle of what looked like a demolition zone, of all places. And there had been that crowd of reporters screaming at anyone who came near: "What do you know about aliens?"
Well, there was only one answer to that question. The government's fancy suited goon squad hadn't said anything about aliens, that was for sure. Not one word. Ever. So he had been advised – 'debriefed,' that was the word – and so that was what he'd said. No aliens.
Of course not, because the feds had really only been interested in the four thousand dollar showroom steal he was currently leaning upon.
"You're a hunk a' junk," Ron said aloud, shaking his head. "Four thousand dollars of scrap metal that by the grace of God alone is still running. The paint job could be custom-faded for all I know, and you sure didn't come with any papers. If your muffler doesn't crap out, you'll fail your first smog check!" He gave the hood a shove and felt the car rock slightly on its no doubt vintage shocks. "So," he finished, "what the heck happened that your engine's running quiet again and you aren't spewing diesel out the back any more?"
Ron stared at the car, and slowly, he could feel the heat creep over his face right up to his hairline. "C'mon, you think I'm dumb? " he demanded. "Do I have to count the things that don't make sense?" He held up a hand and began ticking the points off dramatically.
"The car lot and all that glass! The broken radio going off for no reason? The robot thing – the phone call we got from Sam that's still sittin' on voice mail about you being some kinda robot, because that's not something you ever erase! I mean," Ron held up his hands briefly in acknowledgment, "I thought he was kiddin' – Sam's a kidder, got his old man's mouth, I admit it – but then – and this," he chuckled, wagging a hand as if to retain a friend about to walk out on a joke, "this is my favorite part! The Feds come, break into our house, bust it up, kidnap us, and all so they can ask about you? They've got people staking out our street for fun? Because everything in Mission City screams 'War of the Worlds'? Including the reporters?"
He paused expectantly. But still, there was no answer. And the longer he stood there glaring at the car, the more the absurdity of the situation made itself felt. He was a mile off of the highway, standing here in the afternoon sun, demanding that his son's car tell him if it was an alien.
Was this how it had started for Archi Witwicky?
"Huh jeez," Ron muttered, leaning a little more heavily on the car. Just how far into Crazyland was he? Should he be heading straight to a police station or a hospital, just in case he started hearing weird voices from outer space to go with the paranoid delusions?
Of course Sam's Camaro wasn't a space alien. No, if it were wanted by the government and it didn't have any papers, then it was probably stolen – stolen and... and used by drug dealers! The feds were probably tracking dealers whose abandoned car he and Sam had unwittingly bought. That made much more sense of everything, didn't it? Drugs were a problem in every city, after all. And if Sam were calling home to babble about his car being an alien in the middle of the night, then obviously, just like that cop had said, he must be on drugs. What was the alternative, after all?
It made a lot of sense. It made a lot more sense than interrogating his son's car. The only problem was that Ron just couldn't believe it. "Sam's not on drugs." He shook his head. "He can't be."
With a grunt, Ron straightened up. He gave the Camaro another hard glare, then with an explosive sigh, kicked a front tire gently before turning away to look back down the dirt road. So what was it all about? Or was he really losing it, just like his great-grandfather? "Chrissakes, Sam, what's going on?"
There was no answer to be had from the road, and so after a little while, Ron climbed back into the car and began heading back toward the city limits. As he drove, he fiddled with the radio. "Geez, what is this crap?" he demanded, as heavy base came blasting through the speakers, which crackled with static as he struggled to find a decent station.
Another static-laced burst, and then suddenly it died as a clear signal came through, and with it the classic earthy drawl of Dylan.
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief."
"Thank God," Ron muttered and fell to listening.
'"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getti –"'
Dylan was interrupted by another burst of static. Ron growled and glared at the radio dial. "Aww, c'mon!" he complained, as Dylan briefly flickered back in. "C'mon, civilization's just over the hill!" He gave the dash over the radio a firm smack.
Maybe that did something, for Dylan came back in loud and clear.
And then suddenly, and without warning, rhyme, or reason, in the middle of a line, cut to the Boss.
"I lived a secret I should'a kept to myself
But I got drunk one night and I told it
All my life I fought this fight
The fight that no man can ever win – "
"But it's all right, it's all right
all right – she moves in mysterious ways!
It's all right, it's all right – "
When the night falls on you, baby
You're feeling all alone
You won't be on your own
I'll stand by you
I'll stand by you
Won't let nobody hurt you
I'll stand by you!"
"What the hell?" Ron gaped at the stereo. For despite the unholy mishmash of songs coming through, the tuner stayed firmly stuck on ninety-two point five and didn't budge as The Pretenders bled into Johnny Cash turned into Peter Schilling, and on and on. It wasn't until the car's breaks suddenly kicked in and the car swerved that he remembered he was supposed to be driving. But by then, the kid in the Honda had already passed him, horn blaring, and Ron swore.
"Holy - I'm not even touching – who's driving?! " The steering wheel kicked slightly under his hands, as if avoiding some minor pothole in the road; without warning the engine revved, and Ron was pressed back into his seat slightly. "Ok, ok," Ron babbled aloud, trying to calm himself, though without much success. "The car's driving itself now. Great. Oh God, this is – " He shook his head, laughing as he helplessly held up his hands. "That's it, I'm gone. Bonkers. Crazyland, here I come!"
As if in response, the music shifted again.
"Said - said - said: I remember when we used to sit
In the government yard in trenchtown,
Oba - obaserving the hypocrites
As they would mingle with the good people we meet.
Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost
Along the way.
In this great future, you cant forget your past;
So dry your tears, I seh.
No woman, no cry," sang Bob Marley soothingly, and continued in that vein all the way home.
By the time the car pulled into the driveway, Ron had almost convinced himself he wasn't dreaming. Almost as soon as it had rolled to a stop, Sam, who had been slouching on the bottom step of the porch, shot to his feet. And when his father did not immediately exit the vehicle but simply sat there, he hurried over, jogging the last few steps.
"Dad – uh, everything ok?" he demanded. Ron stared up at his son, for once at a loss for words. "Dad?"
And then two pairs of eyes latched onto the radio dial as Marley suddenly flowed over the airwaves once more:
"In every life we have some trouble
when you worry you make it double
don't worry, be happy
don't worry be happy now."
Sam coughed. Ron narrowed his eyes, and his son licked his lips slightly. "Great song?" he offered.
"Yeah," Ron said after a moment. "Great song." Then: "Your shocks are going, you know that?"
"Are they? That's – expensive?" Sam hazarded a guess.
"Will be if you don't get them fixed soon."
"Right. I'll just, you know, start saving. Um, maybe Mikaela could fix them..." Sam stood back as Ron opened the door and heaved himself out of the car.
"And your radio's still on the fritz," Ron informed him, eying his innocent-eyed son closely.
"Is it? Huh." Sam sighed and shrugged. "That's really a shame."
"I'm not fixin' it, either. You want it fixed, you get it fixed. And don't drive with the volume up that high," Ron warned.
"'Cause you know I won't be bailing you out if some cop pulls you over," Ron continued.
"No, I know – that day, I am a man, and all..."
"And so you'll be taking responsibility for your actions," his father concluded, and gave his son a clap on the shoulder. "Right?"
Something in his tone or look must have tipped Sam off, for his son opened his mouth to answer, but then paused, hesitating as he stared at Ron with wide eyes that narrowed as the seconds slipped past in silence. "Yeah. Right – absolutely," Sam said finally, drawing himself up just a little. Ron grunted, smiled a little and gave him another slap on the back.
"Good. So – your Mom's not back yet, I see," Ron said, noting the lack of the van. "You want a ride out to the mall?" Sam blinked, surprised.
"You're driving me?"
"Well," Ron said, and gave the Camaro a considering look, "it's not a bad car and I've got a few errands still to run. If you don't mind swinging around for your old man about six...?"
"I'll just get my backpack, then," Sam replied, and took off for the house. Ron, meanwhile resettled himself in the driver's seat, and stared at that radio dial once more. He glanced over his shoulder once at that government car still parked out there, and thought of all the wreckage in Mission City his son had somehow ended up in the middle of, and after a moment, said to the air:
"All right, if you want to play it that way, fine. I don't know who – or what – you are, exactly. You don't want to say, I won't ask. You just better not be kidding about all that – you know, The Pretenders bit and the rest of it."
There was a moment's silence, then Tom Petty crackled to life over the speakers.
"Well I won't back down, no I won't back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down..."
Ron gave a sniff and harrumphed. "You'd better not! 'Cause I'm tellin' you, Judy's got a baseball bat and she knows how to use it. She'll knock your fenders right off."
Was it his imagination, or did the car seem to lift on its chassis slightly, as if drawing its fenders protectively inwards?
Sam appeared at the door, keys in hand, and locked the house. Then, backpack slung over one shoulder, he hurried over and slid into the passenger side, handing his father's keys over. "Thanks," Ron said.
"No prob," Sam replied. Then: "Thanks for driving."
"Like you said, son," Ron replied, as he pulled back out of the driveway and slid the car easily into first gear. Like cutting butter! he thought, and shook his head, giving the gearshift a pleased pat. "No prob!"
I know, the radio thing – done a million times. On the other hand, it does work...
Songs, in order of appearance:
Bob Dylan, All Along the Watchtower.
Bruce Springsteen, The Promise.
U2, Mysterious Ways.
The Pretenders, I'll Be There for You.
Bob Marley, No Woman, No Cry.
Bob Marley, Don't Worry, Be Happy.
Tom Petty, I Won't Back Down.
I didn't write any of them – please don't sue me!
Despite Bumblebee's sleeker, newer design adopted halfway through the film, I figure he'd use the old one to keep up appearances with Sam's parents and friends.