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Irish pt. XXIII

By Pete Moss


We're two minutes late to the city offices in Emeryville. Dragen has to drive slowly, looking out the side as the shattered windshield is hard to see through.

Driving home is like a funeral. Going slowly. Dragen is gloomy.

"I bought this car brand new from the dealer on Van Ness," He says. "I was so proud of myself. I bought it with the settlement from my first big case."

Dragen rattles on the whole way home.

"Jesus Christ!!! It's just a car!!!" explodes Spela. "Your generation was way too into cars!!!"

Dragen looks at her in the mirror. "And your generation is way to into your computers," he says.

"" says Spela.

"I have an idea," I say.

Spela and Dragen look at me. I'm turned sideways on the big bench seat of the Packard as Dragen slowly negotiates local surface streets.

"Why don't you look on your laptop and see if you can find a windshield for a '53 Packard. What is this model called?"

"It's a Patrician," says Dragen.

"See if anybody out there in internetistan is selling a windshield for a '53 Packard Patrician," I say.

Spela gets busy clicking keys. Dragen brightens up somewhat.

We pull up to the house.

"I found one," says Spela. "Guy in South Dakota has one. Wants two grand plus shipping."

"Two Grand??!!" wails Dragen.

"Why can't you just drive a Prius, like everybody else?" asks Spela.

Jonathan comes out of the house, scanning around to make sure there are no booby traps. "Aw man, you got shot," he says.

"Yeah," says Dragen, sitting in the drivers seat. "Replacement windshield is two grand."

"Nahhh. I take you to my Uncle Ernie. He got a classic car shop in Hayward," says Jonathan.

"Really?" asks Dragen.

"No shit," says Jonathan. "He probably pay you for the chance to work on an old sled like this."

The flat bed pulls up. A rather huge black man lumbers out of the cab.

Dragen is standing by his Packard.

"Big Ernie Shackleford?" says Dragen.

The huge black man has walked over and is examining the Packard's windshield. He turns and looks at Dragen.

"Do I know you?" he says.

"Big Ernie, it's me: Dragen Swoboda!!!"

"Dragen???" says the huge black man, surprise dawning on his face.

The two hug. Dragen is tall but not big. Big Ernie is big and tall. It looks rather like a telephone pole being engulfed by a whale.

"You know each other?" asks Jonathan. "You know this white guy, Uncle Ernie?"

"I should say so. He helped me keep my signing bonus from the Raiders."

"You played for the Raiders?" I say.

Jonathan rolls his eyes. "Oh lord, don't get him started on that story," he says.

"What story?" says Spela.

"It was a long time ago," says Dragen.

"I want to hear it," I say.

Jonathan turns and stalks off into the house.

"I was always big," says Big Ernie. "I was already over 6 feet and 200 pounds when I was only 14."

"He was," says Dragen.

"So yeah, everybody assumes I'm gonna play football," says Big Ernie.

"They did," says Dragen.

"But what I really liked was working on classic cars," says Big Ernie.

"I didn't know that," says Dragen.

"It's true," says Big Ernie. "I hated football. The world's stupidest game."

"But you got a full scholarship to Michigan," says Dragen.

"Well....I did. My momma told me if I didn't take it she'd whip my ass," says Big Ernie.

"It's hard to see anybody whipping your ass," says Spela.

"You don't know my momma," says Big Ernie. "I played two years at Michigan, then the Raiders offered me a contract with a $100,000 bonus."

"That's all?" I say. "Wow! The Raiders?"

"It was 1976," says Dragen. "That's like a million now."

"Well my momma tole me I better take the money."

"You actually played in the NFL??!!" I say.

"Half a season. Then I got a slipped disk in my neck. The doctor says my playing days are over. The team wants its money back. Dragen here helped me out," says Big Ernie.

"Just doing my job," says Dragen with a proud shrug.

Big Ernie gives Dragen an affectionate tap on the shoulder which nearly knocks Dragen over.

After he's recovered Dragen says, "So can you fix my windshield?"

"Oh sure," says Big Ernie.

"Really? How much?"

"How about $200?"

"Sold," says Dragen. And he sticks out his hand.