Restoring my faith in folks...

The near-ethereal photo above is one Carol took of our own front door, late one sunny afternoon just before a magnificent (by Chicago standards, anyway) sunset. It was no doubt enhanced by the fact that I'd rather thoroughly incinerated the marvelous dinner I was working on in the oven and left a bit of a burned-fat fog bank in our living room/foyer. But it's a nice shot anyway, isn't it? Uplifting, even. And this is a genuine Bali/Maidenform story, because it's so blessed uplifting (ba-da-boom!). But the truth is, I had something of an elevating, restorative experience over the past several days, and I'd like to share it.
That's what writers do.
It's like an enema for your brain.
And your heart sometimes, too...

But let's start with the crap part. See, you can't be uplifted unless you're already down in the dumps about something. Or many things. Or just life in general. It happens. But, in the same way spiritual pundits of almost any faith or denomination will tell you, people can't truly be saved unless they have first sinned. It's one of the rules, see. And one cannot likewise be saved, uplifted and/or elevated in spirit unless one is lowered and downhearted to begin with.
There are exceptions, of course. Take the old, colonial Calvinists, for example. They subscribed to the notion that everything is predestined before you fall (or are untimely ripped...quick, name the Shakespeare character!) from your mommy's womb. To their way of thinking, no great works or selfless charity or purity of soul or donations to the church building fund will help you one bit if you're already on God's shit list, and you are therefore predestined to go to the bad place with all the evildoers, pitchforks and fire when you die.
So why bother, you know?
On the other hand, if you're predestined to spend all eternity dancing with God and his angels in heaven, you can do any damn thing you want--no matter how illegal, immoral, selfish, insensitive, cruel, brutal, mean-spirited, thoughtless or egregious--and nothing bad will happen to you at all.
I think Attorney General Bill Barr must be a Calvinist...

But I digress. Because the point is that I was feeling properly down in the dumps on the Monday just past. First, I'd tested positive for the dreaded Coronavirus several weeks back (June 29th, if you're keeping the box score) and, even though I felt absolutely fine, I knew I couldn't in good conscience go up to Road America for the big W.I.C. vintage race weekend (which, by the way, I was assigned to cover for the blessed magazine!) unless that positive turned into a negative. But I figured that shouldn't be too big an ask, since I've got a long and even enviable history of turning positives into negatives...
Anyhow, it took five freaking days to get the second-test lab results back. And, as an aside, how is a five-day waiting period going to help if you're carrying the germ of this horrible bug (or coming down with a case of it yourself?) while blithely going about your business and potentially spreading it around to anybody and everybody you come in contact with? And sorry about ending that last sentence with a preposition. I know writers aren't supposed to do that.*
In any case, it was suggested that I really needed a third, corroborative, make-double-sure negative test before venturing up to Road America to meet folks, do interviews and hawk books alongside friend/hero/cheeky ex-pat British racing pal David Hobbs. For that follow-up test, the doc (Carol and I are over the moon about our doctors, BTW, who, like us, are a husband-and-wife team) sent me to a nearby hospital where they do drive-by (pardon me, make that "drive-up") testing.
You just show up at your appointed time, wait in line a bit, lower your window, raise you mask, and the nice lady in the hazmat suit shoves a stick up each of your nostrils until they reach the underside of your skull. And then she twirls them around a bit.
Pleasant it is not.
But the good news is you get the results back in a day or two--max--and that's when I got the bad news that I had somehow tested POSITIVE again.
You have to remember here that I'm still feeling fine--no fever, no headaches, no coughing or congestion--and biking 15-30 miles every single day when it isn't pouring down rain. Can you believe it?
So now I'm pissed and disappointed and thinking the world is unfair (hint: it is) and that the test must be bogus, and I'm weighing just saying "screw it" and going up anyway. But, thanks in great part to Carol's influence (translation: she's calling me a selfish, inconsiderate, self-centered fact, she's yelling it!), I come to realize that it's the wrong thing to do. I could infect others, right? Even friends.
Well, couldn't I???
About this time, Fate steps in (actually, Fate never, ever just steps in...usually it's more of a stomping, a gob-smacking or a full, Busby Berkeley production number with Hubris playing the Fred Astaire role and Ginger Rogers as Unexpected Consequences). See, we're out on a lovely bike ride together and Carol's got to brake really hard to avoid running over a clueless green inch-worm [I made that part up, but she did brake really, really hard for something] and, in the process, she jammed the living you-know-what out of her left shoulder. OWWW! 
In the end, it turns out she hasn't broken anything, but it puts her arm in a sling for a couple days and she needs my help dressing and undressing and doing a few (a very few, I assure you) basic chores and so, even if I had tested negative on that second go-'round, this would not be a good time, marriage-wise, to take off for the frickin' car races again (you married guys surely know what I'm talking about).
So now I'm, umm, let's say, FEELING LIKE THE SINGLE MOST UNDESERVING VICTIM IN RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY! Not that I ever wallow in self-pity or over-dramatize things...
So I don't go up to Road America for the big vintage meet I have to cover and I don't get to serve as a judge in the Concours and feel real important and meet a bunch of racing friends and maybe suck up a beer and a fun meal or two and I moreover don't get to hawk my books and audiobooks at the Road America Paddock Shop and rake in fat fist-fulls of money! And then, just to grind salt into my imagined but stigmata-like wounds, I've got to write the story of the weekend second-hand because there's nobody else to do it. Thanks to an awful lot of people (shooter Scott Pacely, driver friends Dave Burton, Jason Miller, Lawrence Loshak, P.D. Cunningham, fellow judge/race driver Alan Kupferschmid, some corner workers I know and many, many others), I was able to gather up enough color, background, blow-by-blow reports and from-the-cockpit stories to put the thing together. And it didn't come out too badly.
But I wasn't happy about it.
What I WAS happy about was the IMSA pro race coming up at Road America the very next weekend! Which represented yet another opportunity to see racing friends, sell stuff, spread The Gospel According to Levy and try to talk every pro race team I could effectively schmooze, convince or cajole to put one of our justly famous THE LAST OPEN ROAD decals on the back of their racecars:

You need to understand that these decals are, BY FAR, our best advertising medium for the books, audiobooks and attendant merchandise. You should have one on YOUR racecar! As well as the car you drive every day (even if it's a rustbucket, P.O.S. heap), your tool box, your trailer, your hauler, your motor home, your motorcycle, your beer cooler, your yacht, your Bentley, your private get the idea. When applied to a racing car (see photo evidence above), they are also rumored to be worth a second per lap at any racetrack in North America. Or maybe even the world? And maybe it's more like TWO seconds...
(and you folks with the fancy yachts, Bentleys and private jets should really be sponsors in my upcoming book, The 200mph Steamroller, Book III: Assault on Four O'Clock, which I assure you will be the very last in my The Last Open Road series.

But I digress again. Because this is where things get even worse. Carol is coming around from the sprained shoulder and I'm making plans to travel up for the IMSA weekend at RA, and we decide it's probably a good idea if we BOTH get tested again. So we do. Last Monday. And we get the results in a single day, which is very good. And I'm NEGATIVE again! Hurrah!!!!
Only now the other shoe drops: Carol tests POSITIVE!
Well, it's a bummer all right. Fortunately, like me, she has exhibited only the mildest of symptoms (slightly upset tummy & a few wee headaches) but I don't have to wrestle with it for very long before coming to the unavoidable conclusion that I really ought to stay home.
Your chosen religious leader (if you happen to be among the ever-growing Legion of the Lapsed, pick one you still remember from childhood) will surely tell you in confident, reassuring tones that it actually feels GOOD to do the right thing.
But I'm here to tell you that's a crock!
To be honest, I kept thinking about and recalling this day, many musty decades ago, when I was away at summer camp as but a wee tad. Camp Douglas Smith it was, on Upper Lake Hamlin, not far from Ludington, Michigan. And I vividly recall it was the camp's once-a-summer CARNIVAL day, with all sorts of games and entertainment and fun things to do and sweet things to eat and Kool-Aid that the camp counselors called "Bug Juice" (iiiick!) to drink and hokey calliope music pumping out of the PA loudspeakers and basically all the enjoyment a kid my age could want or need on a fine summer's day.
Only I'd come down with a bad case of the drizzly you-know-whats (accompanied by the usual aches, fever, throwing up & whatever) and I vividly remember laying there in bed in the camp infirmary--the only person in the whole damn place!--listening to the echoes of that happy calliope music wafting through the window screens and, once again,  FEELING LIKE THE SINGLE MOST UNDESERVING VICTIM IN RECORDED HUMAN HISTORY!
I probably was, too...
The whole idea here is to get you to appreciate my frame of mind when I headed out for my afternoon bike ride the day we got our test results back. I think "phooey on the whole damn world" pretty much sums it up.
Did I mention that my bike shorts were in the wrong drawer?
I probably should have.

Anyhow, being on the lovely bike path that winds through our nearby woods always has a calming effect on me, and being surrounded by trees and nature and this sweet young filly of a lady deer shown below:

(who, BTW, was busy munching leaves and could have cared less if I was barely three feet away and fumbling for my camera phone) made me feel slightly better. Or at least less betrayed by life in general...

So now we come to the pivotal fulcrum-point of the story. I'm biking along at a pretty good clip (or a pretty good clip for a grey-beard/older person/senior-citizen type, anyway), maybe five miles from home, when I hear a single soft, jangly, metallic sort of sound. Followed by a wee bump as my back tire runs over something. And it takes a moment to register and sink in, but then--in a flash of illuminated cosmic understanding--I remember why I put those bike shorts in the wrong drawer. It's because there was a little hole in the bottom of the left-side pocket. A hole just big enough, combined with proper alignment, orientation and just a little bad luck, for my key ring to fall through that hole and land on the effing asphalt...
There are only few heartbeats between the realization of what has occurred and the chalk-on-a-blackboard squeal of bicycle tires squalling to a halt in full panic-stop mode. "SHIT!" I am thinking. Maybe even saying...
So now the mind goes into calculation mode: where was I when the keys fell? How long did it take me to react? How bloody fast was I going? Why didn't I bring any effing bug repellent?
So I turn around and retrace my pedaling, and with some effort nail it down to a likely-looking eighth-mile or so where I THINK the keys fell. You need to know I was listening to Marian McPartland's lovely, serene and evocative "Twilight World" while biking, so time and distance could easily have been distorted a bit...
I can see that there is no jangly metal key ring on the path itself (BUMMER! WHERE COULD IT HAVE GONE?), so I start searching the grass verge on either side. Which has been recently mowed, thank goodness. But the rough stuff beyond (see deer pic above) doesn't even bear thinking about. And how could my key ring fly that far anyway?
As the above is taking place, you should know it's now picnic fiesta time for the mosquitoes!
So I look and I look and I'm doing no good at all. I finally give up, saddle up and head for home, a beaten (not to mention bug-eaten) man...
That was the low point, in case you missed it.
Why, I could almost hear the echo of that damn calliope music off in the distance.

So I think about it overnight and swear an oath on all that's Holy that I WILL sew up the hole in the pocket of those bike shorts instead of just thinking about it. And then I have a genius idea! A magnetic rake! What a perfect tool that would be for finessing dropped keys, bolts, nuts, washers, Jesus clips** and woodruff keys out of the grass and weeds (usually in a race paddock, of course) where they have fallen.
It's bloody brilliant!
Why, I'll make millions!
Only then I google it and it turns out somebody (many people, in fact) have already had that same idea and have moreover done something about it, and you can buy the damn things at Home Depot and Harbor Freight and...
Another great, million-dollar idea down the drain. Sigh.

And now we get to the wonderful expertise, experience and wisdom on tap in a real, old-time hardware store. Because the next morning I had to have some replacement keys made, and that's what sent me to our local Ace instead of to one of the BIG MAJOR BRAND-NAME HOME-IMPROVEMENT STORES. And I go there because I recently had some keys made in the super-quick, newfangled, all-computerized key-making machine that a damn rhesus monkey could learn to operate at the BIG MAJOR BRAND-NAME HOME IMPROVEMENT STORE, and they were horseshit.
So I go to the local Ace and you can tell that the old guy who waits on me has been there forever--might even be one of the guys who started the store up in the first place way back when--and he carefully selects the proper blanks and eyeballs the alignment of the master in its chuck and I can tell by how he does it and how he finishes each one with the spinning wire-brush wheel that these keys will fit and work as God, Schlege and Kwikset intended. And while I'm standing there, I'm telling him about my predicament/disaster with the keys I lost on my bike ride. And then I ask if he has such a thing as a magnetic rake?
To my amazement, he says "yes." So he sends me over three aisles to where he says it is. "Looks like a stick with a hockey puck on the end," he tells me. But of course I can't find it. So he gives me one of those semi-exasperated, old-guy "can't you do anything for yourself" grimaces and, after he finishes off the last key, he walks me over to where the magnetic rake is supposed to be.
Only I'm right.
It's not there. 
He's out of stock.
"I know I've got one around here somewhere," he grumbles. And then I follow him back to the work bench where they cut and thread gas and plumbing pipes and he rummages around here and there, looking for it. Only he can't find it.
"Look," I tell him, "it's no big thing..."
He can tell I'm getting a little impatient.
And that's when he looks me kindly but firmly in the eye and says, with calm, reassuring conviction: "You can't get daunted when you're looking for something. You can't lose faith that you'll find it. Otherwise you've lost before you even start." And then he added, very quietly: "I took care of my mother for many years, and she always said I was really good at finding things..."
So I zip my lip and follow him over by the paint workbench and he rummages around in a wall cranny behind it and damn if he doesn't find the damn thing! An extendable, orange-handled stick with about a 4" diameter, highly magnetized disc at the end. Only you could tell it was his "house" magnet stick, not one they had for sale.
"But that's yours," I observed.
He answered with an encouraging little shrug. "You can use it."
"You mean I can rent it?"
"No. You can use it." He held it out to me. "Just bring it back when you're done with it."
It was like I'd been transported to another dimension. Or at the very least time-traveled back to an earlier era in American history. "You sure?" I asked.
He nodded. "Just bring it back when you're done with it."
"You want me to sign anything?"
He shook his head.
I looked at the young girl behind the cash register. Like the rest of us, she had a mask on. But I could tell she was smiling.

So I go on another bike ride when I get home (this time I bring the bug spray!), and I pedal to the general vicinity of where I thought I heard the keys drop and I begin my search. It soon becomes apparent will be a long, arduous and most likely thankless operation. The thing I've borrowed has just this small magnetic disc on the end and the area I've committed to search is comparatively vast. What I really need is a foot-wide magnetized rake. Or, better yet, a dozen of them plus an eager, sharp-eyed young Boy Scout patrol to wield the damn things. And if, by chance and physics, my back tire launched those keys into the deep underbrush beyond, even that wouldn't be enough...
But I keep remembering what the old man said and it's like I have some sort of sacred duty to keep after it and continue my search. Even if I feel in my heart that it's a wasted and futile effort.
And so I'm sweeping the ground and sweeping the ground some more, and my arm is getting weary from doing the same damn arc-and-foot-shuffle over-and-over again (if you ever worked on a factory assembly line, you know exactly what I'm talking about). But it's all coming up boxcars and snake-eyes.
Meanwhile, bikes and a few joggers pass by (Jeez, lookit the shape on that one!) and then, coming down the hill towards me and in no particular hurry, is this pleasant-looking lady with a big, comfy old Golden Lab at her side. As they approach, she asks me what I'm doing? So I tell her. Very kindly, she inquires if I need any help? She's just being nice. But I can't see roping her into this fool's errand. If she starts helping, then she's pretty much obligated to stay on until we either find the keys--which I don't really believe we're going to do--or the sun sets and night closes in. Either that or make her suffer through an awkward abandonment scene that neither of us want. So I tell her "no." But thanks anyway!
And just then, again from the west, coming out of the golden afternoon sunlight, is this tall, beautiful young blonde woman with a pony tail--she's model-esque, actually--pedaling a cruiser-style Schwinn with her two beautiful little blond girls, each on their own little Schwinn, following behind. She sees what I'm doing and hears me and the dog lady talking about keys.
The statuesque blonde brings her bike to a gentle halt and says, in a broken-English voice with origins in maybe Poland or Russia, "You look for keys?"
I nod.
"Keys hanging from tree at end of trail."
There really should have been a thunderclap right there.
"REALLY?"  I pretty much gasp.
She nods.
And then she says: "We get them for you."
So the beautiful blonde and her two adorable little girls head back from whence they came, momma-duck-and-two-little-ducklings-in-a-row fashion, only on bicycles. I look over at the dog lady and she's smiling as if to say "You see?" And I'm of course wondering if she's somehow in cahoots with the old guy in the hardware store. Even though it's miles and miles and at least two suburbs away. But of course it is possible...

So now we're into what dramatists call the denouement of the story, which is the hopefully graceful and rewarding little downslope-to-nothing at the end. I strap my borrowed magnetic divining rod to the back of my bike and head west after her. It seems I'm going an awfully long way (it's maybe a half-mile from where I was to trail's end...but then I guess you can't make much time with two little blonde ducklings in tow) and then, sure enough, here they come back towards me, out of the sunlight. She stops and smiles and hands me a long, twisted length of electrical tape with my key ring--THAT'S MY KEY RING!!!--dangling from the end.
"Was hanging from tree," she shrugs like everything in life is just that simple. You can see her girls agree.
So I thank her (and the dog lady again when I pass her on the way back home) and in the meantime, I'm trying to noodle out exactly what happened. And all I can come up with is that the keys fell out of my pocket, skittered across the pavement and just laid there in the middle of the bike path. And no sooner had they come to rest than some do-gooder, conscience-of-the-community Good Samaritan-type comes along, sees the obviously orphaned key ring lying there on the pavement and does what Good Samaritan types tend to do. Now this is all taking place right about the time that I'm squealing to a halt an eighth-mile up ahead. Only I'm around a corner and downhill a bit and the Good Samaritan is on the just-preceding uphill, and so neither of us has any idea that the other person is there...

So I head for home and come in the back door with my keys held aloft like the first-place prize from the potato-sack race I never got to run in at the Camp Douglas Smith Carnival Day that I missed out on because I was stuck in the damn infirmary, all alone, with the stomach flu. Cue that calliope music one more time, OK?

One last thing. When I brought the magic magnetic stick back to the Ace Hardware to return it the following morning, I made sure to find that helpful old guy, tell him that I did indeed find my key ring and of course I thanked him profusely. But I left out the part about the beautiful blonde and her two beautiful daughters, and about how they found the keys hanging from a tree on a length of electrical tape at the end of the bike path. He deserved to believe that it was all thanks to his magic magnetic stick. And he made me a Customer For Life, too...

* Regarding the inexcusable grammatical gaffe of "ending sentences with a preposition," I'm reminded of one of the favorite books I no longer have because it got ruined in our basement flood many years back. It was a small, slender volume recounting the oft-acerbic quotes, retorts and observations of Sir Winston Churchill. Many of which are priceless. Including the one where some grammar-police wag called him for ending a sentence with a preposition. "My good man," Sir Winston boomed, "that is something up with which I will not put!"
** "Jesus Clips" (a definition for the uninitiated): A Jesus clip is any small metal fastener of unique and not easily substituted design that you drop in the grass or down a floor drain or, worst of all, down into the nether regions of the motor of which it was supposed to be a part. A perfect example is the spring clip that secures the removable master link of the double-row timing chain used in DOHC Alfa Romeo four-cylinder motors. Fastening it in place is one of the very last and most tedious steps in the entire engine-rebuilding process, and every Alfa mechanic, at one time or another, has had one get away from him or her and "tink-tinkety-tink" down the front cover and into the sump. Or somewhere in between. And that's when said mechanic inevitably says: "JESUS!"



Catch the latest poop & pictures, the Jay Leno interview, Last Open Road swag & highly inappropriate attire from Finzio's Store and the lurid & occasionally embarrassing "ride with Burt" in-car racing videos on the hopefully now fully operational website at: