Living in Los Angeles has its perks, most of them superficial and insignificant. For instance, the time I saw David Hasselhoff walking through a lobby was a pretty big rush. It didn't quite compare to seeing The Nature Boy, Ric Flair, with his years of compacted impact injuries from wrestling and a broken back laboring through a cubicle farm mumbling to personal assistants. Seeing someone famous has an initial shine that eventually dulls to a feeling of unexpected hollowness. I guess it's from a built-up expectation that comes crashing back to reality once the larger-than-life figure is proven to just be normal size, although the Hoff was taller than I expected.
Because of this, I was very excited to see a spray-painted Trans-Am from the late 70s with a hoodscoop and a beat up vanity plate labeled "GNRL ZOD" the other night in my neighborhood. Seeing the car itself brought back a lot of childhood memories, but once I saw the license plate, I knew I had to wait around to meet the guy who would dare to be so awesome. I snapped a couple pictures and sat on a bench.
Much like a cross-country booty call that sounds great at first, but soon turns into a personal mind game given the hours of time it takes to travel and think, I began to regret waiting to meet this person as time wore on. 10 minutes, 20 minutes, what the hell was I doing? I had important Facebook status updates to read at home.
And then, shortly on the other side of 20 minutes, he walked up. I had hoped he was 79-year old Terrance Stamp, the man who portrayed Zod in 1978's Superman and then again in Superman II. But he wasn't Stamp. To my chagrin he was a completely different dude. 180 degrees away from what you'd expect. He was clean cut, maybe late 20s, wore a polo, and had the neatest trimmed beard you could ever imagine on a person. Where's the leather? Where's the giant Romanian companions? No, this guy was just a dude.
His car door was open when I told him I liked his ride. I believe, I said the plates were boss or something to that effect. It was awkward. I've never gushed compliments onto a man before. I told him I was headed to Denny's and asked if he was interested in joining me for an apple crisp, maybe even in a la mode form. He looked at me like I was a complete stranger who had just shown him my armpits. He looked at his watch, looked down the road to maybe think about where he was headed, closed the door and walked over to shake my hand. His name was Mark.
At Denny's, I explained myself and how much the car rattled my inner child who is coincidentally the same kid that dressed up like Superman and got into American muscle cars before everyone else. Mark told me the history of the car, which originally belonged to the set carpenter for Superman II. In 1987, the 10-year old Firebird had been sold to Mark's dad, a delivery driver. Mark was just a boy, but the vivid memories the car carries are still as bright as day. It was his dad who scooped the hood and turbo-charged it, with the help of a young Mark on the weekends. I pictured him at nine-years-old, manning the ratchet set in overalls and the same beard while his dad was tucked under the chassis. A new paint job was always on the horizon and may have happened, had it not been for his father's strange disappearance in 1991.
I had stopped taking notes at this point as it became less about writing a story of some kind and more about just listening to what he had to say. Mark talked for a while about how his Dad's disappearance was investigated heavily, but no one could make any sense of it. His parents were still apparently very much in love and there was no sign of depression or distress in the marriage. The police couldn't dig up any gambling debts or feuds at work. He didn't have his wallet or keys on his person, and the last time they saw him, he was going out for a jog. He just straight up vanished. It's not like in the movies either, where Mark receives a cryptic post card one day from his Dad that’s untraceable, but shows that he's alive and loves him very much. Total mystery.
When Mark turned 16, the car was naturally his to drive. His mother, who had an intimate understanding of his interest in comics and Superman, bought the "GNRL ZOD" plates for this sweet symbolic coming of age anniversary and several thousand miles later it's still running and still has a crappy Krylon spray-paint paintjob.
I asked him if he was planning to ever paint the car. He told me, "no." The only work he does on it now is maintenance; no restoration or further souping. I paid for our apple crisps, (mine was a la mode, his wasn't) and as we walked back to the car, he offered to give me a ride. I accepted and we cruised the streets of Koreatown a good 20 minutes talking about Superman, Legos, and baseball cards.
When the ride was over, he dropped me off at my house. I remembered the beginning of the whole journey and how I wished it would have been famous actor Terrence Stamp's car. Then it occurred to me that meeting Terrence Stamp, which I'm sure would have been great, would have been a totally different experience. He might've just jumped into the car and zipped away. One thing's for sure, he wouldn't have come to Denny's with me, or shared the story his Dad who was just vanished one day, or the rich and storied history of his workhorse beast of a Trans-Am. I was glad he was just some copier toner salesman named Mark and that he not once ask me to kneel before him.
Needless to say, it was a very weird and unexpected few moments of bonding between two grown men who had been complete strangers just an hour before, and all because of a car that his dad bought 20 years ago that used to belong to a guy who worked on Superman II building icy chasms for Zod to fall into.
It's awesome how the ongoing ever-evolving world of pop culture can bind us all in ways we don't know to people we don't YET know.