Wearing Nothing But A Smile

Lutz Fabig owned a Volkswagen dealership in Phoenix, AZ. In his native Germany, he had been a race car driver, and he carried his love of promoting car rallies to his new home in America.

I didn't even know what a car

I met Fabig when I worked as a reporter for the Phoenix Gazette. He walked into our editorial offices one day with a cherubic smile and an announcement that he was planning a weekend car rally.

I didn't even know what a car rally was and began taking notes to write a story.

"If you do a good job, I will even provide you with a car -- a Volkswagen, of course," said Lutz.

He explained that the rallies in Germany involved a driver and a navigator who would be provided with a set of instructions that would let them drive from point A to point Z. The instructions would be purposely tricky in order to confuse the navigator so they would get lost.

"There are checkpoints along the way and in order to complete the rally and win the race you must check in at each of the points," he said. "We penalize the cars that arrive at the finish line either too early or two late. And if you get a speeding ticket or have an accident along the way, you get disqualified."

It sounded intriguing to me and I agreed to drive Fabig's Volkswagen in the rally. I chose Dave Molina, my old buddy, as my navigator.

Fabig was a horse handicapper and a poker player. We had lunch that day at his favorite German restaurant. And of course we drank beer -- German beer -- as our friendship deepened.

On Saturday morning at 6 a.m., all the rally entrants met in the parking lot of a bar owned by one of Fabig's friends. Thirty five people had entered the rally. They drove everything from luxury sports cars to pickup trucks. One rally entrant even rode a motorcycle with a sidebar for his navigator.

Molina had purchased a couple of six-packs of beer to take along. My actor friend Dick Alexander, who was appearing as a Catholic Priest in Michael Landon's 'Little House on the Prairie," was driving a pickup. His friend Chris was his navigator and they had a case of beer in the bed.

"We may not get to where we're going, but we're gonna have a lot of fun trying to get there," said Dick, toking up. He passed the joint around to several other rally entrants.

all_the_vehicles_lined_up_and_the

All the vehicles lined up and the navigators were given a sheet containing 35 instructions one minute before the rally started. The instructions started out simple: turn right on McDowell Road, turn left at second stop light, etc.

But then they got confusing. 'Turn left at dead cow." Dead cow? What was this crazy German up to? The 'dead cow' turned out to be a large metal sign with a dairy cow, riddled by bullet holes.

All the vehicles started at a prescribed time. As we pulled up to the starting sign, Lutz came up to our car.

"Good luck," he said, shaking my hand. "Don't wreck my Beetle." And we were off.

Dave quickly popped open a can of Coors.

"We're going to win this rally, Amigo," he said, sipping the beer. "Just follow my instructions and we can't lose."

I followed Dave's instructions. And we got lost.

One of the instructions read "Bear left at Y." What was a 'Y'? We came to a 'T' and Dave, who was on his third can of beer, insisted it was a "Y'. I disagreed with him, but he was the navigator and so we turned left.

We drove down a desert road for miles...

...looking for the next instruction which had something to do with turning right at stop light. Only there was no stop light. There was only miles of desert terrain.

I heard snoring. I turned and my navigator had fallen asleep. Drinking beer will sometimes do that to you.

There was a building up ahead on the left, and I decided to stop and ask directions. I pulled the VW to a stop and hurried into the building, leaving the engine running.

welcome_to_the_black_canyon

An attractive young woman was seated behind a desk. She was wearing nothing but a baseball cap and a smile.

"Welcome to the Black Canyon Nudist Colony," she said."Can I help you?"

I probably stayed there longer than I should, but she was such an interesting conversationalist I had to hang around.

I thanked her for the directions and she gave me an application for membership in the nudist colony. Dave was still sleeping when I climbed into the car. I thought of waking him but decided against it.

When he awoke and discovered what he had missed, he said, "I hate you."

We had to turn around and drive back to the 'T' From there, we made the proper turn, found a checkpoint, and eventually finished the rally in 10th place.

Fabig and I would play poker, and attend the horse races. He was a great companion and I drove the gray Volkswagen in several other rallies. I even made it back to the nudist colony, but that's another story.

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