Jim Rockford Never Drove An Alfa
Fearless Italian nostalgia
By Rob Maigret
When I was in college, my best friend and housemate owned a 1985 Alfa Romeo Spider Graduate. It was white with black leather interior. It was sleek and smooth and beautiful. It had style and heritage. Its body was designed by the notorious Pininfarina. It was the affordable sports car that we all wanted. He had gotten his hands on one.
We came from the same town. He was a film student, I was involved in drama, and we collaborated on a lot of projects. One such collaboration was a short that he wrote and produced, called The Driver.
In the short, I was cast as the lead (and only character) who drove around in a white Alfa (of course) on some sort of very important mission. I can’t remember the history that I came up with for him, but the scene breakdown was something like this:
The driver wakes up, has his breakfast (coffee & toast), brushes his teeth, gets in car, starts car, then drives around like a complete madman. He eventually reaches his destination, and it is implied that he is going to do some sort of dangerous task involving a gun before the short ends. Fade to black.
That was the whole thing. I think it was about 2–3 minutes long, if that. Like I said, it was a short. This was pre-YouTube, but even back then everything he and I produced was short and sweet. It was, in fact, just me being me — minus the dangerous task involving a gun.
There is something powerful about having a camera on you. And when your best friend is an aspiring director and you’re an aspiring actor, you’ve got the best of everything. You’ve got the attention on you that you crave, and your friend, in return, has their subject to compose a shot and a story around.
I recall strapping him in the back of a Volkswagen Rabbit where he could film unobstructed with the hatch open. We had another friend drive the VW. Fast. I followed behind in the Alfa. Most of the shoot was spent setting up on various back roads. The Alfa wasn’t super quick, so a lot of the shots involved my having to gain enough momentum to pull off some kind of stuntman move — sliding sideways (this was before we called it a drift, which the Alfa really couldn’t achieve), whipping around a corner, slingshotting past another car, hauling ass over a particular hill where you could catch a little air, and attempting the notorious Jim Rockford. It was a blast.
You don’t just jump in a car and magically know how to drive it. You have to practice at the limit to know the limit. He taught me that.
This is how I learned to drive the Alfa. I was young and fearless and never really considered what might happen if I was unable to deliver a particular stunt. Instead, I kept focused and did the best I could to provide maximum entertainment value. The stunt driving in the Alfa, in theory, came out pretty good. I think. I never saw any of it.
I had a girlfriend at the time that my best friend couldn’t stand. I am not sure if it was because she was in the way of our friendship, as a constant and unwanted third wheel, or if she was legitimately annoying. I suspect the latter. The final straw was my giving her a key to our shared apartment against his wishes. After I graduated that summer, he moved out and she in. I think I probably saw him three more times. Ever. The final encounter was a few years later, walking around the North End of Boston. I was still with her, and she spotted him. It was awkward. He gave me a card.
He was a cameraman in New York City.
I found the card the other day, now 20 years later, in my desk drawer and began to lament over the loss of our friendship, again.
When you have a best friend like I had, especially at that age, you feel powerful. There is someone on your side. They care about you and you have someone to share things with.
These relationships we have as men, they can get quite intense. You love your friends in a deep and passionate way that is pretty much an affair, usually minus the sex. You get obsessed with them, and they become obsessed with you. You enjoy the fuck out of one another. Maybe this is why so many tight friendships are destroyed by a third party, because no one wants to share.
And most of the time, at least in my experience, a destroyed friendship is destroyed for good.
When our friendship crashed and burned, I tried to fill that hole. Ultimately, I became the guy who had some friends, none of whom knew him very well. This wasn’t their fault. I was damaged.
A few years ago I was browsing car ads on Craigslist and I saw a 1985 Silver Alfa Spider Veloce. It had red interior. It was the perfect complement to his white and black Graduate. When I went to check it out I immediately remembered him insisting the wood steering wheel and shift knob were cut from the same tree. I never believed him, but it made a great story. So I bought the car.
Driving the Spider these days reminds me of him. Constantly. I recall the late night drives to the airfield to look at planes (we both wanted to fly), drunken summer escapades to the beach for a late swim, and lots of Mario-ing (Andretti, not Bros.). One of the nicest compliments he ever paid me was that I’d be a great endurance race partner, and in my head I hear him saying that as I overtake another car.
Today I don’t have my friend anymore, but I have this weird relic from our friendship. I suppose it’s an apology for choosing that girlfriend over what was unquestionably one of the most fulfilling and genuine relationships I’ve had.
I found out from another friend a few years ago that he still has the Alfa, and drives it around the old neighborhood when weather permits.
I wonder if he thinks of me when he drives it.
Originally published at popularium.com on November 3, 2016.