This is a story about cars. Well, actually, I've told quite a few stories on this blog that are more properly about cars than this one, so I should be honest: this one is about mind-reading.
It happened while I was on tour for The Raven Boys, just last month. It was quite late in the tour, day 24 or 28 or something like that. It was far enough into the tour that when my Scholastic person Becky and I landed at the Denver airport, all I had had to eat that day had been a latte and a bag of cocoa-dusted hazelnuts. Part of this was because of lack of opportunity, and part of it was because, once I reach day 20 or 25 or 28 on a tour, I forget how to eat, sleep, or do things like a normal person. I become instead an imaginary creature that is found in hotel rooms and in the trunks of taxi cabs. This imaginary creature that is me late on tour is also fanciful and, like the ancient Romans, easily amused by spectacles of wonder, terror, and magic.
I believe the men at Hertz must have sensed this.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Becky and I staggered into the Hertz rental offices at the Denver airport, light-headed, as I said before, with our meal of coffee and nuts. I was in fact still clutching a bag of these cocoa-dusted hazelnuts. I should emphasize that they were delicious, even if they weren't a balanced diet. We were both feeling less than optimistic — our last rental car, a Nissan Altima, had murdered itself outside of Kalamazoo (this is a car story for a different time) just days before — and we were full of the bitter knowledge that our rental car would suck even if it did not self-immolate. As someone who adores driving and cars in general, this was like taking a chef to a Denny's. One knows one must eat. One knows one will not like it.
So all of this was going on in our brains as we made our way to the eventual head of the line. An older man was typing away on a computer. Seeing me clutching my bag of nutritionally bereft but culinarily delightful hazelnuts, he asked, "Chocolate covered coffee beans?"
"Nay," I replied. "Have some."
Ordinarily strangers would probably turn down brown food objects shaken from a mostly unmarked bag, but he did not. To the imaginary creature that was tour-Maggie at that point, this didn't seem very surprising. Of course he would be aware of the wonders I was offering him. It would have been more shocking for him to turn them down.
He began to process our reservation as he ate the two hazelnuts. He informed us conversationally that his name was Maurice, and that he was Peruvian, and that people often thought he was Italian. He also informed us that we were all set to pick up a mid-size car.
Warily, Becky asked him what kind of car that would be. Now, I hear people ask that question all the time at rental car places. They're told they are getting a fullsize or a midsize or a compact and they look confused and ask what sort of car it is. And then they are told it's a 300 or a 6 or a RAV-4 and it's clear that they don't know what this is, but they are comforted nonetheless because now it has a name. Something they can shout at it when it enthusiastically jumps a curb after getting the bit between its teeth or breaks down by the side of the highway after deciding it just can't go on like this anymore.
But when Becky asked this question, what she was really asking was, "Is it an Altima?"
Maurice said, "It's a Corolla."
Becky said, "Oh, that's fine."
But then Maurice the Peruvian turned and looked directly at me and said, "But you don't want a Corolla, do you?"
The truth was that I didn't want a Corolla, but I didn't see what that had to do with anything. I didn't want any rental car, actually. We were going to be doing quite a lot of driving in Colorado, and it had been twenty-odd days since I'd been home, and what I really wanted was my car.*
*on the left is the car that I have now. It is a blue 1973 Camaro named Loki and I love it like an inferno.**
**on the right was the car that I sold to get the car on the left. It is a 1973 Camaro also named Loki that broke down all the time and so I sold it and wrote it into The Raven Boys, renaming it "The Pig," as a form of therapy.
So all of this was going through my mind. I told him that, no, I didn't want a Corolla, but I guessed that's what I was going to get, and I'd made my peace with that.
Maurice the Peruvian said, "You're a Scorpio."
I am a Scorpio, because I was born on November 18th, so this was not new knowledge for me. It was, however, shocking to hear it said out loud, as I had not met Maurice the Peruvian before and I furthermore had not yet given him my license with my birthday on it. Cautiously I confirmed that I was.
Maurice the Peruvian said, "I am too. We Scorpios always know other Scorpios."
Now, this statement was false. Because under that reasoning, I would've known that he was a Scorpio, and I had not even considered the concept.
Maurice the Peruvian said, "It's in the eyes. You know that about Scorpios, don't you? We can read minds."
Well, that part was true. I can read minds. I'm reading yours now.
Maurice the Peruvian said, "And I'm looking into your eyes and I can tell that you don't want a Toyota Corolla."
Becky said, "I could've told you that beforehand."
Maurice the Peruvian said, "I'm reading your mind because you are a Scorpio and I am a Scorpio and what I can tell is that you would rather be driving . . . a red Camaro."
Becky and I looked at each other, and then we looked at Maurice the Peruvian, and then we ate two more cocoa-covered hazelnuts. As far as delight goes, I was pretty delighted. I told you, imaginary Maggie is easily pleased with displays of wonder and magic, and this qualified.
"That's true," I admitted.
Maurice the Peruvian said, "I think we can make that happen."
Now, Maurice the Peruvian did not have my Camaro. That would have been wondrous and magical even for a fellow Scorpio (also possibly worrisome, as he would've had to fetch it from my garage in Virginia). But he did have a new, red Camaro, and he did make it happen. And it was ever so much better than a Toyota Corolla.
For all of the Camaro's charms, however, it is not the acceleration from 0-60 that I remember when I think back on Denver. It is Maurice the Peruvian/Scorpio's mind-reading powers, exercised just when I needed them the most.
Also, the cocoa-dusted hazelnuts.