The aspiring secret agent waits for a bit after his parents go out for the evening. Then he takes the keys and heads outside for tonight’s mission:
Operation El Camino.
The El has been in his family for as long as he can remember. It has changed hands — starting with his father, grandfather, uncle, back to his dad, and someday him. He slides in and grabs ahold of the white cue-ball-esque Hurst shift knob. He throws all 115 pounds onto the massive clutch and shifts into neutral. Then he turns the key.
There is a sick feeling in his stomach. His spidey sense screams danger. The stakes are high and a lot can go wrong, but make no mistake — he is the real danger.
The engine cranks. After a few tries it turns over.
He’s 14 and lacks the baggage that will be part of every major decision later in life. Boys like him only visualize the fun.
He bucks her hard. In reverse. He stalls her a few times getting out of his stone driveway and onto the street. He jerks her forward, lurching down his street like an unbroken bronco. This is his secret routine — drive around the neighborhood a few times then head home. He’s learning slowly in the safety of the suburbs.
He’s proud. He hears his inner voice whisper. He’s going to be the best someday.
Well, that day came and went, and today that boy is me. I’m 40-something sitting at home watching Adam Reed’s animated masterpiece Archer on my 60” Samsung LCD. My Da Vinci Ascent Vape is prepped to a perfect 373 degrees, which I find ideal for Blue Dream. I’m laughing while typing furiously on my Macbook Pro. When I press the keys, I do so with authority — a loud and determined “clink” that only that someone who can drive a proper manual can pull off. And you know what — I’m typing this story.
Sterling Archer’s 1970 Chevy El Camino is parked in not one, but two handicapped spots.
One of the things I love about Archer is our shared love of exceptional automobiles. I get giddy when I see the El Camino, not because I think it’s the greatest car ever made, but because it fills me with a joyous and rebellious nostalgia.
Archer corrects me: “Well, A: The El Camino is not a car” — “Truck. Whatever.” — “Nor is it a truck. It’s a…” — “Vehicular hermaphrodite?” — “Shut up. And, B: wait, what was B?”
Neither of us have an El anymore. The car that’s also a truck is just a fleeting memory of a younger secret agent.
I hit the vape. Hard. I’m 14 again.
He was finally ready to leave the neighborhood. But that required pulling out onto Main Avenue. A road with other cars on it, unlike his usual route. The other thing about Main Ave. is that it requires you go downhill, stop at a stop sign, then uphill onto the road. Getting the car moving going uphill was nearly impossible. It’d never been done. Not by this agent-in-waiting.
Her clutch was too hard to hold steady, she was too wild. With zero weight in the back, it wasn’t if you peeled out, it was how you reacted when you did.
Archer drives the El Camino and thinks back to those moments when he entered manhood. When he first became a secret agent. When I drive vicariously through Archer I remember stalling the car many times trying to leave my neighborhood until finally I just stopped, in the middle of the road, exasperated. A little scared, a little embarrassed, and a lot frustrated. A feeling that will come and go throughout my entire life.
Another big vape — cough. I thought vaping didn’t make you cough.
I’m back in the car. But I’m also starting to feel the weed. Now Archer is stuck in the middle of the road. He is young me.
A man who may or may not be Burt Reynolds pulls up to the side of the road and stops. The man asks the kid if he needs help, and the kid responds yes. The man jumps in, pushing the kid over to the passenger seat, slams the El Camino into reverse like a fucking boss, and backs down and up the hill into the safety of the neighborhood. Never to leave. The man, who is definitely Burt in my memory, tells the kid to be careful, in a way that almost shows pity.
“Archer would do it,” I say today, watching myself play out the events of the past.
The man’s warning is like a challenge. After he walks away, the kid slides back in the driver’s seat. But instead of showing restraint, he floors it down the hill and doesn’t even touch the brake at the stop sign. Sure, he bucks it a few times, but as he blows by Burt Reynolds climbing back into his own car, he waves a peace sign. A few cars nearly crash into him. Horns blare. Burt shakes his head and smiles. The boy might even be young Burt, too, in Burt’s memories.
Back in my living room I’m high and writing this story, and trying to remember that particular moment but I can’t remember if I really did that or if Archer did it or if I just wanted to do it. Was it actually Burt Reynolds?
I’ll tell you this: I miss the El.
At least I have Archer for a few more seasons. Archer is my El Camino. It’s given me back something important. It’s reminded me who I once was, that my 14-year-old programming was designed as it was for a reason. The world can be a scary place, and sometimes the only choice is to be scarier — to recklessly joyride onto Main Avenue.
Sometimes it’s necessary to be stupidly fearless.
Archer isn’t just a creation of Adam Reed. It’s a creation of everyone who grew up with the heroes of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Archer is America’s teenage boy desires. Our childhood fantasies play out today on 60” Samsung LCDs for us to watch while we legally smoke cannabis and type up stories like this one on our personal supercomputers.