I RODE IN STEVE MCGARRETT'S CAR

Was it enough to be in the land of Hawaii Five-O, in Honolulu, where Steve McGarrett had prowled the streets in his big black Mercury? Was it enough to be the Fan Guest of Honor at the Hawaii Five-O reunion convention, enough to walk into a place and have James MacArthur say, "Hi, Karen," enough to jaunt with fellow fans from one end of Oahu to the other snapping photos of Five-O locations? No, it wasn't enough. I had to ride in THAT car.

One of them, anyway.

McGarrett had driven three, all Mercury autos: First, a two-door 1967 Marquis in the original pilot movie filmed in 1967 and aired in September, 1968, one week before the series premiered. The whereabouts of that car, if it still exists, are unknown. Then, a 1968 Park Lane Brougham in the first six seasons, 1968-1974. Then a 1974 Marquis in the last six seasons, 1975-1980.

When the chance came, I was waiting outside our hotel on Kuhio Street in Waikiki with Rita Ractliffe, the "Mama Nui" of the Hawaii Five-O reunion convention which had begun at the end of October in Burbank, California, and then leaped 3000 miles of blue Pacific to Honolulu. The convention was the result of 18 months of planning by Rita, with help on the Hawaii side from Douglas Mossman, who had many roles in the series, including two semi-continuing characters; and from Margaret Doversola, who had been Jack Lord's secretary and from that built a career of her own in casting. And what fan convention has had a convention committee like James MacArthur, Kam Fong, Zulu, Moe Keale, and Herman Wedemeyer, all regular cast members of Five-O?

The car caught my eye, that big black beauty, as it paused at the intersection just across from the hotel. I felt goose bumps -- in Hawaii it's called chicken skin -- and I could imagine Steve McGarrett driving up to ask us to join the Five-O team on some dangerous, vital adventure. Then the car slowly, powerfully pulled onto Kuhio and came to a stop in front of us. Tourists on the sidewalk were oblivious to the huge auto rumbling throatily as it idled at the curb, unaware of the history that sat mere feet from where they walked. This was the 1974 Marquis, old but still possessed of a mighty heart.

John Boley Nordlum, the car's owner, had invited Rita and me for a ride and brunch, and had said we could bring a guest with us. I knew just the man. Michael Timothy, attending the convention from Chicago, now owns McGarrett's 1968 Park Lane. He had restored the '68 from a hulk, and was interested in buying the '74 from John. When I called him at his hotel -- catching him literally seconds before he left for the beach -- and asked if he'd like a ride in the 1974 Marquis, his response was a McGarrett-like "I'm on my way."

John Nordlum had been Jack Lord's stunt double and a stunt man in the series, and had appeared in a speaking role in "The Two-Faced Corpse," dying in the first few minutes, a murder victim. At the end of Five-O's run in 1980, Jack Lord had given John the car. He's driven it ever since. It has over 250,000 miles on it, but has worn it well. The "bullet holes" popped into the skin during one episode have been filled in. The engine is original and still makes that incredibly intimidating and yet deeply exciting rumble.

Rita got the place of honor in the front passenger seat. I slipped in and slid across the black back seat to sit behind John. Seated behind Rita, Michael gave the interior a slow, critical once-over. He was looking at the structure; I was soaking up the atmosphere, picking up on the vibes in the cavernous interior of that huge car. In rapid-fire memory, I relived scenes in that car: McGarrett speeding down a street with siren blaring, tires squealing; McGarrett driving slowly through a residential area, questioning an informer cowering in the back seat so he won't be seen; the car being used, in a frame-up, as a weapon against its master. It's the kind of car that makes people of my generation say, "They just don't make 'em like that anymore." And maybe they don't make heroes like McGarrett anymore, either; more's the pity.

The "mana" of the tall, intense man who had driven the car for six years in Five-O was still strong. His presence was apparent in other ways, too. The microphone on which he had many times asked Honolulu Police dispatch to "patch me through" was clipped to the dashboard. No radio; just the microphone (dispatch's dialogue was overdubbed in editing). Another reminder was a sign affixed to the dashboard just above the glove compartment: ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKING IN THIS CAR. THANK YOU.

I asked John if he had put that there. No, he told me; that was original equipment -- Jack Lord had put it there. Weeks later, when I was back home, I watched "Man in a Steel Frame," and in one shot of the interior of the car, the sign was indeed there. I felt connected again to that car, and to the tangible evidence of the truth of Jack Lord's reputation as a militant non-smoker, a trait shared by his alter ego in later episodes when he tells a man visiting his office to refrain from polluting his private airspace.

John drove us out to the backside of Diamond Head, to a local eatery called the K.C. Diner. The food was good and reasonably priced, confirming the habit my husband and I have when traveling of seeking out the local eateries and shops rather than falling into tourist traps (I can use that phrase; I'm from Florida).

After brunch, Michael began his thorough inspection of the car in the parking lot. That was interrupted by the approaching noon hour bringing lunchtime crowds. We piled in -- with Michael driving -- and headed to Hawaii Studios, just off Diamond Head Road, the last home of Hawaii Five-O. Michael couldn't resist one joke -- he parked the car across the parking lines rather than between them, just like McGarrett and Dan Williams (James MacArthur) did from time to time in the series. Here Michael completed his inspection and made an offer on the car. The car does, unfortunately, have some major structural rust. If it is to be saved, Michael is the one who can do it. He's a member of the International Mercury Owner's Association, and truly loves the cars. As a piece of history, this one must be saved.
(Michael inspects the door's condition, though he looks like McGarrett checking for a possible bomb!)

Rita drove on the way back to Waikiki, starting off with a McGarrettlike roar which unnerved the rest of us. John quipped, "Hey, Mike. Maybe you'd better pay me now!" We did, however, arrive in one piece. Rita and I felt sad as the car pulled away, but we imagined that it was McGarrett at the wheel, once again on a mission. We had completed ours.

I had one more chance to ride in that car, the next evening. It was the last evening of the convention, the farewell luau hosted by the cast members and attended by some 350 people. After the luau, John and his fiancee, Laurie, invited Rita and me to join them in the bar of the old Tahitian Lanai for drinks. After an incredible evening listening to a group of regular patrons sing the night away, John gave us a ride back to our hotel. It was raining, and again my mind went back, to the many nighttime scenes filmed with that car. John apologized that I hadn't had a chance to drive the wonderful machine, but my philosophy was that if it wasn't meant to be then, it wasn't meant to be.

Maybe my chance is yet to come. Be there! Aloha.

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