May 26, 2020

Celebrating the Coolest Local Stuff

By Jay Kerner 

I’ve been seeing a lot of folk’s car pics.  You probably have, too.  There are a lot of albums posted, with every car they’ve ever owned. 

Sorry.  Not playing.  First, because I don’t do challenges.  Secondly, because there’s just not enough time.  We played the “List every car you ever owned” game, one drunken boys’ weekend in the Ozarks.  One guy only had 5.  The next two topped out at like 12 to 15, in there somewhere.   

My list was ridiculous.  Way into 3 figures, leaving out bunches I can’t remember.  Maybe it’s a sickness, I don’t know.  I’m just always buying them and selling them.  I’ve never been a dealer or sold cars for a living, but I’ve made a buck or two on some and lost a bit on a few.  I never said I was particularly good at it. 

So, anyway, all these car pics got me thinking of some of mine, and I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning. 

My first car was a 1964 Buick Special.  White.  Two-door hard-top.  I bought it sight unseen through my grandmother’s boyfriend, an old guy that sold part-time for Jim Davis Motors.  Closing in on 16, I’d asked him to keep an eye out for a deal.  Got a call telling me it was mine for $70 if I wanted it.  I did! 

He’d told me, when he called, but I had no idea really, what I’d bought, till it showed up the next day in front of the house. 

It was love at first sight, but I had work to do to make it mine.  What a dumb-ass! 

This thing was cherry!  Maybe 60k on the odometer and not a scratch.  The seats were even covered in that clear plastic with the bubbles.  I’d seen it on a few sofas, but that was the first time I’d ever seen it in a car.  Had to cut it out with a razor blade, but underneath, the upholstery was perfect. 

blue 69 Buick

This was a really nice used car.  Till I got my hands on it. 

For my birthday, I got stuff to customize my ride.  I got the tiny racing steering wheel and the gas pedal shaped like a foot.  The pedal was no problem to change out but the steering wheel was a … let’s just say it put up a fight.  I won in the end but not without a busted knuckle or two.  When I later learned of a tool called a “Steering Wheel Puller,” I had one of those “Now you tell me” moments. 

I also got some homemade speakers from my grandfather.  He was a genius inventor and I wish I still had those speakers.  I’m embarrassed to tell you that they embarrassed me at the time.  He’d fabricated the things out of white, plastic pipe fittings, and they looked like a pair of tiny satellite dishes, instead of the black wedges sold at Radio Shack or Western Auto. I hid them under the seats.  Pa deserved much better. 

Because they sounded great, paired with my under-dash 8-track player.  The car came with the standard AM radio with tubes.  Took several seconds to warm up when you turned it on.  After -market sound systems were a new thing in the early 70’s.  Mine was $5 to an upper classman with a reputation for coming up with such (previously owned) items.  Mounted it with clothes-hanger wire, where the ashtray opened up.  I had two tapes at the time.  Seals and Crofts- Summer Breeze and Alice Cooper- Schools Out.  I alternated. 

Now keep in mind, I wasn’t going anywhere yet.  Not for a long time, actually.  But I was in that car every day.  Started it up, cranked the tunes, and drove back and forth, about 50 feet each way.  The tiny wheel and no power-steering made it super hard to turn, but caused no problems going forward and back. 

Sometimes one of the guys would come by and we’d split a warm beer, swiped from one fridge or another, playing air instruments with Alice.  I don’t kiss and tell, but I might have fogged the windows with a “date” one time, to Seals and Crofts.  Amazingly, that single tank of gas lasted all winter and into the spring. 

Here would be a good place to inject some of my ongoing battles with my evil step-father.  Like I bought my own car, because he said I’d never drive his or my mom’s.  Fine.  I was putting pickles on tenderloins at Miller’s Grill for a buck ten an hour.  I had my own money. 

So, now I had a car but no plates and no license.  You can’t get one without the other and he was no help.  Finally, a neighbor took it to get inspected while he was at work, and a buddy’s dad let me borrow their car for my driving test. 

Step-dad was pissed at the chicanery but not much he could do about it now. I was mobile! 

The maiden voyage loaded the sibs for a DQ run.  No seatbelts.  Standing up in the seats.  Took 36 highway east to the 22nd street exit.  You know that 25mph sign on the exit?  Missed it.   

The folding seat of the 64 Buick Special doesn’t lock in place.  Neither did my siblings as I braked hard to keep from flipping.  Just about wiped out all four of us in my first half mile of legal driving.  Ice cream soothed a busted lip or two and we made it home alive. 

Good thing because there were big plans for the next day.  Everybody was going to the Agency Rock Quarry to swim.  I’m not sure if it’s still there or maybe it‘s been filled in.  But summers of my high school years, it was the place to go.  Cold water, a rope to climb and a little cliff to dive off of.  And no adults anywhere. 

I’d only gone as a passenger.  Now, I was driving there myself!  I loaded up the Buick, picked up a buddy and headed south on FF.  I’d just passed the four-way stop when the oil light came on.  Crap!  I was going to have to check that when we got back.   

Did you know that when the oil light comes on, the correct procedure is to immediately stop the vehicle and not to start it again till you add oil?  Me neither.  Engine blew up less than a mile later. 

Didn’t know what happened, but a peek under the hood revealed a baseball sized hole in the engine pouring oil and smoke.  Good thing I was already low on oil or this would have been a bigger mess. 

Hitched home, and used my last dime to get my car towed home.  Where it sat for the next couple months.  I couldn’t afford to fix it, but sadly, I still went out to sit in it every day.  At least until the battery died and I couldn’t play the 8-track anymore. 

Finally, the evil one got tired of looking at it and offered me a deal; tow it off and I could drive my mom’s AMC Hornet Wagon on the weekends (if I paid him 25 cents a mile).  With no other options, I dealt with the devil and watched my car leave on the back of the same tow truck that had dropped it off. 

I sucked and I knew it.  That car deserved far better than it got from me.  I like to think that that tow-truck guy took it home and dropped another GM 350 motor in it.  Maybe he gave it to his own kid.  Maybe he taught him how to check the oil. 

I drove the Hornet when I had to be somewhere but preferred not to.  It was the epitome of un-coolness. I did learn an important feature of those AMC’s.  In reverse, their odometer runs backward.  I went to great lengths heading home that way from wherever the night took me.  Got pretty good at it. Got stopped on the Belt one time by a cop.   Told him the transmission was out and he followed me home to make sure I got there okay.  The step-douche never could figure out why a quarter tank of gas was gone but the mileage barely changed. Ha!