Old Chevy

May 14, 2009 | Leave a Comment

Category: Auto-Biography

In the 1970s, Florida had laws that prevented citizens from driving cars like mine.  Inspections kept them off the road.  My car was registered in Illinois with an Illinois license plate.  My dad owned it and paid the insurance.  Not that the car had value.  Still, it got around.

It was an old 1960s Chevy Nova with eight cylinders.  Small car with eight cylinders.  Hard to imagine.  We’d often cram six in and go searching for breakfast before the sunrise.  I frequently gave friends rides to the airport.  I loaned it to any friend or anybody that needed wheels.

I lived near the ocean the two years I worked restaurants, the two years I took off from college between my junior and senior years.  The first few years of the car’s life were spent in Chicago suburbs gathering salt from liberally sprinkled, suburban city streets.  In St. Petersburg, the ocean salt continued to deteriorate the chassis.  There was a love bug insect plague in 1971.  Once smacked by my car, these bugs left behind fluids that repeatedly impinged on all forward-facing surfaces of the vehicle and caused all the blue paint in the grill area to peel off, leaving a former owner’s white paint exterior to show through.  The car looked like it was smiling through a milk moustache.

The humid Florida weather grew a layer of mold across the ceiling of my vehicle.  The floor grew crusted with debris.  Roaches lived beneath the seats.

With time, the right front chassis strut totally deteriorated and the right front side of the car, the front-seat passenger position, dropped a couple inches.  Then the metal floor ate through, where the front passenger sat, and we covered the floor with cardboard to keep debris from bouncing into the car.  At one point the cardboard crumpled and we placed a yellow raincoat over the hole.

I remember one rainy afternoon, passengers in front and back, when hit a puddle during a rainstorm with V8 speed.  Water from the puddle slammed against the bottom of the car, into the car, propelled the raincoat on the floor into the air and into the backseat where my visiting sister was sitting, drenching the passenger in the front, with the raincoat finally draped over my sister’s head.

On a sunny, summer St. Pete day I was dropping a friend off at Tampa’s airport.  I had just applied for and got a job in a Black Angus restaurant.  I was to start the next day.  I somehow lost or misplaced my driver’s license, and I was stopped for speeding by an airport security car.  The cop didn’t know what to do; I had no identification.  He told me to follow his car and that he would lead me to the Tampa Police Station a couple miles away.  At the police station, I parked my car and followed him in.

The Tampa police told my officer to go back to the airport.  After he left, they laughed in derision that he’d actually had me follow him instead of arresting me and having my car towed.  They arrested me and gave me one phone call.

I couldn’t get hold of my dad.  Hours later they gave me a second call.  I couldn’t get hold of my dad’s mom.  I left a message that it was kind of an emergency and I would call back.

I didn’t get that opportunity until the next day.

In the meantime, I was in a cell with about 25 guys, mostly black, receiving two baloney sandwiches for each of the three meals of the day.  With breakfast, I received a cup of coffee with my baloney sandwich.

One guy asked me what I was in for.  “Speeding,” I said.

“Whoa,” said the guy.  “How fast were you going?”

I noted that I didn’t have my license on me.  “Bummer,” he said.

After 24 hours, I got hold of my dad.  He wired $300 and I walked out to the parking lot and retrieved my car.  I drove home to discover my friends concerned and confused.

Evidently the person I left a message with at my grandmother’s place had told my grandmother that I had called and that it was an emergency.  She called my house in St. Pete.  I was not there.  She called the St. Petersburg police.  They came to my house and rang the bell.

During the delay before the door was answered, all bags of weed were dumped into the toilet and flushed.  When the door was opened, my housemates discovered the police were looking for me.  They, of course, had no idea I was in the Tampa jail.

When I arrived home after being gone all night, I found that they’d assumed I was dead or messed up in some major way.  Deeply relieved I was OK, seeking celebration, they realized all their weed was gone.

I called the Black Angus.  I’d missed a good chunk of my first day at work and wanted to know if my new boss still wanted me to come in that day.  He asked what had happened.  I told him.  I’d been stopped for speeding without my license and had spent the night in jail.  I was told not to bother coming in, that the job had been filled.

Go figure.  I thought that was a pretty good excuse.


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