Thursday, May 03, 2007
“Firsts” are usually memorable. Some are happy memories, some are sad memories, and others are a bit of both.
I’ve used this space to talk about my first kiss and I told you the story of my first cigarette. I haven’t yet told you about the first time I had sex, but maybe I will someday. I certainly remember that. The first time that someone I knew died - I’ll write about that someday, too. Today, though, I want to tell you a story about my first car.
It was a 1965 Ford Falcon and I acquired it in 1978, when I was 21 years old.
Now, most of the guys in my neighborhood had cars before I did. The reason wasn’t because I couldn’t afford one or because I was less skilled at driving. I just didn’t want a car or see any need for one. I grew up in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston. Whenever I wanted to go someplace, I took the T. That was (and is) Boston’s public transportation system. And I liked it.
I had always enjoyed taking the trolley or the subway. Heck, when I was a younger kid, I’d go take a ride on the T just for kicks. I’d grab the trolley at Central Avenue, ride it to Ashmont, take the Red Line to Washington (now Downtown Crossing) and switch to the Orange Line and ride the elevated (now extinct) to Forest Hills, and then grab the Arborway trolley (also dead as a dodo) and so forth.
(Of course, the T was a different beast in those days than it is now. For one thing, the only noise you heard in the subway was ambient subway noise. Nowadays, it’s one long uninterrupted announcement – “BING-BONG, this is a Braintree train, please stand clear of the doors, next stop South Station, BING-BONG, please report suspicious activity to the conductor, if you see any unaccompanied packages…BING-BONG, there is no smoking allowed on MBTA property, violators will be subject to fine and arrest… BING-BONG, South Station, change for AMTRAK and commuter rail… BING-BONG, even if we have nothing to say that you actually want to listen to, we like hearing ourselves talk and don’t you just love hearing those same two tones twenty or twenty-five times every time you take a ride? BING-BONG, BING-BONG, BING-BONG.”
And yeah, you could smoke in the T in the old days. Most of you are probably happy that it’s illegal now, right? Not me. There was precious little I enjoyed more than sitting in the subway and lighting up. As a matter of fact, I wrote a two-part story about it.
However, I’ve digressed beyond all reasonable bounds. I apologize. Back to the story.)
Because I liked the trolleys and subway so much, I had no desire to drive. While everybody else was all hot to get their drivers licenses as soon as they turned 16 1/2, I didn’t give a damn. The only reason I ever got one was so that I could drive cab.
Yup. I got my license at age 20 and started driving cab about two weeks later.
(This is really rambling so far. Sorry! I’ll get to the point where I get my first car and then there’s a story worth hearing. You’ll just have to bear with me until then.)
I never took any driving lessons. I learned how to drive from the sitting next to Tom Sullivan and watching him drive for close to 20 years school of driving. Tom Sullivan was my Dad and he was about the best driver I’ve ever known.
(OK, maybe Dale Earnhardt and Mario Andretti were better, but I didn’t know them.)
My Dad was utterly fearless behind the wheel. He wasn’t reckless. He was just a damned good driver. And it didn’t matter what the conditions were, either. Rain, snow, ice, blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, plagues of locusts – didn’t matter. As long as he was in a car, he was in control of the situation. It could be raining bullfrogs, with a platoon of nazi tanks on his tail, and… well, maybe I’m stretching it, but you get the idea.
I’m not kidding. He drove in England, Ireland, France, Italy, Mexico, Japan, and Iran. Right side of the road? Left side of the road? No road and he had to make one up in his head? Street signs in English, French, Italian, Japanese, Arabic? It was all the same to my Dad.
After getting my Bachelors Of Driving from him, I earned my Graduate Degree driving for the I.T.O.A. – the Independent Taxi Operators Association. I drove out of the Andrew Square garage, mostly working the Broadway stand in South Boston. And, as I said, that was the only reason I ever got a license - so that I could get a job driving cab. I needed some scratch, so I had a friend take me down to the RMV in his car; I took the tests and got my license. Two weeks later, there I was in Southie, Downtown, Logan Airport, and wherever else my fares took me.
In order to get to the garage, and to get home after work, I took the subway. The only driving I did was when I was behind the wheel of my cab. Soon, though, I became spoiled. I found that I was becoming less and less enamored of the T. I was enjoying, more and more, the ease and speed of getting around in an automobile. My public transportation days were now numbered.
Long story short – as if! – I got the Falcon from a friend. And I’ve always had a car since then. I still love subways and trolleys, but only because I don’t have to ride them if I don’t want to. I’m like a guy with a season ticket to a luxury box at Fenway who likes to sit in the bleachers once or twice a year.
The Falcon was one hell of a car. Not just my Falcon; all of them. Great car. It had about ten moving parts under the hood, and four of those were hamsters. It is, to this day, the only car I’ve ever been able to perform any major repairs on by myself. I replaced belts, hoses, the battery, the starter and the alternator. There wasn’t much else TO replace in a Falcon.
It was built like a tank, too. And thus, we come to the actual story here.
I purchased the car for something like $75. The insurance cost about the same.
Well, one night I’m driving the Falcon home from Brookline. It was a hot summer night, right after a hot summer date. I was hungry, so I stopped at a convenience store. I bought a package of Ring Dings and a pint of milk, and then hit the road again. I’m eating the Ring Dings and drinking the milk, listening to “Born To Be Wild” on the radio, when I come to a red light at Coolidge Corner. I stop, bite into the second Ring Ding, take a big swig of milk and WHAM!
Some son of a bitch had plowed into me from the rear. Upon impact, a projectile stream of milk and chocolate cake went from my mouth onto my windshield and my dashboard. The milk bottle, meanwhile, spurted up onto the cloth ceiling, then down onto the seats and my lap. I sat there for a second, saying a few double-jointed curses while looking in the rearview and figuring out what had happened, and then I got out of the car.
There behind me was a Volkswagen. The entire front end was accordioned, with both wheels leaning in different directions. The driver staggered out, totally apologetic. He was pretty drunk. I was pretty pissed, but his instant apology cooled me off a bit. Well, that and the milk in my hair.
The Falcon? Aside from the food damage to the interior, it had a tiny scratch on the chrome fender. Built like a tank.
Long story short – again, as if – the cops were on the scene almost immediately. The drunk and I exchanged insurance information before they carted him and his wreck off. I drove home, still hungry. I parked the Falcon in my usual spot on the street and went in the house to get something to eat. I then went to bed.
The next morning, I woke up to the sound of my doorbell. I went downstairs and opened the door. There was my neighbor, Joe, from across the street.
“Hi, Joe. What’s up?”
“Jimmy, I’m sorry. I was backing out of my driveway. I don’t know exactly what happened. I guess my foot slipped or… I hit your car.”
“Aw, geez, Joe. How bad is it? Let’s take a look.”
I went outside with Joe to inspect the damage. Not too bad. He put a slight ding in my right rear panel, but nothing too horrible. We exchanged insurance papers.
Long story short – and this time I mean it – the upshot of this whole thing was that I reported both accidents to the insurance companies. Both were totally the other guy’s fault and the claims were uncontested in any way. Since it was a ’65 Falcon, and the book value was less than either of the repairs would have cost, I ended up getting TWO TOTALS on the same car. Strictly on the up-and-up; legal.
AND the car was still fully functional. I had it for another year-and-a-half. It did smell of sour milk for a few weeks, but it aired out after a while. Of course, I spent that year-and-a-half hoping that more people would hit me, since it was such an easy way to make money. Nobody else ever did, though.
That was my first car. Built like a tank. Paid for itself.