Monday, June 27, 2011

Travel Down This Road With Me

The lives of men can be measured by the cars they once owned. Every guy I know can tell you what kind of car they had in what year and where they lived and who they were dating. They even know the horsepower, the mileage, the cost of gasoline then, and what songs they listened to while cruising down the road. Cars don’t only take you somewhere in space. They travel in time.

A phone call I received a couple of days ago turned out to be a bridge to the past. Here's a bit of back-story to set the scene.

My first car was a brand-new 1956 Chevy Bel-Aire convertible. My dad bought it for me at Barford Chevrolet two years before I graduated college. This beauty was white with a black top, white sidewalls, automatic transmission, and an AM radio with buttons. It was - and still is - one of the sharpest looking cars to ever grace the road. At least in my eyes.

Since that first car, I had never been without a convertible. Until now. The Chevy was followed by a ‘60 Corvette, then a ‘65 Olds Jetstar, an ‘84 Dodge Dart - an embarrassment - and finally an ‘88 Mazda RX-7. All convertibles. I sold the RX-7 two years ago, which ended my mobile time in the sun.

Those old cars have the same power over me as old girlfriends and beloved dogs. A fleeting image, a scent, a setting, a song - wham, I am back in the past. Which is where I ended up when I got that call. A young man’s voice inquired, “Gerald Mandel?”

“Gerald?”, I thought. He must be making cold calls, reading my name from some purchased list of potential suckers. He’s going to try to sell me a weekend on Arkansas lakefront property, or season tickets to the Rep. “Yes,” I said, just seconds away from adding, “I don’t buy anything over the phone” and hanging up.

The voice continued. “Did you used to own a 1965 Olds Jetstar convertible?”

Whatever he was selling, I was ready to buy. “Yes, I did.” He couldn’t see the smile of wonder on my face. “Why?”

“I own it now, Gerald.”

“Gerry. Please.”

“Gerry. And I just wanted to talk about it.”

Which we did. For the next half hour. His name is Shawn. He lives outside Kansas City. He found the car through Craigslist, covered in dust in some guy’s barn. It didn’t run. Shawn bought it, towed it to his house, replaced the engine with a Delta-88 425 hp rebuilt job. The car now runs. Pretty well. He’s still working on it.

I, in turn, told him some of my Olds’ stories. How my daughter drove it in high school, called it her Bat Car. (It was dark blue). How I put our two Golden Retrievers, Chelsea and Abbey, in the back seat and went to Ted Drews almost weekly (“cholesterol” wasn’t in my vocabulary yet). How I had to add a can of some STP chemical to the gas tank when they stopped making leaded gas. How I got married in 1965, so the car and my marriage are both 46 years old. And still running. How I still feel the pain of separation when I think about the day I sold it to some guy from Illinois and watched him drive away. It was the last time I ever saw my Olds.

Until the day Shawn called. He emailed me some photos of the way it looks now. It’s gorgeous. I wish I still owned it. Great body, smooth lines, exquisite detail, no dents, bruises, rips or rust. Here’s the clincher. Shawn gets into St. Louis occasionally.

“I’d love to see it,” I said quickly.

“I’d love for you to see it,” he said, “and have you drive it. And get a picture. You and me. The first owner and the last. And the Olds.”

I’m ready to roll. I’ll even buy Shawn a large concrete at Ted Drews.
Now if only someone would call about that white '56 Chevy.

My son Gregg with the '65 Olds, circa 1983.
Same Olds, today, from new owner.