In 1957, two Air Force bases and two more stripes after I went back into the service, I spent 50 bucks for a mud-green 1950 Plymouth which quickly found its way to its natural home — the junkyard. Then came a solidly built Chrysler Saratoga two-door with a metallic green finish and a Red Ram V-8 that whizzed me over halfway across the country from Texas to New Jersey.
There, a 1958 promotion to staff sergeant and an assignment to Japan, where my beautiful Chrysler would have taken up half the main island, convinced me to buy a shiny new, black, air cooled, 2-door, Renault 4-CV — so small you couldn’t quite open a newspaper in the front seat. In 1958, on two-and-a-half teaspoons of gas, its tiny engine chugged me across the country to California, where I shipped it off across the wide Pacific.
It was never quite the same. First car I ever owned that went from shiny new to gasping for air in 3,000 miles flat. I forgave it, though, and in 1959 shipped it from Japan to Karachi where I found and married my beloved Loretta. We drove it, but not much. Didn’t need to. The Air Force thought I could not get along without a Jeep, a Ford F-100 pickup, and an International pickup with a back seat. Lolly and I used the F-100 to drive to magnificent beaches and swim in the Arabian Sea, and the Jeep to ford the Indus River to get to the dig of the Harappan Civilization at Bhambour. In 1961 before we left for California, we sold the tiny little Renault to the government of Pakistan for $350. They paid too much.
Next came a yellow 1958 Studebaker four-door, which I cannot say we loved, and a red 1960 two-door Mercury Comet which we did. That Comet served us well in Utah, Okinawa and Missouri. It broke our hearts to part with it in 1969, but we took solace in a brand new Corvair with an air-cooled pan six that served us faithfully for four years as we drove around England, and which, being white, was quite a showpiece for a while after Lolly and I and the kids drove through the baboon enclosure at Woburn Abbey.
How often, when someone asks, “Hey! What’re those muddy tracks all over your car?” can you reply, “Oh, those? Those are baboon tracks.” We had fun with that. Didn’t wash the car for six months.
Goodbye to the faithful Corvair — and the Air Force — in 1973, and a grunted hello to a leaf-green Toyota Corona a “friend” of Mom’s bought for us so we could just jump in and drive to a Midwest college town. Then, a smiling goodbye to that dud as we bought a brand new 1974 metallic green V-8 Ford Torino that we kept even after we bought a metallic gray 1984 Mustang, which we drove, smiling all the way, to Arizona.
I gave the Torino to one of my sons when I got talked into buying a small red Mazda pickup because I had to drive 37 miles across the Valley to work. Kept the Mustang, of course.
One day in 1989, a young lady on I-10, who reacted to a lost tread by slamming on her brakes, totaled the Mazda for us. She not only tore off my left front fender, part of my windshield, and my driver’s side door and doorpost, but she managed to wipe out the other side of the pickup too by slamming us against the rail.
We weren’t hurt. Seat belts.
I will never forget the comment the young lady’s boyfriend made when I trotted over to their car and leaned in close to the whitest male face I’ve ever seen. They had been going seventy-five, and had not only spun around and around, spinning through honking horns and squealing brakes like a ballet dancer, but had been going backwards at seventy-five miles an hour when they hit us.
“She hit the f——g brakes,” the poor passenger croaked out.
Yes she did. She did that.
An apple red 1989 Bronco II replaced the Mazda. It is sitting outside my living room window right now with 125,000 miles on it, looking and running almost like a new car. It now belongs to my son David.
And me? I’m forced to make do with with a sky blue 1998 GMC pickup with 78,000 miles on it and a 2002 white Chevy with 34,000.
On holidays we park the three of them out front.
The real American dream, Johnny.
In red, white and blue — American-made horseless carriages.
We put up a flag too.
Thank you to the land that made it all possible!