When The Kid was a teenager cars were a necessity. yeah, sure, every teenager whoever lived thought that. Given where The Kid lived in the country, if not quite as isolated as those earlier years back in the swamp it would have been without a vehicle.
A bicycle did The Kid well at fifteen, but you can get only so far on a bike. At sixteen, in the peer-pressure world of the teen, peddling a two-wheeler didn't present a dashing figure on the highway. You had to have a car to be cool.
The Kid's grandfather died in January of the year he came of driving age and he inherited the man's car, a 1954 Royal Blue Ford Coupe. It was a stick shift. The Kid learned to drive in it.
The Kid's road to a driver's license wasn't painless. It was embarrassing. Not that the skill didn't come easily, just that he failed on his first attempt at the DMV. He went into the test nervous about two things, getting the answers correct on the written exam and parallel parking. Neither did him in. It was the three-point turn that betrayed The Kid by the width of a finger.
Now granted, just getting in the car next to the ram-rod straight, squared-jaw guy in the Smokey the Bear hat set The Kid a-quiver with fear. Why these guys were assigned to taking kids on driving tests is beyond this Old Goat. The guy was huge with a stone-cold face that could have lured harden criminals from under rocks with a stare. He wasn't Mr. Comfort. He gave directions with a grunt and a growl. Still, The Kid remembered to check the mirror and grasp the wheel at two-and-ten and take off the emergency brake (didn't have seat belts in those days to worry about adjusting or snapping). You had to give hand signals out the window for turns and stops and he remembered all those. He actually breezed through the parallel park, but up a country road was one more task to complete, the three-point turn.
The rear bumper just slightly scraped the embankment on the back up.
"That it?" The Kid said.
So he had to go back another day to another stone-face and this time the Kid aced it all and got his license to drive. This was freedom, this was his day, this was his moment, this was to be his first accident.
Getting back home, basking in the glow of glorious victory, he pulled the car into the garage beneath the house. Look at the picture at the beginning of this narrative. Do you see the thick post on the left, just off the driver's side? The Kid hit it.
It put a crease into the front fender. It was the first, but not the last ding and dent inflicted upon The Kid's Merry Automobile.
There were things you had to do to your car then because they were "cool".
Some were fairly harmless like the pinstripe decals or removing all the hubcaps and painting the wheels red. The Kid put on the requisite lowering blocks in back, so of course he popped a spring. That went with the territory as did the car scraping bottom over every bump in the road. But it was cool, man!
Another cool bit was removing the emblem and chrome trim and eliminating the external lock to the truck. Most cars today seem to have a truck release inside, but not so back then. It was cool to install one. It was basically a cable that ran from the lock trip to somewhere near the driver's seat. You pulled a lever and the truck popped open.
Except the smart thing to do was install that cable and lever before you removed the external key release, filled and smoothed over the truck. The Kid didn't do the smart thing and when he went to open his truck...
Well, there was this crowbar in the garage...
And so two round grooves atop each rear fender now joined the crease in the left front fender as unintended decor on the Merry Automobile. Yet, the truck refused to yield to even crowbar torture. It was as tough and imperivious to pain as Jack Bauer. It was then, after inflicting those permanate scars, that someone pointed out the rear seat actually could be slid out allowing access to the trunk. This allowed for crawling into the space and flicking open the truck latch with the fingers. (The someone was The Kid's dad, who didn't think attempting to open trunks with crowbars was cool.)
It was becoming difficult to explain these odd indentations. The ones atop the roof became perhaps the oddest.
Drag racing was our main diversion of the day. Cruising the main street through Pottstown was a regular ritual, especially on a Saturday night. (And from what the Old Goat has seen, this hasn't changed much in 50 years. You go up to Pottstown on any given Saturday and you'll see the hot rods heading into town. At least this was the case a couple years ago.) You'd just start at one end and head through town down to the other limits, swing about and come back, then repeat. The object was to have a drag at every light, little short one block spurts of speed and tests of reflex.
But this love of the drag was not always kind to the Merry Automobile, which brings us to those odd roof impressions.
There were no stands at the airport. If you got there early you could pull your car up along the airstrip to watch. The Kid and Rich would climb upon the roof and sit, feet down before the windshield on the hood. Rich tended to get caught up in the sport, to get excitable and to bounce up and down cheering as the run-offs proceeded. Let us say he left his mark upon The Kid's roof top.
Sometimes racing didn't end with just the little stoplight challenges. Often a race would continue all the way west on 422 to Reading and another race might happen coming back. These were more than drags, these were flat out "gonna whip you between here and there" races. This wasn't dependent on who could slap gears the quickest, this was who dared push their car to the highest speed. The Kid didn't have the fastest car in the county, but he was quick on the throttle and fearless on curves and held his own. Of course on one of those nights he blew a hole in a cylinder.
Hey, it made a cool sound. It almost sounded as if The Kid was sporting duel glasspacks. His dad didn't think it so cool when they hauled the car to a garage in Gap to have the engine rebuilt, though.
Come to think of it, The Kid's dad hadn't thought it so cool when those lowing blocks broke that spring either. The Kid's dad just couldn't seem to get with this coolness thing at all.
Nor did the Old Man think it so cool when late one night The Kid spread his transmission all over a country road. The Kid had been back to his old home town, visiting his long time friend Ron (aka Retired in Delaware) and was heading home. He always took the back roads away from traffic and civilization. It was a nice moonlit night and ahead lay a long and unusual stretch of straight macadam. The Kid stopped in the middle of this tempting straightaway. Set the car in low gear and floored it. He pushed it through second gear and revved up to a fine screech before hitting third and when he did there was a metallic rain hitting the road surface.
Ah, the days of The Kid and his Merry Automobile.
Note: There are two movies that really captured the feel and essence of The Kid's youth. The earlier years of his living in a small town at the end of the 'forties and beginning of the 'fifties is pretty well represented in "A Christmas Story". For a really good representation of The Kid's car driving, teen years go get a copy of "American Graffiti". That was pretty close to our life, cruisin' around looking for girls or drags and blaring rock 'n' roll from our car radios. We didn't have Wolfman Jack, but we had "The Rockin' Bird Joe Niagara (left -Joseph Nigro, Jr. July 4, 1927-June 4, 2004) and Hy Lit (right -Hyman Aaron Lit May 20, 1934-November 17, 2007) on Wibbage. Wibbage was founded in the 1920s as a religious station (the call letters stood for I Believe in God) and evolved into a premier Top 40 rock station in the 1950s.