| Camouflaged Lightning 1000 words
All teen aged males I knew in 1959 wanted a hot rod. My first car experience at the tender age of eighteen turned out to be nothing like what I thought it would be.
My father was of the old school. No spoiling of the rod, but there were times he taught a lesson by just letting things happen. This episode began with the statement he often used, “You are responsible for all expenses associated with a car.” A teenager never fears words such as those.
After my high school graduation, I landed a plush job catering to the whims of the seven owners of a large department store. I decorated the store windows, delivered appliances, assisted in laying carpet, restocked shelves, just about anything that no one else wanted to do. One of my duties involved taking wrinkles out of lady’s wool, winter coats by using a steam pressure hose in a corner of the building’s basement that escaped air-conditioning. Temperatures reached one hundred thirty five degrees each day because these coats arrived in July and August. I earned a whopping seventy-five cents an hour no matter which task I was assigned.
My goal was to buy a car, but it couldn’t be just any car. It had to be cool. I wanted a hot rod. A friend of mine tipped me off that a guy on the east side of town was selling a hot rod. I’d saved $100 and was ready to take the plunge.
I asked my dad to go with me because I wanted him to see this hot car. Besides, he was the only one allowed to drive the family car. In the garage in back of this guy’s house was ‘the car.’ A dark green 1950 Ford with a four-barrel carburetor, a 1950 Mercury grille and hood, 1954 Ford taillights and a V-8 engine with a loud, rumbling Glass Pak muffler. The neatest car I’d ever seen. I wanted it.
My dad, after looking over ‘my car,’ advised me not to buy it. How disappointing he couldn’t recognize the great value sitting in front of him. The owner was only asking $100 for that beauty, exactly what I had! I don’t remember much of the discussion that followed. Only those wonderful words, “It’s your decision, you do what you want.”
As I drove home, I proudly watched as people reacted to the loud muffler. The old fogies made a face but the kids smiled and some even gave a thumbs-up. After a careful drive home, I pulled into the driveway followed by the family car. I was hugging my car with eyes that refused to blink when my father approached.
“Well, you got your car. Do you have any insurance?” My blank look was the same one I used every time he asked me a question I couldn’t answer.
“No. Don’t you have insurance?”
“Yes, but not on you. And that car doesn’t move out of the driveway until you have insurance.”
“How much does insurance cost?” Not wanting to hear the reply I turned back to my car.
“Insurance for you is $125 a year.” It had taken me six months to save $100 to buy the car. My knees felt weak.
“I have to pay all of it before I can drive the car?” I knew the answer.
That was my first year in college. I had to walk to school, passing by my car; each morning for the next nine months while I took on odd jobs to raise the insurance money. The car looked great sitting in the driveway because my brother and I washed it almost every day. Thankfully my dad didn’t make us pay for the water we used.
We were allowed to drive back and forth in the driveway to keep the car in good running condition. The only positive result was that I was able to save money on gas.
The day I’d earned enough to pay for the insurance was one of the best days of my life. My brother and I tooled around town visiting the local burger joints, hitting all the teen gathering places. We had to be home early because I didn’t have much gas money left. For two weeks my car was my second home. If I wasn’t driving it, I was washing it or just sitting in it. Then disaster struck.
I was roaring away from a stop sign when I heard the snap. My car didn’t respond when I pushed on the accelerator. The right rear axle had broken, allegedly because of excessive quick starts. The repair bill totaled $75. That’s right, four more months of hoofing it.
The rest of the story was a repeat of the bad luck that followed everywhere the car went. The battery went dead ($25), clutch gone ($65), two tires flat ($12), radiator ($15), and on and on.
One day my brother and I decided the car needed a new paint job. We visited the local hardware store and bought a can of green spray paint. It looked marvelous, but one can was not enough. Returning to the store, we discovered the color we had chosen was sold out, but another looked close. It would have to do. And that second can was not enough either. We finished with six cans and five different shades of green. The car became the first camouflaged car in the city.
Camouflaged Lightning died a horrible death after my two years of walking to college. A prominent jeweler’s wife plowed into us in her new Cadillac. The Caddy suffered a nine-inch gash of multicolored green paint on the bumper. Mine was totaled. My last view of Lightning, with its recently replaced radiator emptying into the street, was behind a tow truck. I felt it was my blood oozing from that car.
Then I heard about another hot rod for sale. I couldn’t wait to see what the insurance settlement money would buy.