“Steve – get up!” Mom didn’t have to say anything to wake me because I was already up and ready for school. I was a junior in high school in 1971 but had gotten my driver’s license a year earlier on my sixteenth birthday. I was already on my third car.
My love of cars continues to this day. I used to change them – sometimes two in the same year, and, I imagine each one was beautiful for some untold reason. Nowadays I get five years out of a car before getting the itch to buy a new one. I always bought in extremes, you know, from an older one to a newer one – from a big one to a small one – a foreign one to bigger and more comfortable domestic model – from a luxury, large “vette-looking” ’66 Olds Toronado to a tiny, but brand new Datsun B210.
Somewhere along the line a group of us thrill-seeking kids began playing chicken with our cars. You know how the game is played? Two people in two different cars aim them at each other and floor it…the first one to veer off is a chicken. We played a different version. We drove through the five car wash bays – in different directions and as fast as the cars would allow. The first to back speedily away was chicken. I had more guts with the older cars, but this new one didn’t have a scratch or dent on it. I was chicken, but not for myself. I wanted to protect the new car. Nobody was afraid of that lightweight thing. I earned my quick reactionary defensive driving skills from that time.
My next venture was naturally the other extreme though I hung onto the new car and bought a beat up ’57 Chevy pickup with a half-inch steel plate for the front bumper with three rubber tires wrapped vertically on it. I riveted window-wells for fenders in the back and spray-painted it all a cloud grey. Now who wants to play chicken? Nobody did.
I sold the pick-up and bought the 1937 Chev Master Deluxe four-door with the gangster (real gangster) running boards. The suicide-doors were a real touch of class. style. The car was, as far as I could tell, all original except that it was painted with a flat grey primer just waiting for the lustrous paint job.
A small hump ran the width of the trunk and down to the bumper. The windshield wipers were vacuum powered and worked ridiculously. I mean, if you gave the car gas they would swish furiously, but otherwise there was a long pause in between swipes.
No, Mom didn’t need to wake me that morning all those years ago. That was the first day Dad allowed me to drive that car to school so I was readily excited. I went to pick up my friend, Jerry. Just as I pulled into his long driveway the gangster car killed. Jerry had been my friend since we were in diapers. His mom used to change them while we were in the nursery at Hayden Height’s Baptist Church.
“Hey Legs…” my nickname when driving this car. Legs in actuality was a nickname for Jack Diamond. “Legs Diamond” was one of the celebrated gangsters from that era. Diamond was known for leading a flamboyant lifestyle, and he enjoyed being seen at nightclubs. He was a womanizer, and his best known mistress was showgirl and dancer Marion “Kiki” Roberts. The public loved Diamond, and for a time he was a media darling.
It’s unclear how he obtained the nickname “Legs,” but it’s generally believed it was derived either from his being a good dancer or from his uncanny ability to escape his enemies. I liked a photo of him wearing a suit with a diamond stick pin in his tie. I wanted the whole 30’s gangster look while driving the car. I even wore a white fedora to keep up appearances.
I told Jerry how the car had killed when I pulled in his driveway and that I couldn’t get it started again. We, or I got out and stood next to Jerry looking at the antique engine.
He said, “You get back in and when I tell you to turn it over go ahead and try it.”
His dad sauntered out of the one-car tiny garage and came over to see what was going on then told me, “I used to have one of these back in ’39. What seems to be the problem?”
He probably did have one back then. Jerry’s dad, John, was seventy years old. Heck Jerry’s oldest brother was my dad’s age (about 40). Dad was often looked upon as my brother and when customers said that aloud he would always quip, “Yeah and I’m the youngest!”
Jerry’s dad was calm about the situation. If it were my dad, hands would have been flying to accompany his swearing tongue and no doubt the car would have been punched many times. My dad was a helluva guy but he didn’t have patience nor did he desire to do so much as change the oil on a car. Dad paid to have all automobile work done and he liked it that way. He commanded good fees for his services and never complained about what another charged. He was a true-blue capitalist.
John asked me if I still had the crank for it?
“Really? It’s got a crank? I didn’t think they made them for a car this new.”
“Aaah, I used one many times on this model.” We rummaged through the trunk and sure enough, he found one.
John had me and Jerry try it per his instructions, but we couldn’t do it. Then I noticed him smelling the air and he matter-of-factly said, “It’s flooded. Let it sit for about five minutes and then try it again.”
He cranked it after positioning it just right and a couple cranks later – vroom, vroom. I was excited and thanked him.
John said, “I better follow you boys to school in case it breaks down again.”
He had just given it a fast, temporary fix but it held to get us to school and to make some rounds through the parking lot with kids jumping on the running boards and jumping off at the door to school.