Friday, April 10, 2009

My First Car

Moby Dick, "The Great White Whale", was my first car: a 1964 Ford Custom. He had a 250 c.i. straight six, with a one-barrel carburetor. There was enough room for me to get in the engine compartment, if necessary. A three-speed column shift completed the drive-train. After the second time the shifting tube in the steering column broke, I had a Hurst shifter put in on the floor. Sometimes the linkage got hung up, necessitating a wrestling match with a tire iron under the car. The ignition had points (as did the voltage regulator!): tuneups were an art, done as much be ear as eye ("If it pings, back off the distributor!"). After 150,000 miles, a mechanic friend declared Moby to be "Perfectly worn out". He rebuilt the engine and we got another century out of Moby.

Moby seemed (by today's standards) to be huge, until I compared him to my friend John's Cadillac: a '62 convertible, also white, with fins, that clocked in at over twenty feet. A true land yacht. You could almost see the bow-wave when you cornered. Moby's trunk was big enough to camp in (this was when the trunk was bigger than the hood). Inside, he boasted two bench seats and plenty of leg room. A we used to say, seats six or sleeps two. There were even two seat belts in the front. My father figured I couldn't kill myself if I tried. He was right. I inherited Moby in '66--I was 18. He had been the family battle-wagon for several years and was just broken in. I was the load-master and could just about make his tail drag.

When I started attending concerts "Down Below" (sounds like Hell!), Moby was the steed of choice. Five or six of us would pile in, rolling joints and swigging from quart bottles of Cuervo Special. I was accounted a steady driver who didn't become too incapacitated and didn't sleep too much, although midnight trips back from the Forum were sometimes mysterious, with involuntary lane-changes and other late-night phenomena. I usually couldn't hear too well--my ears would ring for several days after some concerts.

Moby accelerated like an arthritic tortoise. Some of my first conscious prayers were to keep from being squashed by trucks when entering the freeways. How I longed for the belchfire V-8! With gas three gallons for a dollar, we didn't give a damn about mileage. After I got married, we decided to leave Gomorrah-by-the-Bay and return to Lancaster, or as my son calls it, the Mojave Triangle. I sadly decided to leave my faithful steed in S.F. My wife had a German Opel (or Offal). It was my first European experience--but hardly a love affair. Siempre viva! Great White Whale.

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