Category: Cars

Cars

I’m sure the last thing you’d probably expect to see me do is waste a blog post talking about some of the cars I’ve owned over the years. But, I’m very nostalgic (as most of you already know) and considering that it’s been more than a quarter century since I really came into my own as a solo driver, I decided to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about two of the first automobiles that got me around on the highways and byways of this land that I love.

corona

After you first receive your official drivers license, one of the coolest things you can do is go used-car shopping with your parents. There are aisles and aisles of horsepower as far as the eye can see, and having a say as to what car you’ll be showing off at school is one of the most important social decisions any new conqueror of the K-turn can have.

My very first car was a gray 1973 Toyota Corona wagon that my Mom purchased for $500 (along with some money I had made from working at McDonalds). It was 1986 and truth be told, I didn’t even care what kind of engine was under the hood. Four? Six? Eight cylinders? None of that nonsense even mattered to me. For all I knew, it could’ve had hamsters running in those wheel thingies for power (and if you must know, sometimes the car really did seem to drive that way).

As new drivers often do, I drove my gray Corona everywhere. Always looking for any excuse or opportunity to take it on some errand, whether up the street or across town. And considering that gasoline was around .89 cents a gallon at the time, it only made sense. Yes sir, once I became legal walking and bicycle riding went the same route as the dinosaur as far as I was concerned.

I still remember the very first day I drove it to school too. With my trusty neighbor Mike riding shotgun, we drove the back roads of Easton in the early morning sunshine. Windows down and the radio blasting Ozzy, we slowly made our way into the upper parking lot of Easton High School.

Once parked, we gathered our brown paper bag covered text books and made our way inside, making sure to give a salute to the poor unfortunates who had just arrived via the dingy, yellow school bus. It was the least I could do to let them know I still cared a bit for their plight.

Sadly, my beloved Corona began to deteriorate over the course of the school year. In December, the headlights just stopped working for no apparent reason. The following March, the right front fender began rusting off and peeling away. Fortunately for me, duct tape was the same color as my car and worked well to hold things together, but rust eventually would become my Corona’s worst enemy. At one point, the passenger side door would not open at all and in order to get in you literally had to pull a “Dukes of Hazzard” and climb through the window.

Shortly before graduation, the poor Toyota was involved in a wreck (would you believe I was turning into on coming traffic and someone just hit me?) Sadly, it was time to say good-bye to my beloved friend.

But that was when fate stepped in.

Because around that same time, my Aunt sold her well maintained 1974 Ford Torino to my brother. Bro had been driving the car for a few months, but started moving on to Mach 1 Mustangs and pick-up trucks. In a true example of brotherly love, he entrusted his beloved Torino into my care.

torino

I was so in love with this car that I even had my picture taken next to it right before I went to attend graduation and get my HS diploma.

This car provided me quality transportation for many months post high school; being my trusty steed on youthful excursions to the mall and spending late nights parked at the Starlite Drive-Inn watching movies.

But one evening, while coming home from the mall with a bunch of friends disaster struck. I remember we were driving on the highway, just a few miles from home when I heard this blaringly loud “pop” and the engine light came on. The car was slowing down rapidly, and it felt as though I had just run over some huge piece of metal. I was fortunate to get the car off of the busy highway and onto the shoulder just as the engine completely shut off and would not re-fire.  All of the love I once had for this car immediately turned into rage.

A day later, after the Torino had been towed back to the house, my brother freaked out on me. He just couldn’t understand how his well maintained 14 year old car had suddenly blown up without warning. He did some quick checking of things under the hood and then asked me the one question that to this day I still don’t have a proper answer for:

“WHY DIDN’T YOU EVER CHECK THE OIL??”

Oil? OIL? I had driven the car for months and months and honestly, the thought of checking the oil level had never occurred to me. In my defense though, this was 1988 and you would think technology had developed enough to at the very least have a warning light come on to alert me that the engine was almost out of oil. But it wasn’t meant to be. Not a drop of oil was found in the engine and it had seized; blowing a piston into the crankshaft and destroying it completely. The car was dead.

The formerly “well-maintained” Ford Torino would now sit in silence on the hill outside of our home until I could afford the $300 to put a replacement engine into it. But even with the engine replaced, the Torino never ran quite the same again and, much like it’s predecessor, eventually went to junk car heaven.

I thought of this story again today (in November of 2013) when the “Maintenance” light came on my 2012 Toyota Corolla. Needless to say, I have a 15,000 mile appointment tomorrow morning.

I’m taking no chances.

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I Was Born A Rambler Man

And when it’s time for leavin’, I hope you’ll understand … That I was born a ramblin’ man… (Allman Brothers)

I suppose it might have been a bit more apropos had I been riding in the backseat of a Greyhound bus when I saw it. But the truth is, I was sitting in the front seat of my 2012 Toyota Corolla on my way home from work.

I was driving over a hill near my home; one that I had ridden over countless times before and there it was, sitting majestically in the late afternoon sun: A rusted out 1964 AMC Rambler.

Now, you’d be hard pressed to find me discussing anything other than a Mustang when it comes to classic cars. I grew up with the pony car. My father, brother, cousins and uncles all owned them, and every Wood from the South Side of Easton to the outskirts of Palmer Township drove them up and down the strip from the late 70’s right to this very day.

But for some reason, seeing the beat up old Rambler sitting on the side of the road brought back the ultimate memory for me. For you see, not only is a Rambler the very first car I ever remember my family owning, it’s also one of my earliest childhood memories.

It was a beat up machine, much like the one that now sat idle on the hillside near my home. I couldn’t even tell you what kind of transmission it had or any of the optional equipment. All I knew was, it was green and a daily driver for my grandfather in the early 1970’s. From the very first day I had memories of my own, I remember him pulling it up along side the house, beeping the horn and asking me to go for a ride with him to the hardware store across town.

As a five-year old boy, the chance to ride shot-gun with your grandfather is an opportunity not to be missed. It was equivalent to the feeling of getting a new toy for Christmas. Time spent together was priceless, and I immediately dropped whatever it was I was doing at the time and hopped in.

I recall the front seat of the car was well-worn and had holes in it. To help keep the springs from coming up and poking us, my grandmother covered the seating area with one of her many summer dresses. I wasn’t the least bit worried that the pattern of the dress didn’t match the rest of the interior. All I cared about was the drive with my grandfather.

That car meant a lot to everyone. So much so that when my grandfather suffered a stroke and could no longer keep it, it was given to my Aunt and Uncle who lived next door. They had three children of their own and over the next several years the Rambler became the car each of them learned how to drive with. As I got older, I began to think of it as an heirloom; a car that would be passed down among all the children and would eventually wind up in my possession.

As it came closer to becoming my turn to take ownership of the green Rambler, the unthinkable happened. My cousin (who was the current owner of the Rambler) broke tradition and instead of passing it down, decided to sell the car instead. The last I ever saw of the little green Rambler was the day the new owner drove away in it. Although I would eventually learn how to drive in my cousin’s 1986 Dodge Colt; a car that was much easier to learn in than one 22 years its senior, it still wasn’t the Rambler.

Much like how the tooth fairy, Easter bunny and Santa Claus all became distant memories for me over time as I got older, so too did the little green Rambler. That was until today. If only for an instant, I was five again and it was wonderful.

As I drove off into the twilight and looked back at the Rambler, now fading into the distance, a smile came across my face. I thought how funny it was that an inanimate object could make me think of some of the best times of my life.

And what I wouldn’t give right now to take another ride with my grandfather in the Rambler.

The Day I (Almost) Became A Superhero

1976 Chevrolet Vega

I got into a conversation over drinks last night with a bunch of friends from high school. Guys I hadn’t seen in years. In between manly talk of girls that were gotten and grid iron glory the topic of real true greatness came up.

One friend told us about how he had almost been drafted by a local minor league baseball team. He pounded his chest telling us all of how if it hadn’t been for a nagging knee injury he would surely have had a career as a New York Yankee.

Glasses were raised and drunken chants of “Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!” could be heard by half-drunken middle-aged men from our little corner of the bar.

More grunts and groans soon surfaced with tales of lost treasure and a futile attempt to be cast as an extra in a Tom Hanks movie. Finally it was my turn.

I don’t really like to brag but there once was a day where I almost became a superhero. Now before you go having your doubts and laughing like they did let me tell you the same story I told them. I didn’t rescue a cat from a tree or save a girl tied to the railroad tracks by some nefarious fiend. But I did almost stop a speeding bullet once.

Well, in this case it was a car.

It was the summer of 1985, the year I was going to turn sixteen and get my driver’s license. As a child there are really only three birthdays you look forward to. The first one being your 10th birthday when you’re finally in “double digits”. Next is the year you turn 16 and get your driver’s license (and if you’re female, a “sweet sixteen” party might also be in the cards). Finally, your 18th birthday when you officially become an adult. At least as far as the courts are concerned.

I had already applied for my learners permit and could not wait to get behind the wheel of my own car. Any car! It didn’t matter if it was my Mom’s 1985 Chevy Spectrum or my Dad’s 1965 Ford Mustang…I just wanted to drive.

Growing up in a “car” family there was almost always a beat up clunker sitting on our property. Usually these cars would appear out of no where from relatives or friends when they were broken down. They’d then just sit on the hill next to our house until they were either fixed up or hauled away. As “luck” would have it, there was a car sitting on the hill that summer.

It was a 1976 Chevy Vega. A car that my brother Bones had driven until it broke down and he moved on to driving a truck. It was a white, stick shift beauty with red and blue pin stripes. I assumed that the unique color combination and pin striping had something to do with the Bicentennial celebration which made it even cooler to me. Even though I had only driven cars with automatic transmissions very short distances and had absolutely no idea how to drive stick I immediately fell in love with it and could think of no better vehicle to have as my first car.

A rare picture of where the Vega sat on the hill. The bottom right of the photo is the side of my house.

I had spoken to Bones about the car and he informed me that it needed a new carburetor before it could run. Day after day I would peer out the window at the Vega sitting on the hill and dreamed of me taking it out on the road for the first time. I could picture myself with dark sunglasses on cruising the strip and giving “the look” to the girls as I drove by. I couldn’t think of anything better than having a beautiful female riding shotgun in my first car. Unfortunately, my desire to get the car on the road soon became overwhelming.

It was a typical summer afternoon and I had absolutely nothing to do. Bones was away and it was only me and my Grandmother at home. I was so tired of seeing the Chevy Vega sitting lifeless and the thought occurred to me to move it down the hill. Although I knew it wouldn’t run the least I could do is put it in a better place so when we did get the new carburetor for it we could install it easier.

I went out to the car, hopped in and put it in neutral. I started to rock it back and forth a bit to get it to move but it wouldn’t budge. Suddenly a little voice in my head began telling me: “Bones is going to be pissed when he finds out you moved this car!” Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time I ignored my conscience.

Inside the car I noticed the steering wheel was moving freely and I thought to myself “This should be easy” but as I continued to rock back and forth the car still wouldn’t move. A dilemma. What to do?

I exited the car and went around to the front to see what could possibly be keeping the car from moving. I noticed that a large brick had been placed underneath the front tire and my pushing from inside wasn’t enough to move the car over the brick.

What happened next still remains a blur to me.

For some reason I got the brilliant idea to tug on the front fender of the car to help get it “over the hump” if you will. Sure enough, I succeeded. The car started to roll down the hill. Only one problem, I was in FRONT of the car and not safely inside controlling it.

Did you ever have one of those experiences where your life flashes in front of your eyes? One where you relive all of the things that have happened to you in your short life span of sixteen years? Well, this wasn’t one of those times. I was too damn scared.

All I remember as I’m trying to hold the car back as we’re both going down the hill were the following four sentences: “Gotta stop this car… Gotta stop this car! … I CAN DO THIS!! ..Uh, oh – this is NOT going to end well.”

CRASH!!!!

The next thing I know I am pinned between a 1976 Chevy Vega, a metal swing and the side of my house. I am literally afraid to move because I think bones have been broken and internal organs damaged beyond repair.

As I’m slowly coming to my wits I hear a pissed off Grandmother coming from inside. “JIMMY – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”.  Then she suddenly realizes that her favorite grandson (yep, I said it) was trapped in twisted metal and she immediately begins to scream “Oh my God…JIMMY!”

It’s at this point I realized that the damage to me wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened to the swing or the house and I somehow managed to get out of the twisted mess. Since it was quite obvious there’s nothing a seventy year old woman was going to be able to do to help me, she gets on the phone and calls my brother.

As I’m sitting on the side of the porch shaking like a leaf and looking at the gash in my lower abdomen I kept thinking of the beating I was going to take when Bones saw what happened. He was one of those brothers who liked to pummel you if you even breathed next to his food so I figured an extended hospital stay was definitely in my future.

Needless to say, I was relieved that he decided to give me more of a verbal than physical beating when I told him the story of how I stood in front of the moving car rolling down the hill and into the house. But one question he asked about my ordeal still sticks with me:

“Who did you think you were, Superman?”

I guess in some strange way I guess I did. At least for one day and I almost pulled it off. So whether or not you want to categorize this as true greatness you have to admit one thing. My story is way better than any baseball career or being an extra in a movie.

And I still have the scar to prove it.

Ford Mustang

Summer time in the 1980’s rocked for me.  We had an above ground swimming pool that all the neighborhood kids would congregate at following a day of childhood reverie.  I remember  the cook outs my family used to have. There were entire clans of Wood (and those relatives with different last names but no less in equal standing) for as far as the eye can see.

Burgers on the grill, cold A-treat soda (yeah, we were ghetto) and the challenge of the quoit board awaited. As dusk settled in and everyone would now be deep in food coma it wouldn’t be long before Uncle Jim (who I was named after) would start in about playing poker.

The greatest thing I remember during the festivities was one summer taking a walk with one of my cousins. We would stroll by everyone’s parked cars lining the driveway.  There was Marlene’s white Ford Escort, Aunt  Babe,  Aunt Ree and Aunt Ron’s 1970’s baby blue volkswagon beetle and even Dave’s Jeep Wrangler.

But then it was like the heaven’s parted and a single spotlight shone on one car in particular. My Dad’s friend John Paul Jones (not the dude from Led Zeppelin he coincidentally had the same name and we liked to call him that) had a 1966 Ford Mustang that was the coolest, deepest shade of blue you’d ever see. Black interior with the chrome mag wheels. I never rode in it but I could hear him coming from miles away. It screamed.

John and my Dad were huge Mustang fans. I grew up around them and have loved them from the get go. In some families, you’re measured by how successful you are. How much college you had or how big your house is.  When I was a kid, the measurement was whether or not you had a Mustang.