Have Car, Will Travel

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

Being a bit of an insomniac, which is much the same as a maniac except you don’t get out of bed and shoot someone, I find my mind wanders in the wee hours. Last night I could hear the long-haul transports heading down the Highway 11 going to God knows where and I remembered how much I liked to listen to the sound late at night when I was a teenager. I don’t know why it fascinated me, but I suppose it was the thought of going somewhere, a place I had never been before.

This was around the time most of us had just learned to drive, and were thinking about buying an old clunker of car, putting in two dollars’ worth of gas and setting out for places unknown. You could go a long way on two bucks in the mid-fifties. None of us owned a car, of course, not like today when a kid gets a Ferrari for passing out of Grade Eight. We had to hope our dads weren’t using their cars.

Len Deverell almost always had his dad’s Pontiac, or was it a Chev? It was black, I remember that. Or was it midnight blue?

We never really went very far, Barrie maybe, but that would have been about as far as we would go. I don’t remember why we went down there. Barrie was a backward town in the 50s, much the same as it is today. They are nice folks, just a little, you know, slow. Most evenings we just drove up the main street to somewhere around Albert Street, turned around and went back down to Matchedash, turning around in J.W. Clarke Motors and heading right back up, over and over and over again. Kind of dumb now that I think about it. This would go on for hours until we had just enough gas left to get to Len’s house and leave his dad with an empty tank. That was OK because my kids did it to me years later. The late 70s and early 80s was payback time.

A friend of mine, Dave Branch, was given a 1927 Chev by an uncle, or someone. I would like to say it was a roadster, but I’m afraid it had the racy body styling of a block of wood. When he picked up this ancient relic it had but 7,000 painstaking miles on the speedometer. Thanks to his rigid programme of careful maintenance and meticulous care, the Chev disintegrated before it clicked over the 8. We once had it up to 55 miles per hour. The engine sounded like we had picked up a jackhammer along the way. 

The ’27 had a well under the back seat that held a dozen beers and a load of ice. It always amazed me that the design engineers at GM could have foreseen the need for such a reservoir twenty years before the invention of the drive-in theatre. They were either a crew of technical geniuses a generation before their time or a roomful of hopeless drunks who had the stuff stashed all over the place. I suspect the latter.

The Chevy also had a trunk. But it wasn’t the spacious and carpeted cavern we know today. The trunk on the ’27 was a metal box about 2’ deep sitting over the rear bumper. One evening as we pulled into the drive-in, the O.P.P. were checking cars at the gate looking for beer (grass and drugs were but a figment of some San Francisco crack-head’s imagination in the mid-fifties). When the police got to us, the officer asked if he could look in the trunk. Dave said “Certainly, sir!” and off the two of them went to sort through the greasy wrenches, empty pop bottles and oily rags that called the box home.

Dave then proceeded to thank the officer for the force’s diligence in protecting the young people of the area from harm. As an aside, he expressed his personal disappointment that some young chaps would drink while underage and in illegal places, thereby besmirching the reputations of the clean-cut and law-abiding young gentlemen peeking out the back window.

In a world of BS, it must rank up there with George Dubbya’s excuse for bombing Iraq.

The officer thanked us for our co-operation and let us pass through. He probably told his partner that those little buggers have booze somewhere, but anyone who would feed a cop a line of crap like that deserved a beer.

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