I wrote the other day about my trip to San Francisco in the summer of 1958, but, after I posted it, I realized I’d left out a few details. I’d driven to California in my 1951 Buick with the intention of selling it there I’d heard that there was such a shortage of cars on the West Coast that you could sell a used car for double the price that it would bring in the Midwest. Because I’d had some transmission problems and was worried about my car surviving much longer, I decided to dispose of it. I took it to a big used car dealer when I got to San Francisco, but the guy showed no interest. He said, while there was in fact a shortage of good used cars in California, nobody would want to buy my car. Dejected, I parked it next to a city park in my neighborhood and moved it every few days to avoid getting a ticket.
As I mentioned previously, Bill H., a fellow Antiochian, asked in early August if I’d like to drive back to Yellow Springs from San Francisco, and I said I would. We agreed to share the driving and do the trip nonstop. We left on a Saturday morning. However, as soon as Bill began his stint at the wheel, it became clear our plan wouldn’t work out. He had had some lessons as a high school student and possessed a driver’s license, but, as a city person, he’d never really driven a car on his own. He wobbled over the center line, got unduly nervous when a car passed him, and was generally overwhelmed by the demands of highway driving. After a harrowing mile or two he said he didn’t feel comfortable driving, and I said I wasn’t comfortable either. Actually I was terrified. We decided that I would do the driving, and he would stay awake, read the map, and keep me company.
We travelled through California and into Nevada, then started climbing the Rockies. I was worried about the Buick making it, but it chugged its way up for miles and miles. As we descended on the Colorado side of the mountains, a gas station guy told me that my brakes were getting hot and that I should wait till they cool down, then avoid braking as much as possible. I followed his advice, and we coasted down the ten thousand foot descent to the flat lands below. Night fell, and I drove and drove and drove. We went from Colorado to Nebraska. I took NoDoz and drank a lot of coffee, and Bill helped to keep me awake by telling stories. After about thirty-hours of driving with only two or three brief rest room stops, we reached the outskirts of Kansas City. I was functioning pretty much like a zombie by that point. I ran a red light in the suburbs and almost immediately heard a siren behind me. The police officer checked my driver’s license, noting that I was from Michigan, and asked if I’d seen the red light. I said I did see it, but I’d chosen not to stop. He looked at me perplexed and asked why that was. I said that a guy in the mountains had told me my brakes were hot and that I should us them as little as possible. I was worried that my brakes might fail if I hit them too hard. The policeman was startled. “The mountains? What mountains?” he asked. “The Rockies,” I said. The policeman was taken aback and shook his head. “The Rockies?” He explained to me the Rockies were over a thousand miles away. I suddenly realized that I’d been in a heightened state of vigilance for the last fifteen hours, my right foot poised to avoid using my presumably hot brakes the whole time. The policeman was polite but firm. He said I should leave the state of Missouri as soon as possible. I should go straight back to Michigan. Then he let us go on our way.
We did get back to Yellow Springs without further incident. We’d taken one three-hour nap in the car, but, basically, I’d driven forty-plus hours in a row. While the car did make it to the coast and back, I still didn’t feel good about how it was running. Later in the school year my friend Newt was talking about his desire to have a car, and I told him he could have mine. He didn’t feel it was fair to take it for nothing, so he gave me thirty dollars. It wasn’t much, but I felt relieved. Then a couple months later, Newt also decided the car wasn’t doing that well, and, since he’d gotten his thirty dollars out of it, he gave it away to Art F. That was the last I heard of it until I went home over spring break. On my first day home my dad suggested we take a walk on the road, always a bad sign that I was going to hear about some serious life error that I’d made. My dad was really angry this time. It turned out that my car had been found abandoned on the New York Thruway. Because the car was in my dad’s name, he had received a bill for over a thousand dollars in fines and associated costs. I tried to explain that I didn’t own the car any more, that I’d sold it to Newt who had then given it to Art. My dad asked if I’d had the title for the car transferred to Newt in Ohio, and I said we didn’t bother doing that. This only made him still angrier, since he had been legally liable for any potential accidents my friends might have gotten into. My dad insisted I contact Art right away and get him to pay back the thousand dollars. I knew that Art didn’t have any money, so that this was an unlikely possibility, but I said I would try. And that was the end of my first distressing experience as a car owner.