’72 Ford Torino – A Classic Crap Car

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’72 Torino in my favorite color – monkeyshit brown.

My downstairs neighbors in Cleveland Heights suspected I was crazy. When they looked out their window to see me hopping around in the snow and undressing, that confirmed it.

In the early ’80s, I was the plowed owner of a 1972 Ford Torino. Yes, plowed. It was one of the cars I owned in a period of my life when I was drunk or stoned much of the time.

It might have been the Torino that drove me to drinking. It broke down frequently and making repairs inevitably proved disastrous. That fateful day in Cleveland Heights was no exception.

Generally, changing a thermostat is a simple operation. Not with the Torino. It probably didn’t help that I was under the influence at the time.

I unbolted the thermostat housing without letting the pressure off at the radiator cap. In those days, I wore cotton long johns. (I wouldn’t discover the wonders of wool until the ’90s.) Hot coolant spewed out like Old Faithful, dowsing my torso.

Panicked at the prospect of the hot green coolant wicking down to my genitalia, I stripped off my clothes on the spot … only to look up and see my neighbors at their window, staring in disbelief.

It gets better.

After going upstairs to change my clothes, I went back to work. I pulled the thermostat housing, removed the old thermostat and carefully applied the gasket cement and gasket. I replaced the lost coolant and got behind the wheel to start the Torino so I could check for leaks.

As I put the key in the ignition, I looked on the seat to my right. There was the new thermostat — still in the package.

This post is part of the Autobiography – My Life in Vehicles series.

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Reflections on Martin Luther King Day

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To this day, I honor the memory of Azadi.

This is probably not a popular opinion — especially these days — but I grew up with a sense of duty to my black brothers and sisters. I felt obligated to make amends for the evils my forefathers visited upon them.

I make no apologies for it.

In 1973, I reached across the Cuyahoga River, a symbolic divide in a segregated Cleveland. Responding to an article in the Muntu Drum, a black-oriented student newspaper published at Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus, I sought out an East Cleveland woman who called herself Azadi.

The article said Azadi was running a busing program, taking families and loved ones of prison inmates to visit them. The program was based on mutual respect and self-respect. If you couldn’t afford the meager fare, you could pay your way by volunteering your services to the program. That could be in the form of washing vans, helping with paperwork, running errands, whatever. The article also mentioned that Azadi desperately needed drivers. I found my calling.

For the next 14 years, until I moved to Columbus, I served as a volunteer driver. Those duties were later expanded to fleet maintenance and – at times – Azadi’s chauffeur. Azadi suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, which eventually claimed her life. Still, she managed to run the program, earn a college degree and inspire a lot of us to serve our community. In the early ’80s, I drove her to classes at Cleveland State University, literally carrying her at times from the van to her wheelchair or into and out of her East Cleveland apartment.

The motto of the People’s Busing Program was “Keeping Families Together.” The idea being that, if prison inmates could maintain contact with loved ones, they would be less likely to re-offend after being released.

That philosophy wasn’t limited to inmates; it helped keep my family together. My late father, who had instilled in me the values of fair play and respect, later joined me as a volunteer driver. The time spent together driving the inmates’ wives, mothers, and children to visit them at Ohio prisons strengthened our bond.

My dad and I also became a part of Azadi’s family joining them for social functions and, finally, in mourning her.

 

 

 

 

Autobiography (ctd.)

A long time ago in a Galaxy Falcon far, far away

Cue Star Wars theme music.

A dark summer night in Cleveland Heights. The Millennium Falcon (played by a 1963 Ford Falcon) careens over curbs and across tree lawns in a residential neighborhood. Hot in pursuit is a TIE fighter (played by a shitbox Plymouth Fury with bad suspension).

At the controls of the Falcon is Luke Skywalker (played by yours truly, a dead ringer for Gregg Allman). In the passenger seat sits his damsel in distress, Princess Leia (played by an underage female of African-American descent). She looks out the rear window of the Falcon, anxiously watching the pursuing TIE fighter. The Plymouth was occupied by three young punks, pimp wannabes.

It all started in Cain Park, as did many of my misadventures in those days – the early ’80s. Cain Park was my personal Bermuda Triangle. I couldn’t set foot in the place without getting into trouble. That summer night was no exception.

I was walking through the park when the young woman ran up to me, pleading for help. I heard approaching footsteps. She bolted into the night, pursued by three male teens.

I was no Obi-Wan Kenobi, but it was clear that I was her only hope.

I sprung into action, sprinting to my apartment building two blocks away. I fired up my trusty Falcon — with its 170 cubic inches of raw firepower — and sputtered off into the night.

As luck would have it, I spotted her running across a side street near the park, her pursuers hot on her heels. I drove at them, horn blaring. They scattered long enough for me to stop, throw open the passenger door and yell for her to get in. She did and I sped away.

In the rear-view mirror I watched her pursuers gather themselves from the pavement and run to the Plymouth, which had been parked outside a convenience store. The chase was on.

The Plymouth — most likely powered by a V-8 — had more horsepower than my inline 6-cylinder engine. However, I’d recently replaced the rear springs in the Falcon and it was riding pretty high compared to the Plymouth, with its sagging suspension. I realized the only way to put distance between us would be to go up over curbs and other obstacles. which the Falcon could clear and they couldn’t.

I wended my way down to the Cleveland Heights police station and pulled into the lot, horn blaring. They pulled in after me, realized where I had led them and beat a hasty retreat into the night.

My damsel in distress explained that her malefactors were boys from her East Cleveland neighborhood, bent on getting her to turn tricks for them.

I drove her straight to a domestic violence shelter and explained the situation. They took her in.

When I got off work the next day, I drove to the shelter to see how she was doing. A woman at the shelter told me the girl had checked out and called someone to pick her up — a bunch of guys in a beat-up Plymouth.

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’63 Falcon – NOT to be confused with my Millennium Falcon, which was black and had air in the tires.

 

 

 

 

 

I Flunked Recess

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Orchard Elementary School – My alma muddle

I flunked recess.

Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. In reality, I consistently got poor marks in “Works and Plays Well With Others.”

This was offset by good grades in the “Offers Good Ideas” category. Which usually went something like this:

Teacher: “Irvin, I see you have your hand up.”

Me: “Yes, I have a good idea.”

Teacher: “Splendid, Irvin, and what idea would that be?”

Me: “The idea that everyone should leave me the fuck alone.”

And so it went.

I struggled in school from day one. Partly because of undiagnosed hearing issues. I often misunderstood what the teachers and others said.

Middle birth order might have been another factor. Middle-born children tend to be underachievers. Unfortunately, this was in an era before Bart Simpson liberated us — made it OK for us to be underachievers and proud of it.

I dwelt in my own little world – misunderstanding and misunderstood. Fortunately, this was in the 1950s, before Attention Deficit Disorder had been invented. It would have been a pity to have been misdiagnosed with that.

Instead, I was just another fucked up kid. And I was OK with that.

 

Back when ‘thumb drive’ meant something else

greenripleybridgeAfter graduating high school in 1970, I hit the open road. I’d work a somewhere for a few months, save up a couple hundred dollars, then head out on a hitchhiking trip.

It was an education no university could offer.

On one such trip, I made it from Cleveland to L.A. and back in three rides. On another, I was robbed and ended up in jail in Upstate New York. After they released me, I continued on my trip to the East Coast, where I was dropped off at a mansion in Cambridge, Mass., and given the run of the place.

The uncertainty only added to the allure.

Was it dangerous? Sure. But, to me, living without adventure wasn’t living at all.

More in future posts in my “Autobiography” series.

 

 

 

The Day Willy Rear-Ended a Boat

Autobiography – My Life in Vehicles Part VII

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 11.46.31It was a classic one-sided phone conversation. Best one I ever heard.

I was in the dispatch office – a former Fleet Wing gas station on West Ninth Street, next to the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway bridge. We usually stopped there before heading out on our truck runs.

My boss, Walter Johnson, answered the phone.

“Willy, why are you calling me?,” he said. “You’re supposed to be driving to Lorain.”

Willy’s run took him from Cleveland to Lorain and back via U.S. 6, which followed the shore of Lake Erie.

“You what?” Walt exclaimed, his eyes lighting up with surprise and anger. “You ran into a boat?”

There was a pause.

“Was it in the water?”

Turns out it wasn’t. Willy, a character in his own right, had rear-ended at boat, which was on a trailer being towed by a truck.

Walt didn’t fire him. Months later, Willy quit after winning a big medical malpractice settlement — the result of his wife dying in a hospital mishap. I inherited his Lorain truck run.

It led to one of the most bizarre chapters of my life – and college.

 

 

Death Cab

Death Cab

Autobiography – My Life in Vehicles, Part VI

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Ford L-Series. My boss had a small fleet of them.

I couldn’t help but notice the huge blood stain on the headliner of truck 66. The burgundy splatter pattern loomed above my head in the cab — a constant reminder of a fatal crash.

 

I wouldn’t learn the gory details until I’d been driving the truck for a couple of months — nightly runs from Cleveland to Akron and back. I was hauling U.S. Mail for a contractor named Walter Johnson. (More on Walter in future posts.)

On that fateful night, I backed truck 66 up to the dock at the Cleveland Parcel Post Annex on West Ninth Street. It was a Sunday night and the only one around was an old black man. He fit right in with the dreary setting of the lakefront loading dock — weathered face, glazed eyes, grimy coveralls, tattered work gloves.

He looked at the number on the back of the truck.

“Number 66,” he muttered. “Man died in that truck one night.”

As he rolled several carts of mail into the back of the truck, he described the accident in  detail. Apparently, the driver who wasn’t wearing a seat belt, took a curve too sharply and the truck toppled onto its left side.

“He went out the window and got pinned between the top of the cab and the street, almost cut him in two,” he said, closing the overhead door on the back of the truck.

My stomach churned as I climbed down from the dock.

As I headed toward the cab, I heard the old man say, “And he was a white boy — just like you.”