Bland Theft Auto – Part 2

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Not the actual car that I helped steal, but you get the idea.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve stolen two cars in my life. The first one was a ’60s vintage pink Rambler. The second was a late model Ford — possibly a T-Bird or one of Ford’s other land yachts.

To be honest, I didn’t really get a good look at the car. It was dark, and I didn’t actually take the car. I was just an accomplice.

One summer night, I was walking down West Ninth Street in downtown Cleveland, headed to work at the lakefront docks. A guy sitting in a car with the hood up got my attention He told me he was stranded and asked if I knew how to hot-wire a Ford starter solenoid. I told him I did and he handed me a screwdriver.

I laid the blade of the screwdriver across the posts on the solenoid, which was mounted on the inside of the fender well. The engine turned over and started.

I handed him the screwdriver through the passenger side window. He asked if I needed a ride.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m just headed down the hill.”

Then I noticed the ignition switch dangling from the steering column.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


See other stories in my series, “Autobiography – My Life in Vehicles.”


Bland Theft Auto

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 21.21.24I’ve stolen two cars in my life. One was a pink Rambler.

So much for street creds.

The Rambler belonged to a co-worker. A former co-worker.

We worked together at a sheet-metal stamping plant on the West Side of Cleveland. One Friday, after we cashed our paychecks, he invited me to come along on a road trip to Tennessee. He often drove there on weekends to visit family.

His only relative in Cleveland was his father, a seedy old bisexual. I knew that because he hit on me in the men’s room at the plant. I doubted that his son knew.

By the time we reached dead man’s curve on I-71 — the one out by the airport — the check oil light came on. We pulled over and raised the hood. The engine was so hot it glowed.

“It uses a lot of oil,” he said.

We got off at the next exit and bought four one-gallon cans of bulk oil.

It took forever to get to Tennessee, stopping every fifty miles to refill the crankcase.

We had an OK time with the relatives. They treated me like family and fed us well. And we drank prodigious amounts of whiskey.

Come Sunday night, he announced that he wasn’t going back to Cleveland.

“Fuck that,” I said, and grabbed the car keys.

As far as I know, he never returned to Cleveland. I kept the car and ran it into the ground, which took all of a month.

The other car? Another story for another time.


This is another installment in my Autobiography series. In case you hadn’t guessed.




’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.

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.


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






Autobiography — My Life in Vehicles

Another installment — Chevy van of uncertain vintage


Heisted photo depicting 1970s cheese – and a van similar to the one I drove for Harold Supply on Cleveland’s West Side.

I pulled into the parking lot behind the bar. Everywhere I looked there were unmarked police cars – occupied by unmarked policemen. Dicks. Feds perhaps. But I repeat myself.

It was the last delivery of the day. I loaded the two-wheeled dolly with cartons – beer glasses, bar napkins, candles in colored oval jars bound in white plastic mesh, that sort of shit.

I wrestled the dolly through the back door and into the kitchen. The cook motioned for me to leave the cartons by the storeroom door.

I went into the bar to collect. One of Harold Supply’s C.O.D. customers. A lot of them were.

“What are all those unmarked cop cars doing out back?,” I asked the barkeep.

He made a beeline for the kitchen. Next thing I know, the cook ran past me lugging a cardboard box crammed with papers and bolted out the front door.