CHAPTER 2 – Get Out of My Dreams, Get Into My Car
In the north suburbs of Kansas City, thereâ€™s not really much to do. Itâ€™s not a walking part of town, so if you want to go anywhere, you need transportation. Thereâ€™s even less to do for a kid of 16 in the late â€˜80â€™s. So you absolutely needed a car if you wanted to go to a Royals game, or head to Worlds of Fun – the cityâ€™s amusement park.
But mostly, kids just cruised up and down North Oak in their souped up cars. Not me. I didnâ€™t even have a car yet. And the ink was still wet on my license.
For now, I still had to be driven around by either Wheezy or borrow the visual birth control that is the Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser. We usually run with Lumpy and a couple other of our group. And Wheezyâ€™s truck comfortably fits one. Lumpyâ€™s ride has the back seat filled with Dr. Pepper bottles. What if we wanted to go find girls? I needed some wheels.
It is often said that you canâ€™t always get what you want, but if you try, you get what you need. I think that was… in the Bible? I donâ€™t remember. But later that week, my Uncle John called me with an opportunity.
As he drove up the street, I saw her. She was glorious as the sun shined off of her headlight – the one that was working. The bumper hung like a little crooked smile that you might see from a Hollywood actress.
It rumbled up the drive and parked with a high pitched squeal announcing its presence.
A 1976 Ford F-100 pickup truck. Color: Burnt Orange
â€œKid… $100. Itâ€™s yours.â€ I mean, I was no expert on cars, but that thing was worth at least $1000 without even looking at it. It drove fine. Well, I mean it would probably drive fine. You see, it had a shifter on the steering column. A â€œthree on the treeâ€ as those in the know liked to call it. And I couldnâ€™t drive a stick shift. But I was going to learn for sure. $100 was a steal. Iâ€™d simply be a fool NOT to buy it.
â€œHey Wheezy,â€ I said as he picked up the phone. â€œGet over here, I need you to teach me how to drive my new truck.â€
Later that afternoon he arrived.
â€œWhat a piece of shit. What did he pay you to take it off his hands?â€
â€œNo, you donâ€™t understand. It was only $100. I got a bargain. Look at it? Isnâ€™t it beautiful?â€
I guess when you juxtapose my 1976 beauty against the canary yellow 1977 Chevy Silverado, there is a slight difference between the two. I mean, his was washed and waxed. Plus, his was a year older. The newer models always are better. The wheels were shined to a bright glow. But my truck can look like that also. My truck had character.
â€œThe fucking tailgate doesnâ€™t even open.â€
â€œYeah, but thatâ€™s cosmetic. Look the radio plays AM!â€
â€œKool-Aid, the headlight is busted. Look at this thing. Thereâ€™s rust on the floorboard of the driverâ€™s seat?â€
â€œSo, youâ€™ll teach me how to drive it?â€
Just wait until the girls see this thing.
Road training took approximately two hours in the abandoned parking lot that used to be a shopping mall. The logistics of the shift were pretty easy to understand. But it took a great deal of nuance in order to get the truck to… you know… go.
Left foot is the clutch, then you pull the shifter on the steering column towards you and then down. Now hereâ€™s where the finesse comes in. While lifting slowly on the left clutch, youâ€™re moving your right foot from the brake pedal to the gas pedal. Thereâ€™s a happy spot right in the middle. Otherwise, you stall the truck and you have to start all over. This took approximately 20 attempts to get the car to move forward. More than a few curse words were uttered especially with Wheezy screaming at me every time I fucked it up. Which was often. That happy spot proved to be relatively hard to find. Perhaps a harbinger of the life to come.
But we eventually got it to go. Thatâ€™s great. Except thatâ€™s where you have to transition to phase two – actually driving. There were two more gears (excluding reverse, of course) on the truck and in order to get moving at any sort of speed at all, you had to take it out of first gear and then press down on the clutch at the same time driving the shifter from close to you, up and away from you. If you were looking at an â€œHâ€, take it from the lower left to the upper-right.
Important distinction, though. If you take it to the upper-left of the â€œHâ€ thatâ€™s reverse and it causes all hell to break loose. Grinding. Stopping. Cussing. Donâ€™t do that with your 1976 Ford F-100 truck. Please.
So this is how the next two hours went. Stop. First gear. Second gear. Stall. Stop. First gear. Stall. Stop. Second ge—wait, shit, put it down into first gear. It is how I would assume ants would assemble a building in the middle of the ocean. All over the place. But here we were figuring it out because I needed this rolling hard on if I was going to make my mark on the world.
Iâ€™m not going to tell you that it was graceful, and Iâ€™m not here to tell you that it was completely within the Department of Motor Vehicles laws for the Great State of Missouri, but I made it home behind the wheel.
The next few days were a blur of new-found freedom mixed with sheer terror as I learned to navigate the rust bucket of beauty along my neighborhood streets. Need something from the grocery store? Iâ€™ll go get it. Oh, my brother needs picked up from violin practice? No sweat. Itâ€™s not important that I donâ€™t have a seat belt for the passenger seat, or that the missing tailgate can make things quickly disappear out of the bed of the truck. I can haul whatever with ease! As long as I donâ€™t stop in the middle of a hill.
A man with a car, though, can do anything. He is a King. He is an explorer.
You tend to catch things when youâ€™re driving that you donâ€™t when youâ€™re a passenger, too. Like the lyrics to a really bad ass Guns N Roses or Poison song. Or that gas on the left side of the street is a little bit cheaper for about a day than the station on the right side of the street.
Thatâ€™s when I noticed the COMING SOON next to the new sign just to the left of the gas station and wedged between the auto parts store and the laundromat. PAULIEâ€™S PIZZA with a tiny little mustached man painted on the side who clearly looked like he was going to make some great pizza.
Empowerment behind the wheel being what it is, I wondered if they needed drivers to deliver their pizza. Look at me. Iâ€™ve had this truck for nearly a day, and Iâ€™m already popping off genius ideas.
I pulled the boat into the narrow strip mall and parked between a 1981 Toyota Tercel and an Indian motorcycle. The front door was being propped open by a painterâ€™s towel jammed in the door.
As I walked in, I could smell the odor of paint. And not that new stuff they use now. This was the lead-filled smell that would immediately put hair on your chest and a metallic taste in the back of your throat. Atop the third rung of a ladder was a beautiful woman with a very small paint brush. She was painting a small cardinal bird in some foliage of a mural on one of the walls.
â€œWeâ€™re not open yet.â€ A booming voice cried from the back. â€œWe donâ€™t open until Tuesday.â€ From the cloudy light and amidst hanging plastic, he walked to the front of the store. A hulking man. Jet black hair. With probably 200 pounds of extra weight on him. When he walked, with every step, he made a huff sound through his open mouth.
â€œOh, yeah. I get it. Iâ€™m sorry. I was just wondering if you needed… um… if you needed any drivers.â€
The man stopped dead in his tracks. He opened a big, toothy smile with a grin that you would never forget. â€œHey Frannie… this kid wants to know if we need pizza drivers. We need pizza drivers, right?â€
â€œOh hell yea we do, T.â€ Frannie turned at the waist without stopping painting the cardinal which now looked like an abstract red blob. â€œEvery pizza jointâ€™s gotta have a delivery driver.â€
T then looked back at me beaming with the look of someone about to become a father for the first time. â€œBe back Tuesday ready to work. We open at 4:00. Oh, and grab a few flyers and hand them out to your friends.â€
The flyer simply read â€œPAULIEâ€™S PIZZA GRAND OPENING – TUESDAY – 816-401-9999â€
I grabbed ten and bolted out the door.
Just two days since being a licensed driver and I was now employed. The world has opened a pandoraâ€™s box of opportunity.