The Red Pony
As my youngest son was growing up he dreamed of three things… a driver’s license, a girlfriend and an old Ford Mustang.
As he approached his sixteenth birthday we began looking on eBay for an old Mustang. It was a great father and son activity. (The license and girlfriend were his jobs!) After many months, nights, bids, disappointments and a great deal of patience, we finally found the “perfect” car in the small town of Washington, PA, just outside Pittsburgh. It was a one owner vehicle owned by an elderly gentleman with health issues. We examined the pictures, read the info and finally placed a bid. We were the winners.
Being somewhat of a skeptic, I rented a car from a local Hertz office on Roosevelt Blvd., grabbed both my eager son and a good friend of mine (who happens to be an excellent mechanic) and headed west on the turnpike. I hoped we were not on a fool’s errand. If nothing else, I thought it would be a great “shared” experience for me and my son.
Our plan was simple. If the “little pony” we had bid on was anywhere near as described, we would purchase it on the spot and return the rental car to the Pittsburgh airport Hertz car rental booth. Then we would head home with our newly acquired prize. Otherwise, we would just smile, keep the cash in my pocket and drive back to the Hertz office in Philadelphia.
The car was everything it was described to be. It drove beautifully. So we dropped the rental car off to Hertz and carefully headed home on the PA turnpike. As we passed Monroeville, I was going a steady thirty miles an hour, listening for unusual noises and strange objects. By Johnstown we were going fifty and enjoying the scenery. By Harrisburg we were going almost eighty and looking for police cars. It proved to be a very enjoyable victory lap… one my son and I will remember for many “miles.”
Gabe loved the car. Every evening, after school, we fixed whatever little things were in need of minor repair. To be honest, I know nothing about autos so after every repair I would secretly drop the car off at my friend’s gas station on Philmont and Byberry roads after Gabe went to school. Tom Reilly, the owner, would return it to the house before school let out and my son was never… until now… the wiser. The car was ready weeks before he finally got his license some two months later.
Before Gabe turned sixteen I had a very loud pair of glass-pack mufflers installed. He loved the “Va Va Voom” and I loved the fact that when he was finally able to drive legally…. But that’s another story…
I could hear him gallivanting everywhere around Lower Moreland. On one occasion I received a phone call from a neighbor politely suggesting I remind him of the speed limit!
He and that Red Pony toured the world. I wondered whether he and his buddies would miss any given town or city within a ten thousand mile radius. I could tell where he traveled by the location of the gas stations that appeared on my credit cards. He and the car were inseparable. In retrospect I am glad that our front door was not slightly wider. I believe he might have taken it to bed with him.
Sad to say, when he graduated High School and went off to college the car sat ouside our home much like “Puff the Magic Dragon” waiting for the little boy to return. So I began to drive it. About once every three weeks or so I would remove the cover, start it up and drive around the neighborhood for a short drive or take it for some local errands. Truth be told, I think I loved the car more than my younger son. Suddenly I was sixteen again, cruising and listening to Chubby Checker.
One particular lovely day I decided to drive over to Lenny’s Hot Dogs on Street Road. I wanted a couple of his great dogs and also wanted to get his ad approved for the coming month. So I jumped into the old girl on this beautiful morning and sallied forth. Allow me to confess that me and Chubby Checker took some interesting “twists” and turns before we finally got to Lenny’s.
When I finally arrived there I noticed a young black woman (her color is important to this story) standing in the corner of the small store on the verge of tears. I questioned her several times in the hopes of finding our what was troubling her, wondering if I could help. After asking several times, between streams of tears, I learned that a neighbor had driven her and her children to a nearby doctor’s office. Her husband, who was to pick her up, had a car problem on I-95 and was unable to come for them. Hard as she tried, she could not get a ride, a bus or a taxi to get her anywhere near where she lived. She was stuck.
“Hop-Along Cassidy” to the rescue! I immediately volunteered to drive her to her home in a new Korman development on Street and Hulmeville roads in Bensalem. She was very leery, very leery, but almost desperate. Finally, after some prodding… she agreed. She placed her ten year old son in the passenger seat and her younger daughter behind him. She sat directly behind me. I suspect that she decided on this seating arrangement thinking if I were a crazy person or the head “Flugel Dugel Dugel” of the KKK she could always slam the seat forward and allow the kids to escape before I harmed anyone.
Within a half mile I realized that her son was very bright, polite and capable of asking questions at record-breaking speeds. He questioned why I asked his mother for directions instead of using the car’s GPS system. He wondered why I wasn’t using airconditioning and why I kept playing with that strange stick between the seats. As I said, this young man was inquisitive.
I answered every question with the same statement. I explained that this was a very old car. It had been manufactured before GPS systems were even thought of. I further explained that there were few cars available with air conditioning at the time this “little gal” had been created. I pointed out that few cars had more than an AM radio but that it did have a rear seat speaker.
As the ride continued, the questions continued. Please understand that he was a great kid and the questions were amusing and not at all annoying. I explained the gear shift that sat between the seats and showed him the extra peddle that was called a clutch that I used when I had to shift gears. With every answer, I explained that it was an old car. Every answer brought a new question.
When we arrived at his house, a big single home in Neshaminy, he leaped from the car. I watched in the mirror as his mother instructed him to return to the car and thank me. She also reminded her daughter to thank me. She had been very, very quiet during the short trip.
They promptly returned to the car and thanked me. The “questioner” went first. He even apologized for not closing the window. He explained that he couldn’t find the button. When I showed him the crank that raised and lowered the window he was stunned. He just couldn’t comprehend how primitive the car was. Again, I explained that it was an old car.
Finally his little sister thanked me. Then she asked me one question. She wanted to know how old the car really was. When I told her that the Mustang was some forty five years old she was shocked. After a very long silence she looked at me and said…
“White people sure do take good care of their cars.”
And I smiled.
Happy Father’s Day! Kids… of all types… really do make it worthwhile.
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