Saturday, September 14, 2019

Cars (Part 2 of 3)

Image by Thomas H. from Pixabay 

Self Indulgent Nostalgia Series (S.I.N.S No. 4)

If you're new here, this is a weekly column consisting of letters written to my (eventual) grandchildren (who exist) and my great-grandchildren (who don't, yet) -- the Stickies -- to haunt them after they become grups and/or I'm dead.

[The following missive is rated SSC (Sexy Seasoned Citizens). If read by grups or callowyutes it may result in psychological/emotional/etceteralogical triggering.]



Irregularly Appearing Imaginary Guest Star: Dana -- A gentlereader

"Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" -George Carlin

Dear (eventual) Grandstickies & Great-Grandstickies (& gentlereaders),

Last week's missive ended thusly: "There was a tiny shopping center with a hardware store, a bank, and a drugstore about a half-mile away. The nearest supermarket was several miles away. We didn't own a car and couldn't afford one."

The good news was that we had made it to the 'burbs where the temperature actually cooled off at night in the summertime. The bad news was that we lived in what is now called a food desert.

I use this term ironically (I'm cool like that) as this term refers to urban areas where it's difficult to easily access a real supermarket from your house. As I mentioned last week, this wasn't a problem when I was a kid.

When we lived on Pittsburgh's (with an h) "the bluff" we had easy access to Schwartz's Sanitary Supermarket. When we moved to the Sou'side we could easily walk to at least two supermarkets, a tiny, old, A&P (which smelled like freshly ground coffee) or a large, air-conditioned um... I want to say Kroger's, maybe Acme?

I loved the large, air-conditioned _______ because on hot summer days my fellow street urchins and I would go in and walk up and down the frozen food aisle which felt like a trip to the Arctic because of the open frozen food cases. I'm of the opinion that the electricity it took to power these coffin style freezers lead directly to global warming. I...

[Excuse me, this has what to do with cars?] 

Oh yeah... you make a valid point, Dana. Well technically, now that we were suburbanites we weren't in a food desert as there were all sorts of supermarkets to access -- if you had a car.

Suddenly, our lack of a car was a very big deal. In the city, on the rare occasion that walking or a relatively brief (and easily accessed) streetcar or bus ride was insufficient to accomplish the task at hand, we could hire a cab.

There was no such thing as ride-sharing services at the time but there were ginormous taxi cabs with jump seats and huge trunks in which it was possible to squeeze the whole fan damily if necessary (the taxi, not its trunk).

In the 'burbs taxis were expensive and few and far between. My old man used to walk about half a mile to a bus stop that took him to his job at the other end of the township we lived in and then walk another half a mile to report to work.

He reversed the procedure when it was time to go home.

My mum and I had to take that walk and ride the same bus line to a shopping center, that featured a Krogers, on Friday nights. We took a folding cart, a sort of large basket on wheels with us. The trip there, when we and our cart got on the bus in this township that was overwhelmingly middle and upper-middle class, made us an object of curiosity.

The trip home, with our cart bulging with enough groceries to feed a family of five for a week, almost rendered us a tourist attraction. You should've seen us dragging the damn cart up and down the steps of that bus.

After we got off the bus on the return trip the last part of the walk home consisted of a trek up a long, slow hill, Kirk Avenue. Fortunately, it wasn't that steep. When we made it home we felt like successful hunter/gathers at the end of a good day on the savannah.   

Owning a car, or rather not owning one, had become a very big deal.

Eventually, my mom made a friend; a single lady with an obnoxious son that my little brothers and I had to get along with because of our transportation challenges. This made hunting and gathering much easier but it was still a bitch trying to get around.

My last year of Catholic grade school education was within easy walking distance -- we lived about fifty yards from the school, St. Ursula's. Come ninth grade, I rode a school bus for the first time in my life and attended a public school. Both experiences were somewhat less than edifying.

                                                     * * *

And then, four things happened.

Friends of mine acquired drivers licenses and suddenly the world opened up. I particularly liked being driven around in Sam's dad's caddy. Sam's dad was a doctor; I told you it was a nice township.

My old man died when I was sixteen. This sucked sweaty socks, of course, but was not as awful as it sounds. He was 58, I was 16 and he had become more of a benign, disinterested grandfather than my dad by then. Mortgage insurance he had, life insurance he did not.

My paper routes (yes, plural), with help from my mum, financed driving lessons. Which, in retrospect was an unusually optimistic move on our part. Where would we have gotten the dough to buy a car? The bad news is my instructor was an incompetent hooplehead, and I couldn't master how to use a clutch (google it...). These lessons led nowhere.

[For the record: Several years later Jackie at Good Humor taught me how to master a clutch in five minutes via a secret method that I'm willing to share for only $999.99.]


We moved in with my big brother, his wife, and baby. They lived at the opposite end of Pennsylvania, in suburban (almost rural) Philadelphia.

In short order, thanks to a 1962 Buick LeSabre with an automatic transmission, I had a drivers license and a car and a job. Thus began the rest of my life. A life in which cars (and trucks) have, and continue to play, an important role.

Poppa loves you,
Have an OK day

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©2019 Mark Mehlmauer As long as you agree to include the name of my website (The Flyoverland Crank) and the URL (Creative Commons license at the top and bottom of the website) you may republish this anywhere that you please. Light editing that doesn't alter the content is acceptable. You don't have to include any of the folderol before the greeting or after the closing except for the title. 


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