Saturday, February 17, 2007
Deuce And A Quarter, or...
...From Tragedy To Triumph.
My senior year in high school was the 1979-1980 school year. We were living in Monroe, Louisiana. Big Sis and Long-Suffering Brother in Law had been married about two years, and lived one street over from us.
I can't remember who Brother in Law worked for, but at any rate, they supplied him with a company car to drive. That left "his" car sitting beside the driveway, collecting dust.
They offered to give it to me to use.
At first, I was horrified. The thing was a 1970 Buick Electra 225 (Deuce and a quarter). It had once been gold, but the paint was worn and rubbed off almost the whole trunk lid and a couple of other places. It had a dark brown vinyl roof that had dried and cracked pretty bad. It's like the one in the top photo, only mine was a four door. It was HUGE.
But reason overcame shame; the desire for a personal set of wheels, regardless of it's lack of beauty, trumped any possible embarrassment. Though I wanted something cool for my first car, like my Big Brother's Barracuda, I didn't have the heart or the stupidity to turn down a free, running automobile.
This was back in the good old days when parking spaces were large, but at Neville High School, the best parking places were a set of in-line parking places along a road behind the school. This necessitated parallel parking, and although I took driver's education in high school, the teacher I had was a basketball coach who was about as lazy as a human could be. If I think someone is lazy compared with me, you can take it to the bank, this teacher was a bum.
He conveniently skipped the parallel parking portion of the class, and fortunately I didn't have to parallel park when I took my first driving test, so when I started driving the 225 to school, I got around the whole problem by always getting there early enough to get a prime spot without having to parallel park that gigantic car.
Parallel parking is still my weakest driving trait, but these days, it's not often I have to do it.
Anyway, I got a nice surprise when I started driving that car to school my senior year (12th and final year).
At the time, Neville H.S. was an open campus. We were allowed to leave the campus during our lunch half-hour. Forsythe Avenue, one of Monroe's main drags, was in front of the school, but parallel to Forsythe, and running between one side of the school campus and North 18th Street, where all the fast food places were, was a residential street appropriately named... Speed Avenue. I kid you not. Our shortcut to the food during lunch was a street named Speed.
Fact is stranger than fiction.
Now I didn't have money to go and buy McDonald's or other fast foods every day, but when I did, everyone wanted to ride with me.
If a Volkswagen beetle will hold a dozen circus clowns, how many high school students do you think could cram into a monster like a four door 1970 Buick Electra 225?
Jeesh, we had a blast in that car. It saved them from having to drive and nothing is as fun as a car full of stupid teenagers, when you're a teenager that is.
Big Brother, being the sweet guy he was, installed a Kraco, under-the-dash mounted 8-track player, and since the speakers were pitiful, we took a pair of two-way home stereo speakers and set them on the rear deck behind the rear seat.
The rear deck was one of those that was big enough for a kid to lay on.
So, when the bell rang for our lunch period, we'd all pile into my car, circle back around the school, and ROAR down Speed Avenue. I'm not proud of this, and thinking back, if someone had stepped out into the street, they would have been dead, but when I put the hammer down and that 455 cubic inch engine got us moving really fast, the car seemed to float. It was like in the movies where a pilot breaks the sound barrier and the ride magically smooths out.
Anyone who needed a ride was welcome, some days it was just me, and some days the car was loaded down.
On Fridays and Saturdays, the Electra 225 was a natural for cruising around for the same reasons, we could take a bunch or a few to the hangouts and the cruising loop we used to drive repeatedly, to see and be seen.
When we stopped and would hang out and party or just talk and kill time, we would pull the house speakers Big Brother hooked up, out onto the roof of the car and listen to the stereo. It was an excellent party-mobile.
At one end of the cruising loop we used to travel was a Sonic drive-in. If you don't know what a Sonic is, it's a throwback to the days of pulling into a burger joint, ordering your items via a two way speaker beside your parking space, and someone bringing your order out to the car. They had the tray that hooked onto your window and everything.
The only problem we had with this was that the driver's side window on the Electra 225 didn't work. The car was all electric, and of course the first window to stop working was the driver's window, which posed a problem when going to the Sonic drive in. I needed to pull in in such a way as to be able to open my door and order.
Then one night, the idea hit me, and I started backing the Electra 225 in to the spots at the Sonic, and the person on the rear passenger side window had to place and pay for the orders from then on. It was just silly enough for this teen to get a kick out of doing that.
The final thing that endeared the car to everyone, was what I called "the patented graffiti roof" in the car.
When I was given the car, the cloth covering the inside of the roof was loose and billowy. It wasn't long until I got so frustrated with it that I just pulled it out. The inside of the roof was revealed to have a foamy substance in a thin layer across the whole thing.
One day, one of my friends reached up and touched it, and when he did, the impression of his finger stayed in the foamy stuff. This foam was dark brown like the interior, though that was probably by accident since it wasn't meant to be seen.
From then on, whenever someone got into the car, they would scroonch down, look up, and immediately start writing their name. Before long the entire inside of the roof was one big graffiti filled wall. Jim -N- Kim 4-ever, Bob was here, and so forth filled the roof.
Everyone got a kick out of the graffiti roof, and even after there was no more room to write on it, new passengers invariably took one look, scroonched down in the seat, looked up, and started reading.
One of my big regrets is that I never thought to take a photo of the inside of the roof. It was a truly unique feature. In fact, I looked and looked through all of my photos that I could find and couldn't find even one pic of the actual car. I had to find photos on the Internet to show you what the car looked like.
The first set of tires I ever had to buy were for that Electra 225. I had saved my money and went to a place in West Monroe that sold retreads, and bought a nice set of retreads for it. I was so proud to have bought my own tires.
Over time, we tuned it, and waxed it and made it run and look as good as we could. I had made the transition from being horrified at the thought of even driving the car to loving it and caring for it as best I could.
The first time I ever had a car accident was in this Buick. I rear ended a fellow student's early 70s VW Bug and had to pay to have the lid/door over his rear-mounted engine replaced. That evening, Don C. and I went out to look at the front of the Electra 225, and we couldn't find one mark on the front bumper from the "fender bender." My Dad got a good laugh out of that. There was one little dimple in the front bumper, about the size of a penny or dime, that just might have been the contact point in my "wreck." There was no way to be sure though. The car was a beast.
Eventually, Don C. bought himself a new Oldsmobile to drive back and forth to his work on offshore rigs, and passed his Ford pickup truck to me. At the time, Big Brother was in need of some wheels and the Electra 225 was given to him. I'm not sure what had happened to that cool Barracuda by then, but at any rate, he needed a car and the deuce and a quarter was running well, and he used it for a year or so.
In our family, we always kept our cars so long that getting rid of one was like taking a beloved pet to the vet to be put down. I look back on my couple of years of driving the Electra 225 with a smile on my face.
Lots of good, teen-aged fun was had in and around that sturdy old luxury liner.