V&R Fiction: Plum Crazy (Part 1)

Photo by Randy Stern
Photo by Randy Stern

So, I'm going to try out some fictional writing on V&R. Don't worry, they will be more… – RS

Rick would be the least likely person to be cool about anything.

Yet, he survived his senior year at Reseda High School without a scratch. Rick was smart, but not exactly an honor's student. His lone appearance in an Advanced Placement English class caused a stir with the school's intelligentsia. Rick was never good enough for team sports, but could serve as a decent water boy – otherwise known as a "manager" – for the varsity football team. He was never good with the girls – awkward, a bit chubby, plainly dressed, wore wire-framed glasses and was very shy.

Was he bullied? Teased, maybe. Was he disciplined at home? Luckily, no. He was just Rick. He was just…there.

What did Rick that no other person at Reseda High had? That began a year before when he got his driver's license from the Canoga Park Department of Motor Vehicles office. He passed his driving test in his mom's humongous 1974 Cadillac Sedan de Ville – a second-hand black monster she bought when she worked at a parts distributor company as a bookkeeper. Dorothy Nielsen did what she could since her husband walked out on her when Rick turned 8.

However, Rick's dad did leave something behind. In the garage of their corner home several blocks from the high school was a beautiful reminder of how much Verne Nielsen truly loved his only child. Never mind the fact that both mother and child still thinks Verne was the "biggest son-of-a-bitch ever walked the face of the Earth."

In the garage was a 1970 Dodge Challenger SE two-door coupe. The color was true to spec – Plum Crazy with a black vinyl roof. The black vinyl interior was not the best choice for Southern California, yet it survived the brief moments of sunlight over the course of twelve years of life – eleven under the care of the Nielsen family. Under the hood was a 340 cubic-inch V8 connected to a three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission. It still ran with an odometer reading of just over 40,000 miles.

It sat in the garage, though it occasionally went out a few times when Dorothy's car was out of commission. She refused to drive it because it reminded her of Verne. What Dorothy recalled was Simon throwing her the keys when he left. It was named as part of the divorce settlement in his very famous words: “you can having that fucking car!”

But, Dorothy had a plan. She would keep it for Rick. When he turned 16, Rick would assume ownership by transfer and would pay for his part of the insurance, gas, maintenance and anything he wanted to do with it. Though Rick got his license after his 16th birthday, he told his mother that he would take over the car when he is able to afford it on his own.

Rick tried his best to balance school and work. His nights at a nearby Ralph's supermarket bagging groceries and getting carts from the parking lot helped towards putting money away in a savings account. Rick told his mother that when he turns 18, he will take care of "his" car.

On a sunny February in 1982, that day came. Rick had plenty of money in his account to take the Challenger out of the garage for the first time in two years. He sat down with his mother to hash out the insurance and other costs pertaining to the old Dodge. He wrote out a check and still had money in the money for years of gas, car washes and oil changes.

On his next night off from work, he drove the Challenger to the DMV office to do the transfer of ownership and title. It went surprisingly well with no money transferred because it was a "gift." His new title and registration was in his hand – a proud owner of a classic pony car! When he got home, his mother handed him the insurance card for the Challenger. For Rick, it was the happiest day of his short life.

The next day, he walked to school for the last time. He had a couple of hours before he began his shift at Ralph's. Rick planned on getting an oil change and a car wash for the Challenger. After he was done, Rick would drive to work on the first time. He had taken the bus too many times to do this. In every class, he tried to concentrate on his school work. Yet, all he thought about was the car. Plum Crazy and black – a combination for a middle-of-the-road child who had a few friends and few interests outside of school. Rick worked his butt off for two years to get to this point.

After school, he got home and walked to the garage. When he opened up the garage, he faced his wildest dream – a 1970 Dodge Challenger SE in Plum Crazy. It was dirty and it did fire up nicely the day before. He unlocked the door and fired up the ignition again. The turnover sound was distinctive for a Chrysler car of its era. The carburetor opened up to let gas inside. There was a burble – not exactly tuned to what I used to be, but it offered the rumble of a pony car.

The first stop for Rick was a local gas station owned by a friend of the family. They had an appointment set up and was able to take the Challenger up onto the lift for the oil change. The gas station owner, a former Cub Scout leader of Rick's, took the car down from the lift after the oil, oil filter, coolant, power steering and transmission fluid were changed. Harvey, the gas station owner. suggested that he needed to tune up the Challenger and check for everything since it had not run in a couple of years. Rick was reluctant, but knew it could wait another day. It was back on the bus to work again.

The next day after school, Rick went straight to the gas station. Harvey was pouring over the paperwork. He had good news on the health of the Challenger. He tuned it up, checked the brakes and suggested a change of pads and shoes. Everything else was fine. Rick was told how much it would cost and was happy to pay Harvey. Yet, it also meant another day on the bus to work.

Another twenty-four hours went by and Rick returned to Harvey's gas station. Everything was fixed. The car ran like a dream. The brakes stopped fantastically. It was as good as it was in 1972.

The next stop was the car wash. Since no one has seen the Challenger with Rick driving it, it came as a surprise when a fellow student, Don, saw the Plum Crazy classic come through the line. "Dude," Don said, "is that your's?" Rick smiled broadly was a simple answer of "yes" coming from his lips. Don could not believe his eyes when he put two-and-two together and took the money from Rick's hands for a good car wash.

Rick left the Challenger in line while he waited along the line to see his baby shine once more. At the end of the line, you could see the eyes of the car wash workers light up upon seeing this Plum Crazy classic appear before their eyes. In the warm sun, they wiped down the Challenger to showroom condition. Rock noticed it might need some tires down the line – but, it is only a minor detail that would have to wait for another off day. He was 10 minutes away from work, but 30 minutes before he could clock in. Enough time to find a parking space alongside his co-workers.

It was about an hour-and-a-half into his shift at Ralph's when his boss came by to see him. Rick was a bit nervous, because he never knew what he would do or say. His boss looked at him and smiled. Rick never saw that happen in his two years at the supermarket.

His boss asked, "Is that your car out there, Rick?" Rick plainly said "yes." His boss patted him on the back and said "congratulations." It made Rick's day. Luckily, it was a Friday. It also meant his shift began in the morning on Saturday. It meant that Rick would drive his Challenger back to work.

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