V&R Fiction: Plum Crazy (Part 2)

Photo by Randy Stern
Photo by Randy Stern


So…you read Part One. Good for you! Here is Part 2…remember, "Reading is Fundemental!"

After two days of coworkers complimenting his Plum Crazy 1970 Dodge Challenger SE, it was Rick's time to shine. He found a tire shop open on Sunday to see about new boots for his baby. He was not ready to take it on the road just yet. Rick wanted to make sure it was good as new.

On Sunday, he stopped by a few tire places. He settled on a set of radial Goodyears for the Challenger. They were black walls, which gave it a contemporary look. The days of whitewall tires were practically done. Yet, these Goodyears provided better tread and a long warranty – according to the Goodyear shop where his mother shopped for for years. The shop owner reminded him of the days when Rick was younger and sat quietly next to his mother at the shop. He could not believe how grown up Rick had become – and the car he now owns. "Your dad never took this in for tires," the Goodyear store owner said, "I'm so glad to finally see this. How does she run?" Rick smiled and with some enthusiasm said "it runs better than ever."

With everything complete on the Challenger, Rick decided to take it for its first run. The gas tank was full, the temperature gauge was reading normal, yet it was about 75 degrees outside – with a layer of smog shrouding the Santa Susanna Mountains. Where would Rick go?

A short run down Reseda Boulevard found Rick turning onto Burbank Boulevard onto the Ventura Freeway towards Hollywood. It has been a while since Rick drove on L.A.'s daunting freeway system. On the on-ramp, he leaned on the throttle and measured his entry onto the right lane of traffic. Success! No one was there to cut him off. On the way towards the San Diego Freeway, Rick received some honks and waves of his Plum Crazy classic from 1970. The Mopar pony car was running smoothly with its 340 V8 humming with a rumble from the tailpipes. At this moment, Rick achieved another high mark is his eighteen years of life.

After he exited onto the San Diego Freeway, Rick had another test for the 12-year-old Challenger. Could it make it up and over the Sepulveda Pass? The daunting pass divides the San Fernando Valley with Los Angeles’ Westside. It opens up everything from Santa Monica to LAX to Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, the South Bay and beyond. It was world only seen from a passenger seat for Rick. Now, he gets to experience the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains under his own power.

With more pressure on the accelerator pedal, Rick opened up the 340 cubic inch V8 to find more torque. A wall of power came through the Challenger like a surfer charging through a wave. It kept up with the speed limit very well, though the engine was looking for more. Rick was very cautious after seeing a California Highway Patrol car passing him on the left. He ambled the V8-powered Dodge coupe up and over the Sepulveda Pass like a man conquering his first hill climb. All Rick had to do was let the Challenger relax a bit on the downhill side towards Sunset Boulevard.

Still, Rick did not make a decision on where to go on a hazy Sunday afternoon in West Los Angeles. The entire swath of land, full of homes, office towers and the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles seemed like uncharted territory to Rick.

It was Sunday and things seem to go smoothly down the San Diego Freeway. Rick finally decided to exit at Santa Monica Boulevard. He turned right towards the Pacific Ocean. A Sunday drive down the heart of Santa Monica towards what he thought would be a beach at the end of the street. There was the ocean, but there were a few buildings and a pedestrian walk in the way.

Rick did see the Pacific Coast Highway. In order to get there, he would have to a do a few turns to get on it. It was not that simple. There were no current maps in the car – ones from 1971 which had changed over time. Clearly Rick was lost – something he never counted on.

By luck, Rick found a way. He back tracked to the Santa Monica Freeway, and then turned the Challenger towards the ocean again. That way, the freeway merged onto the Pacific Coast Highway. It may have taken an eternity to get there, but Rick found his way.

He followed the coastal highway through Pacific Palisades and Malibu. Rick had only seen the ocean a few times when his mother would take him. This was unbelievable to Rick to finally drive along the coast. He saw a sign for Topanga Canyon Road – a street he is familiar with from the Valley. His adventure along the Pacific ended on a right turn through a twisting canyon drive cutting through the Santa Monica Mountains.

Somehow, Rick discovered something about the 1970 Challenger. It may have been designed for straight-lined highways, but he also found enjoyment roiling the pony car through the curves. Though Rick sort of knew about cars, he did realize that he could take a Challenger on a canyon road like someone else would in a Porsche or a Datsun Z. He was a bit careful on some of the turns, but managed the Challenger through into Topanga and Woodland Hills without overheating the radiator – an amazing feat for a car of its vintage.

As Rick rolled the Challenger into the garage next to his mom’s Cadillac, there was a sense of accomplishment in his soul. Rick drove his car alone and to a place he never experienced before. He used his instincts to get out of a situation and went on his way. It was quite the feat for an eighteen-year-old that has never been considered a cool kid.

His mother was in the den watching a Sunday afternoon movie when Rick came in through the kitchen. Dorothy sensed that her son was happy. Her smile shone across the house. She climbed off the couch and saw her son walking towards the hallway. "How was your day," she asked. Rick smiled, took a deep breath and explained what he did. Rick said, "I had a great day. I drove to Malibu."

Dorothy knew that was an accomplishment for Rick. She reveled in the glee of her son's simple navigation of his re-born car. At that moment, Dorothy has one thought in her mind. That Plum Crazy 1970 Dodge Challenger SE was not Verne’s car anymore – it was Rick’s! It was her son’s!

The next day was the start of another school week. It would be the first time Rick would drive his beloved car to school. It was a moment he always dreamed of.

At Reseda, there were two parking lots. One was on Kittridge Street, where it was small enough for most students that drove to school. It was also where the smokers and stoners hung out. The other was on the extreme southeast corner of campus next to the baseball and football fields. Rick ended up parking in the "jock lot." Rick felt it was safer to park the Challenger there, despite the longer walk to the classrooms.

After a day mixed with classroom brilliance and daydreaming, Rick walked to his car. No one noticed it at all. No one saw him drive in with it. No one said a word. He arrived to see the car was in one piece. No broken windows, scratches or flat tires were found. A sign of relief, indeed!

Rick inserted the key into the lock and opened up the door. As he climbed in, a female voice came from his left ear: "No way!" It was a classmate, Veronica. She stood stout and short, but with a kind heart. She knew Rick from her classes, but he never noticed anyone else. Rick turned his head to Veronica and said "uh huh." A simple greeting, but it also indicated that Rick needed to get home and head to work soon after. All Veronica offered as a reply was a smile. She walked away from the car soon after.

With the door closed and the V8 turned over, Rick politely drove the Challenger out of the parking lot and onward towards home. A smiled broke out on his face. Was it Veronica? Or, was it the fact he finally drove to school in his car?

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