Thursday, October 20, 2011

Up That...Hill

My friend Sherrie and I were always ready for adventure. We met while I was a student at RPI and she at Radford. We stayed in touch off and on and after school we both ended up working at Miller & Rhoads and sharing an apartment, the Cave, on Park Avenue near campus.

This night the Four Tops were performing at a very small club on the north side of Richmond. We really wanted to see them and decided that it was worth paying our own way, since neither of us had a date, to go.

And then we decided to up the ante. We recently had a spontaneous photo shoot (thanks to store photo pal, Ed Booth) with Troy Donahue when he visited M&R and we were on a mission to add to our celebrity photo wall. I had a Polaroid camera loaner with free film since I was a Polaroid Camera Girl and so we plotted to be press looking for an interview. Like I said, the club was really tiny so in hindsight our scheme was probably completely unnecessary, we could have gotten a picture just about anytime that evening, but we forged ahead with our grand plan, sold our story to the club manager (surely he didn't believe us nevertheless he played along) and got our pre-show picture. Before we headed downstairs to our table, Sherrie asked a few questions to make us legit all the while jotting answers down on her note pad (we were prepared). Crazy girls!

But probably my craziest memory of an antic with Sherrie is the time she decided that she had to go home. Her folks lived in Williamsburg and one night she pops into my room and says that she has to talk to her mom, right away. She had already borrowed a car from Mike Stull who lived upstairs and was the only person in the entire building that even had a car. She begged me to go with her since she couldn't go without someone to drive (I don't remember why she did not have her license but she didn't). We both had to work the next day but she assured me that we'd be back in time. I told her that I didn't know how to drive a straight stick. She said that she would shift gears while I drove. Never one to dampen an adventure, off we went.

The next morning I'm feeling more confident about my driving after I realize that first gear is the only nasty one to master and so I do all the driving including gear shifting myself on our return trip to Richmond. This is no interstate days and our approach to home and work is up Broad Street Hill with a left turn at 8th. Well it so happens that the turn is at the crest of the hill and I just catch a red light. So not only am I on a steep hill, I am the first car in line. The light changes, we even have an arrow, so my only concern is going forward but I can't do it. I am convinced that we will roll back into the car behind us. Mike will kill me if I do anything to his car. It's not new but he hovers over it. I still cannot believe that he let Sherrie borrow it. I stall the car again and again and finally we lose the light. It's rush hour, everyone coming from the east uses this turn to get to work in downtown Richmond. The next light cycle I still mangle every attempt, drivers at this point are going around me, honking, pretty mad.

We go through I don't care to say how many light cycles and I still cannot get the car in gear and going forward. I won't let Sherrie help, it's a steep hill, I know we'll roll all the way to the bottom taking numerous cars with us. Finally the guy behind me gets out of his car and comes up to us asking (nicely) what the problem is. He listens and says that he will drive the car through the intersection for me. Then I think that it dawns on him this plan leaves his car unattended, or worse attended by me. He changes his mind. He tells me to just let my car roll back into his, it will be fine. Really. I look back at his car. It's a real car, like a Chrysler or something. What can a little Dodge Dart do to that? I trust him. Really. The next time we have the light, I gear up and shoot through the intersection, not rolling back at all.


Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Car

She was a beauty. A 1950's something Volkswagen complete with a tiny back window; a starter button; a gas tank system that had a flip switch to give you one more gallon before you really ran out of gas; seats belts (rare but Don Cully, who owned her, was a far sighted guy and he put them in all his cars) and a name, Velma.

The year was 1967. I was working at Miller & Rhoads in the Advertising Department as a layout artist. The pay was okay, my expenses few, but saving money just didn't happen. And so when Pat Cully, fellow artist whose cubicle office was across from mine, said that she and Don were selling their Volkswagen that he had just finished rebuilding my ears perked up. I didn't have a car, never had been able to afford one. Over a year out of college and still without a car. Yup, that was me. I walked or rode my bike to my job, to visit friends, and to the grocery. I took the train home to Alexandria. It worked but a car of my own? Sigh. "How much," I asked certain that it would be well out of my reach. "Two hundred," she replied. "Two hundred? I'll take it." Nevermind that I did not know how to drive a straight stick (this doesn't count) or have a clue how much insurance would cost. My own car!

We sealed the deal, I got insurance, and asked my ex boyfriend to teach me the basics of stick shift driving which turned out to be a couple of thirty minutes lessons in a school parking lot after which he declared me good to go. I wasn't so sure but he had me do the driving back to the Franklin Street vintage home turned into apartment units where we both lived and that was that. I was street worthy.

Velma and I were made for each other. I learned to parallel park in the most minimal spots, on the left and right side of the street, all good since street parking was what I had available. I was a proud gal. Especially since I had failed my high school driving test by pulling wrong out of a parallel parking maneuver that I had just executed perfectly between the two poles designated for the test. Dad had always chided me about my depth perception being bad and assured me that I had lots more room than I thought and so this one time I decided to heed his advice and allow that I had plenty of room to make my exit. Except that I didn't. My front fender just barely touched the pole and didn't even tip it over. But it wobbled and if it had been a real car fender it would have suffered, so, I flunked. It was the last thing on the test too. I had done every other part perfectly, driving in traffic, hand signals, the whole nine yards.

Velma and I stayed together all the way into my marriage with Donny in 1969 and beyond. She took me from our first apartment at Westover Hills to Varina High School way out in the country off of Route 5 and back every day without a hitch. Finally one day she suffered what was going to be an expensive repair, an engine issue I recall.We had lost touch with the Cully's. I'm sure Don could have put her back together in a flash but he wasn't on our radar and so off to the junk yard she went. Still I couldn't let her go without a souvenir. And so I took off her beautiful enameled hood ornament and tucked it away. A few years ago I was creating a self portrait construction using odds and ends from around the house (if you lose something goes the family joke, look for it in mom's art) and came across Velma's ornament. We're pals together again.
Self Portrait 2003