On paper this car seem to have all the right moves for a young driver: a comfortable cruiser to keep me out of trouble. Yet something about it just was not right from the beginning.
After getting rid of the Celica I was without a car for a month or so. I think dad was tired of me borrowing his car to hang out with friends. He again turned to the local streets to buy a car for his son, this turned up one day completely unexpected.
Looking it over in plain white, I was thankful in a “really, Dad?” kind of way. I got over the plush seats, old man styling, and front-wheel drive layout once I got to drive it. It was roomy and comfortable with a flip up armrest that I did get flipped up andto drive with my girlfriend at the time. By far a faster car than the Celica, I remember that when accelerating the drive-train sounded like a train. I also believe, but can’t say with certainty, LAPD detectives used a similar car around this time; When I wanted people to move I would flash the high-beams and it worked.
Looking thorough it I found paper work and found out it came from Cathedral City California, near Palm Springs. A true old man’s car, I thought. It was a nice car though with dual AC which had a display and adjust panel on the passenger side, which my girl put to use. I tend to run a little hotter.
Everything else seemed pretty GMBB (GM Brand Bland) to me. In my eyes it was pretty luxurious. The only blemish I could never get rid of was this weird stain on the steering wheel horn pad. In an attempt to impress my friends when they saw the car was to say some old guy killed himself in it. I was just playing around but sometimes I believe the car was cursed.
The 3800 engine would intermittently misfire and fail to accelerate beyond 2000 rpm. I never did determine the cause, a quick fix was to shut-down and restart the car. It worked but was not always convenient when it happened. It had the air adjustable suspension which had a habit of draining the battery. Eventually I just pulled the fuse to the compressor. The radiator would leak; I could not afford a replacement at the time. A bottle of stop leak helped, although I know now it’s not a proper fix. The lights would dim while waiting at lights and playing loud music, a common issue in these cars if I’m not mistaken.
It also had sagging headliner fabric, which I tried to fix myself and failed. I threw the whole headliner away, padding and all. You could not really tell it was missing, although it did get colder.
Though bland, it did attract attention from law enforcement, more likely it was my driving habits. Three tickets in a year, one time. On a couple of occasions, even within the last year, I’d get the DMV letter stating something to the effect of “you may think you’re a good driver but statistics show…” I’d read it then think “I’ll show you DMV” and then I’d be a good driver ‘till the driving points went down.
I was still doing odd jobs for my family at this time. I had gotten a scholarship for my writing after being nominated by a high school teacher that recognized my potential. I still remember when he said “Wow, looks like we got a writer here!” after reading some of my class assigned essays. My family was still struggling financially at this time so sadly I could not pursue that opportunity offered to me. I imagined myself being able to one day work for magazines like Car & Driver, Motorweek, or Road & Track. To this day I still sometimes get upset and beat myself up about it and wonder what could have been. I’ve never been able to express/explain myself properly when talking to people face to face, a big fail on my part as a human being. Writing was/is my voice, the way I want it to be.
By now, I had a steady group of friends that I’d hang out with most Fridays and Saturday nights. We would still burn up the “Wacky-Tabbacky” and drink up the beer. We mostly had entry level jobs; My friend Dave had gotten a job at an up-scale super market where it was pretty easy for him to acquire beer. Jill was the female of our group; I considered her my best friend as we would hang or drive around all hours of the night talking or just sharing silence. It was the type of friendship where others outside of it, including my girlfriend and Jill’s boyfriend, would swear or feel that we were far beyond just friends. I was madly in love with Jill; as a friend. There were awkward moments sure, but in an unspoken agreement that we just could not go further.
Our favorite hang out spot that we thought was safe was an area called Frogtown, near Dodger Stadium/LA River. At the time gangs were a big thing to be afraid of; now Highland Park and Frogtown are full of hipsters – which I don’t mind at all. We would park on a dead end street smoke, drink, without a worry, until one day.
We were having a good time when all of a sudden a couple of cars pulled up, some gang members got out of the cars and walked to us. We were “hotboxing” the car, they asked for us to pull the window down. I tried to start the car; it cranked over but did not start. Embarrassingly I lowered the window as the guy next to my window pointed an ice-pick at me and asked what were doing. We were just chilling having a good time.
We were outnumbered and one of the guys had a gun. None of us had ever been in this situation before. We agreed to comply in hopes that they would move on. They started off with taking my Discman and Armitron watch. At ice-pick and gun point they ordered us out of the car, had us open the trunk, then give us some BS story about being LAPD. We were ordered up against the wall. We were still in a buzzed state and again hoping they would leave us alone if we cooperated. Jill and I looked at each other and decided to stick together, we both knew her punk boyfriend was not gonna protect her. As we all stared at the wall I remember saying a prayer to God, a request really. I felt helpless, yet when they started trying to feel-up on Jill I lost it; in a split second decision I would sacrifice myself to save her. And right then is when it happened…
In all the time we hung out on that street we had NEVER seen an LAPD car drive by, yet it did just then. In a split second we spotted the car drive by, stop, back up then drive down the street and rescue us. I still can’t explain that circumstance; my prayer was answered, it was weird.
The guys ran off and within 2 minutes LAPD had additional cars and a helicopter in the area. They caught 5 of 8 guys. They recovered my stolen video camera, Discman, and Armitron watch. Till this day I still own an Armitron watch as a reminder. As they lined them up for us to identify my friend Dave yelled “Who’s they bi@#h now?” which made a few of the officers laugh. Jill and I silently comforted each other in the back of the squad car as LAPD finished their procedure. It was a wake up call in more ways than one.
My girlfriend at the time just happened to live near by. When I mentioned the incident to her, she said “I told you”. To this day, because she knew people in the ‘hood, I wonder if she called it.
After that event, I had to give up that car. My girl and I went to the Alameda swap meet and sat for hours in the car with the low price of $500 on the window. Wouldn’t you know it some Cholo-looking guys bought it. I did not care. Glad it was out of my life even if the next car would bring me one step back down.