I spotted this Suzuki Samurai in traffic just a few weeks ago. With “WASH ME” etched presumably by finger into the mud caked onto the passenger side door, it appeared to be the only Samurai I’ve ever seen in person that looked like it had actually been taken off-road. Aside from being dirty, the body looked incredibly straight, and it sounded good to boot. It triggered flashbacks of my own adolescent aspirations to purchase a new vehicle of my own.
I was a newspaper delivery boy for the Flint Journal from the summer of 1987 through the fall of ’90. While not an actual “job” job like at a supermarket or mall kiosk, it was my first taste of employment and responsibility outside of my parents’ household. I had to be home promptly by the time the newspaper bundles were delivered to my house on weekday afternoons, and I also had to be up at the crack of dawn to make deliveries on weekends.
I developed skills to quickly rubber-band (or bag on rainy days) the individual newspapers after stuffing them with advertisements, to figure out and memorize the most efficient path to traverse my route, to accurately throw and land papers on porches as I rode my bike, and in persistence and courtesy in dealing with my customers – some of whom were occasionally irate when I had accidentally banged their metal screen doors. It was a great job for a kid that taught me a lot about myself, others, and business, in general.
Part of what I did with my projected earnings was estimate what I could buy if I saved every penny. (I quickly learned that it’s not your money until you actually collect it from your customers.) A brand-new Suzuki Samurai convertible like our featured car was one such object of my adolescent desire. I had a copy of the 1988 new car pricing guide from Consumer Guide which I pored over until most pages were either dog-eared, covered with Cheetos dust, or both. My goal was to save enough money from my paper route in order to afford a new car by the time I was sixteen in a handful of years and could legally drive on my own.
I didn’t want a Yugo. By the time I was delivering newspapers, Yugos were considered awful by most kids roughly my age, and some were already being scrapped after just a few years of use. A new Chevy Sprint (starting at $6,380) would have been more affordable than the Samurai, but it was, well, a Chevy Sprint – not a bad car, but not worth the sacrifice of everything from Atari games and birthday money, to my annual trip to Cedar Point amusement park. A new Pontiac (née Daewoo) LeMans would have been about 25% cheaper than the $7,995 Samurai, but again, not my jam. The Samurai appealed to my pre-teen brain on several levels: it seemed new and novel, like a small truck for the same money as “just” a car, and it was a convertible! What kid hasn’t dreamed of owning a convertible?
How my goal of saving for car ownership actually played out in real-life is a different story. My “Samurai Fund” was leaky – trickling into the Genesee Valley Mall, Playland Arcade, East Village Video, or the local convenience store on my block. I wasn’t going to Convenient Food Mart to try to illegally buy cigarettes, or anything. At that stage of my life, I was far too afraid of getting in trouble. I’d go to the corner store to break bills to make change for my newspaper customers when collecting for the month, and would usually end up spending some of my money on candy, gum, a Wet Willie frozen slush, or a quick game of Shinobi, a favorite video game of the era. That stuff all adds up, so, ultimately, no Samurai for Joe.
Nonetheless, the sight of this Samurai reminded me of a time when all of my earnings went for leisure, toys and fun, with none of it going toward living expenses and bills. Hopefully, the next generation of Dennises will be more prudent with their earnings than I was – that is, without sacrificing the joys of being just a kid with a paper route and the dream owning a new car.
Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Monday, May 16, 2016.
The photo of the author was taken in the East Village neighborhood of Flint, Michigan.
Some time around or in 1989.
- From Gerardo Solis: QOTD: Would You Buy A New Suzuki Jimny?; and
- From Ed Stembridge: Roadside Outtakes: “Roller Girl” – Suzuki Samurai Soldiers On.