A 1985 Regency 98, not mine, because I have no pictures.
The time has come to sing of Oldsmobiles.
I remember, the year of my bar mitzvah, the GM advertising campaign “NOT YOUR FATHER’S OLDSMOBILE” and the only Oldsmobiles I knew were the ones that belonged to my father. Dad is an modest man of pride, which is to say, he was proud, satisfied that he could buy a well-made, comfortable car smack dab in the middle fifth tranche of the GM brand hierarchy, with his hard-won earnings as a young doctor, and when he did his showing off it was with displays of generosity rather than acts of conspicuous consumption.
Dad would never have bought a Cadillac for himself, nor even a Buick. So, there were four Oldsmobiles from 1977 to 1998, and mine was the last.
Mine was a 1985 Regency 98. Its original purchaser was Barry Eisenman, a pharmacist. Barry ran the pharmacy department inside of Sullivan’s Department Store from 1969 until 1988. when he opened Family Drug on Broadway in Monticello. Barry and his wife Marilyn formed one corner of the square of extremely close friendships in Liberty that included the Klafters (a dentist and his psychologist wife), the Jaffes (an accountant from a Borscht Belt hotel family and his insurance adjuster wife), and my parents (doctor and office manager/enabler). Cars trickled through this group of friends from first owner to oldest children of friends, in the great cycle of existence. So Barry passed on his Olds to David Jaffe’s oldest daughter Elise when she went to graduate school in Wisconsin, and then, in 1993, Elise passed the car to her youngest sister Rachel.
Barry made delicious chopped liver by the way. Egg and schmaltz and caramelized onion and it would just melt in your mouth. He died of a stroke three years ago.
The first time I rode in the car was the morning of Sunday, March 28, 1994, which was the morning of the second day of Passover. My mother was still mourning her mother, so to save her the effort of preparing a Passover Seder, Dad had purchased five tickets to the communal seder at the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake. This seder was attended by two thousand people. I remember the waiters in their red jackets carrying around jugs of slivovitz to top off the shot glasses of diners, and I distinctly remember some odd little egg custard tarts, made in the Concord bakery by another family friend, Walter Klein (who was in the Kinderlift in 1939 and whose wife Hanna’s mother was my grandmother’s playmate in Munich in the 1920s).
I didn’t feel well leaving the seder, but I drove the wagon back to Liberty while Mom and my sisters rode with Dad in his Lincoln. I remember restless overwhelming dreams about turkey tetrazzini, shreds and chunks swimming in oceans of brown gravy, and woke at 2am to sprint to the bathroom where I projectile vomited the Concord seder in my stomach into the bathtub, floor, hallway carpet, sink, and stack of National Geographic magazines on the back of the toilet tank – everywhere, in fact, except for the toilet, which was to receive a different offering after several hours. I was violently, convulsively, comprehensively ill, from a foodbourne illness.
My second battery of preliminary examinations for the spring of my freshman year were the last week of March and the first week of April. My father knew this. I could not stay in Liberty to recover, because I would miss those exams He dosed me with Lomotil – to control the diarrhea, and Donnatal, to soothe my gastric cramps, and sent me up to Cornell in Rachel’s Oldsmobile (previously arranged) during the therapeutic window for the two drugs.
I’d known Rachel since we were toddlers. She was two years older, very pretty brunette with a dazzling smile, and I had a crush on her that I definitely could feel despite the acute gastroenteritis being held back by the Donnatal sandbags, and we had a great drive back to Ithaca. She dropped me off at my dorm (Eco-House) and I felt okay.
Two hours later, the Donnatal wore off. I vomited once, twice, four times, coffee grounds, I was so sick I left my dorm room and stood in the hallway convulsing from low electrolytes, and spent two days in the hospital on intravenous fluids, where I missed my exams in autotutorial biology, calculus, and news-writing.
The buying of the car. I came back from Ithaca in August of 1996 with thirty-five hundred dollar bills, behind the wheel of the bent and smashed Pontiac, and there was going to a complicated interfamily vehicle trade.
I would cough up $3500. My sister would inherit Elise Jaffe’s 1991 two-door Pontiac Grand Prix, since she had moved from her Yale political science PhD program back to Philadelphia so her husband Dan could do his law degree at UPenn, and couldn’t keep a car in Center City Philly. Rachel had parked the 1985 Oldsmobile at her parents house, and I would get that, plus repairs and a commitment to pay the insurance for one year in exchange for my wagon settlement.
When I got the car, it had 125,000 miles and smoked. From “the valve gasket covers” which Bruce repaired. It smelled still of Barry Eisenman’s cigars, although Barry himself had quit five years earlier. It had a stupid digital calculator on the dashboard, with preset functions that never worked right, and were impossible to use at speed. The air conditioning was broken. The driver’s side window would fall into the door if opened more than halfway, and then I would have to lift the door card, extract and lift the window into position, and run the electric window motor until it was secure in place. There were new tires.
I moved my things back into the dorms and used the car to drive to gaming night. One evening on Triphammer in the fall of 1996, the alternator belt snapped. I didn’t really know how to even open the hood, because it opened the wrong way! (forward.) Okay, that was repaired at a garage in Fall Creek. A month later, the turning signal module went bad, and – my first automobile repair! I picked a new module up at NAPA and replaced the old one under and behind the dashboard.
I met this very pretty Russian girl that fall walking across the Arts Quad to a shared political science class. Irena! I took her out on a date and we drove up to Fuertes Observatory and drank Sam Adams cherry wheat beer while making out in the Oldsmobile. I can’t believe that she left me take her out in that car, because she had an Acura and flew back to New York City every other weekend to help out her parents at their import-export business in Brighton Beach, and at their newspaper, also in Brighton Beach. I guess she liked me. I loved her, my god, I loved her.
The first time I’d ever driven to New York City – yes, four years into my driving career, hadn’t done it before, despite my hometown’s proximity – was in June 1997 in the Oldsmobile to visit Irena at her parents’ house in Jamaica Estates – a house one lonely block away from the manse in which our former President was conceived. We had jello shooters and whiskey sours in the old Fulton Fish Market, and then Irena went on her summer tour of Europe, where she broke up with me on the phone.
The Oldsmobile carried me back and forth to class and work that fall and winter and spring, when I moved out to the middle of nowhere past the airport into a basement one bedroom apartment of gloom and died in the summer of 1998, just after I’d moved back into town with my friend Howard.
I was hungry for something, and it was the middle of the night, so I drove the Oldsmobile up to East Hill Plaza, which was open 24 hours. Something bad happened to the oil pump while I was buying my crap, and the constellation of warning lights lit – low oil lights, check engine – on the hill going back down my shared apartment. I switched off the ignition and coasted downhill until I could park next to my Seneca Street apartment. The next morning, I drove out Route 13, engine getting rougher and rougher, until I reached a Jiffy Lube. They could not help me. I turned around, drove back into Ithaca, and stopped at Patterson’s garage. Dave Patterson diagnosed a dead oil pump, pointed to the gasoline squirting out between the heads, and said that the motor was seized.
185,000 miles, and a fifty dollar salvage check.
I wasn’t raised anywhere near there, but I lived in Callicoon, part-time and then full-time, for 11 years. Moved away only recently, for work. Sullivan County is a special place, and I miss it terribly. Reading about these towns (er, villages) I came to know – Monticello, Liberty, etc. – is such a pleasure. Thanks.
If you were out in Callicoon over the course of the 2010s, then you remember the growth of the farmers market out behind Peck’s next to Callicoon Creek. I remember going to Delaware town meetings and school board meetings at the old DV school building in Callicoon Center. There was a chamber music festival in the hortonville Church up the hill past buddenhagen Ford which was run by Judy Pearce, and I miss Lois Burrell who used to cater part of the refreshments after the festival she was a no-nonsense lady. One of my winter jobs in 1995 was cleaning out the medical records at the grover Hermann division by the river, and me and these two other coeds were tearing open file boxes in the long term storage for dumping and shredding and I found patience of my dad’s from the old folks home in Jeffersonville and from death valley in Liberty. My friend Barbara gref used to run the river reporter after she left the record.
Did you ever run into Debra Winger?
$5/day or 6¢/mile, excluding operation costs. Not bad for a college student’s independent transportation. The front end looks like a platypus but who cares?
That’s the thing after the valve cover repair and the alternator belt there was nothing until it killed itself. I did change the oil, and checked the fluids once I learned how to open the hood up the other way, but the car just started and went. I have the ignition key sitting around somewhere in my old bedroom, one of the convenient remove from steering column ignition interlock keys so you can start the car lock the doors and go back inside to let the engine warm up.
First, I love these immersions into the tight-knit Jewish culture of your childhood. It is at the same time completely foreign to me yet also so familiar in many ways.
Second, I love the way the families you write of worked together to squeeze every last bit of life out of a good car. The older I have gotten the more I have subscribed to that mindset. Your Oldsmobile’s condition sounds much like the condition of the 93 Crown Vic that my own children drove in high school and college. There were lots of little things wrong with it, but it started and ran and got them where they needed to be both safely and reliably.
Keep ’em coming!
Agreed. I grew up a Gentile in a largely Jewish part of town, just over the road from the rabbi’s house, around the corner from the synagogue, with many of my schoolfriends going to Hebrew school, and having Bar Mitzvahs. I didn’t understand what that meant then, but I heard the term often enough. Such a sense of community, of family, of mutual belongingness even between some of the richest and the poorest. Recently I was reading Moshe Davis’ ‘I am a Jew’ (Mowbrays, 1978), which gave me some insights into this sense of community belongingness which I saw as a child but was never a part of.
And what a great idea passing a car around among a group of friends, according to their children’s need.
I really really miss being part of a real community like that. Great story.
I hope that not all your COALs will involve you throwing up your guts!
Hot Wheels back on 1986 made a Police Car version of that 1985-86 Oldsmobile 98 Regency on their Flip Out series.
Wow probably because it didn’t pass as an actual 98. How did they get that so wrong?
Great essay, and I can virtually visualize (and smell) the Olds, just like I was riding around with you.
I grew up in Philadelphia, and there was definitely a subset of young men and women in the 1980s & ‘90s who owned 10-20 year old Oldsmobiles… all were hand-me-downs from grandparents, aunts or family friends. My sister had a good friend who drove an ‘84 Cutlass Supreme with a fake convertible top that was just such a car. I recently found pictures I’d taken of her Olds, and will likely write an article about it this coming year.
CC effect in action – gassed up on a very cold Chicago day next to this rather fine Olds 88 at my local Thorntons the other day. It is a daily driver for the owner who told me it has been stone reliable up to its present 130,000 miles, after buying it from an estate sale 13 years ago with about 12,000…The interior and arrow straight exterior were absolutely immaculate. As we were talking an ’80s T-Bird drove past behind us – bit of a time warp scene!
Here it is (‘scuse bird poop on Ghia)…
Wow I had that exact Delta, dark blue with the fake wires. WONDERFUL driving car, one finger steering and that sweet sweet 3800 V6.
Also, my G’pa had new Caddys in the 70s, then switched to Olds 98’s all through the 80’s into the 90’s. ‘The Thinking Man’s Luxury Car’- I think that tagline resonated with him.
I loved meeting this one and its owner! It really looked so trim and neat and sounded sweet, too. I honestly got more excited about this than seeing a modern exotic. It is probably rarer than most of them by now, too!
The very definition of a Curbside (or Pumpside?) Classic!
I have never in my life wanted chopped liver, and now I’m wistful for it.
My grandfather was a cigar-and-Oldsmobile man, his last 98 was chocolate brown with a tan vinyl roof and a permanent tar layer from the everlasting stream of Philies Cheroots. Godspeed, Buddy T – I miss you.
Thanks for another terrific chapter. Very evocative.
My father would get out the bottle of slivovitz after a heavy meal, “to cut the grease”. Pretty zippy stuff.
Thanks for the opportunity to contribute here, Paul.
My mother’s father, who was from upper Franconia before he was from the Jersey shore, kept a bottle of 1954 Jellinek czechoslovak slivovitz in his clothes closet, and that bottle and its last third is in my liquor cabinet for after big meals etwas dass fette abschneiden.
We carried a bottle of “home made” slivovitz back with us in 1996, the last time we went to visit my Mother’s relatives in Slovakia. Most of her family is there; just my Grandfather (Grandmother, but she passed 19 years before I was born) and Uncle came over; my Mother was born here in the US but didn’t learn english until she started grade school, which I guess wasn’t unusual back then.
Apparently it is a point of pride of making it well. We really aren’t big drinkers (really at all) and I think were thought strange by our relatives (we hadn’t met them before that), as it is a big part of socializing. I tried to get out of it by telling them that I was a driver “chauffer” but my relative produced a breathalyzer indicating that I could drink and he would test me before leaving.
We knew this ahead of time and stopped at a liquor store in Miskloc Hungary and bought some as gifts. I think my sisters cleaned out the supply of diet coke, which they were hooked on back then. After stopping at the Slovak border, we were waved through only to be flagged down and sent back to the border for closer inspection (some 30 km away), fortunately they didn’t find the liquor, instead opened up my Father’s daybag and got bored with the instant oatmeal they found in it. Having a large Ford Scorpio wagon with Swiss plates probably made us stand out a bit too much.
Speaking of which, my Father’s (only) Oldsmobile was a ’65 F85 wagon, he bought new at Val Preda Olds in South Burlington, Vt. My Aunts had several Oldsmobiles (I think one was an F85, plus a ’69 Olds 98) but my Dad bought more Fords than GM back then, though his last 2 cars were Chevy Impalas.
I never heard of slivovitz before, so I bought some for Christmas. Wasn’t too impressed for the first couple seconds, but it grows on you. 100 Proof. Not too sweet like other liqueurs (which is good).
I’ve always liked the looks of these, fake wires excluded.
Yeee! I have to think every single one of them was some kind of a sedermasochist!
Last Passover I thought about using some of that in my seasonal scrambled-egg breakfast dish, but I opted instead for matzobriety.
(Sorry. I’ll pipe down and try to keep it to a dull maror.)
Seriously, though, your, ah, adverse reaction to the seder meal reminds me of the first time (and one of the few) I ever got well and truly drunk. It was the Friday night of a not-very-good seder at the University of Oregon Hillel; they used boxed mix for the matzo ball soup (which I’m pretty sure is a sin). I’ll spare the details of that night’s badness; your account is close enough. The fun part came the next morning at 7 when my alarm went off. On a Saturday, why? Well, because it was parents’ weekend, and my folks were in town, and I had about 20 minutes before they would pick me up and drive me to their B&B for a giant breakfast feast. During which I had to pretend I didn’t feel like I was going to bleed to death through my eyes. I figured either I was a stupendous actor and they had no idea, or they knew exactly what the score was and reckoned nothing they could say would add to the punishment.
(obRelevance: their rental car was a white Taurus, in accord with the prevailing laws and regulations at the time; a decade earlier it’d’ve been an Olds like this)
A wiseguy, eh?
Oy. Let’s do that again. oyyyyyyy.
I’ve never been that drunk. Once I saw somebody get that drunk, and he slowly vomited on his girlfriend’s head when she was sitting in his lap in the back of a gigantic dance party for the Harvard Model UN in the Boston Convention Center in Copley Square. It oozed, and she was annointed, and we had to get them both out of there past the chaperones.
That was the same day I saw Ted Kennedy and Cardinal Law chewing the fat surrounded by big beefy Irish guys in the passageway between the Sheraton and the Convention Center, and I asked one of the beefy guys – “Is that Senator Kennedy?” and he said yes, and I continued to my meeting as a representative to EcoSoc from Burkina Faso.
Meals at the KDH in the JLC? Instead of the Standard of the World, it was the Slandered by the Churls. Eh. As the old joke went, the food was terrible, and in such small portions! And access to two carbon fragments! Positively WCTU. (so as not to endanger access to meal plan money from Campus Life).
My seder drunkenness story happened when I was *eight* with unfettered access to open-pour Malaga Extra Heavy at the Ahavath Israel community seder. Thankfully I did not have to drive home.
When I was seven or so and Passover came round, I asked if we could skip all the talking and praying and just go directly to the eating (no).
I’ve always thought that chopped liver shouldn’t be disguised as food and put into humans, so I am unsurprised to hear of its ejection here. It may well be quite good in the role of a general-use bathroom finish that you gave it, and surely it would sell: waterproof, and kosher.
My father’s Oldsmobile was from 1938 – I’m not deceasingly ancient, they bought it 1960 – and I must confess I’m glad his didn’t look like yours, in which too many set-squares were used by styling. Reputedly the ’38 a good car, but 5’3′ mother couldn’t restart it if it stalled, as the starter button had stayed on the LHD position on the floor, and she had to leave her seat and the helm to press it. She got it stuck on a local traffic island during one such set of gymnastics, and a local shopkeeper kindly drove it home, after which she never again did.
I like the story of the complicated inter-family trade. We did that quite a bit, though it could be a bit like pass-the-parcel with a ticking UXB, and being youngest of six, it stopped more than once on me.
Nov 2022: Still have my mother’s 1985 Oldsmobile Regency. It’s in great shape. Olds were the best cars. Not quite 50K miles on it and it drives better than a Lexus.