Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 20: Wheels, Part 4

Above, I tried to recreate a visual. I'm not too far off on the era, but that's not South Street and Clinton, it's South Street and Peck Slip

When we got our first car in 1958—a 1954 Buick Century, we bought our gas at the Texaco station on South St. around Clinton/Jefferson Sts. At the time, the owner (I believe his name was Sam), was turning the business over to his son, Steve. Steve gave us 5 cents off a gallon, which is why we went there. Steve was slick. When we needed a new set of tires, Steve tried to sell us a new set of inner tubes, so he could make an extra $6, although there was nothing wrong with our old ones (they had a few patches, but they didn’t leak.) Steve’s logic went like this:” you wouldn’t take a bath and not change your underwear, would you?”
We initially parked in the small lot on Monroe near Catherine, and then moved to an inside spot in the Esso garage on South and Market. The Esso station had a Jewish mechanic named Max, who must have been a dropout from Mohel school—he was a real butcher. The night guy at the Esso was Frank, a short guy who was always chomping on a cigar butt.
Since all the guys my age I knew had moved out of KV by ’58, I was hanging out with Ben Grey, Marvin Kefer, Dave Wiseltier, and Marty Gross. ‘Course those names might not mean anything to you younger readers, and I could have been hanging out with George Washington and Fiorello LaGuardia (hey, I know those guys) for all the difference it would make. Marv was driving his father’s (Charlie) ’56 Dodge wagon, which he said was pretty fast. So the first thing we did was drag race his wagon against my Buick with the three portholes. The Buick won, but not by much. Ben Grey, though had the coolest cars—first an Austin-Healy 3000 sports car, then a ’57 Chevy convertible.
We’d be hanging out at either the Esso or Texaco gas stations while the Italian Dion-wannabes were doo-wopping it up on street corners or in the KV basement.
In 1959, I bought a new Jeep (army-style) from a dealer on Dykeman St. in Manhattan. Like I a needed a 4-wheel-drive in Manhattan. I thought the Jeep was cool because it had three stalks coming out of the floor—the 3-speed shift, a 4WD lever and a Low range lever. I did have fun taking it on the sand at Bergen Beach in Brooklyn. I’d make a circle track in the sand, going over it a few times until it became a circle rut. Then, I put the Jeep into Low range, pull out the hand throttle a wee bit, jump out and walk a distance away. The Jeep would follow the ruts in the sand, chugging along all by itself at 2 MPH with no driver inside and no one in sight. It was a real mindblower to people passing by.
With its low gearing, the Jeep was pretty quick up to about 50 MPH or so. One night, when we were hanging out at the Texaco station, Marv and I drove the Jeep over to the right of the FDR Drive. There was a long dead-end street to the right of the park, and there was a cop car sitting at the end, facing north, obviously goofing off. At that instant I got an Epiphany. I knew that I could blast down to the end of the street, make a bootleg U-turn by locking the rear wheels with the handbrake, and nail it back south, and the cops would come after me. And I knew with the certainty that the sun would rise the next day, that I could make it back inside the Texaco station, out of sight, before the cops could hit South St. and be able to see me. So that’s what I did, and of course it worked. We watched the cops go flying by the Texaco on South St. in pursuit of an invisible Jeep. Lots of laughs.
Eventually, the cops returned to their original spot to goof off. Then Marvin said that he wanted to try it. I had my doubts, but there is actually little to do when you’re hanging at a gas station. So I gave him the wheel. Marv, blasted down the dead-end street, and just wasn’t sharp enough with his U-turn. I knew right there that he had blown it by a couple of seconds. Sure enough, the cops hit South St. just as Marv was turning into the Texaco. And they saw us.
The cops weren’t too happy, especially when they were looking for the owner of the Jeep who was taking his time in the washroom. We all had a little discussion when I finally came out, but no tickets were issued.
That’s it for the wheels portion, but I’m gonna throw in a small bonus because you’re all such nice folks. I can’t remember a lot of the details of the following story, but the important points stand out in my mind. And I gotta warn you that it’s kind of Gross.
I think it was a Yom Kippur evening. All the guys were hanging out after shul, and for some reason we all started drinking. I forget whose apartment we were in, but Marty Gross kind of passed out on the bed. The rest of us were still able to walk, and I got this amazing idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if we got one of those wire trash cans that were on street corners and slipped it around Marty on the bed. Imagine—waking up inside a trash can—one of the best stunts I thought up all week.
Me and one of the other guys climbed into my (actually my mother’s) Buick and set out in search of a trash can that wasn’t too full or too gross. It would be Gross enough in the morning (yuk, yuk). We found one, and had quite a time wrestling it into the back seat of the car. You have no idea how big those suckers are until you try to wrap your arms around one.
We did manage to get the can into the apartment without getting busted, and we did slip it around Marty, sleeping like a baby. I left to go home at that point, so I missed the payoff of Marty waking up inside the trash can, complete with the garbage that it contained when we found it. Hey, it sure beat doing homework!
The previous chapter of Cliff's KV Notes

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