My wife Sandy needed a car pretty bad. Not that she was complaining but, the one she had could have been very useful to the Mosquito Control Commission. Just idling, it certainly could have rid the entire Jersey Pine Barrens of ticks, skeeters, fleas, and, campers. In fact, if Sandy just drove a mile or two into the Pine Barrens, it would be a safe bet that the Jersey Devil would move to Brooklyn. Indians complained that she was messing up their smoke signal network. The only good thing was, she didn’t have to call to say she was coming home. All’s I had to do was look out the window for the approaching exhaust trail going up into the atmosphere. Plus, you could hear the car coming from ten miles out. If she was going somewhere she’d never been to, I could stand out on our deck with a map in hand. Then, just by watching the twists and turns of her exhaust plume contrail, I could see if she made the proper turn at a given intersection. Another nice thing was she could only drive on nice days. In the rain, whenever she turned on the windshield wipers, they’d fly off their posts and into the woods. Also, the ashtrays were full. Not full of ashes but, spare screws and bolts that we couldn’t identify and reinstall. The final blow came when the steering wheel came off and she had to use a crescent wrench to steer. I was riding with her when that happened, and finally put my foot down. My foot went through the floor.
We were in a pickle. The cars trade in value might have gotten us a small coffee. We didn’t have much money as the second hand store we owned took almost every cent we had to maintain. That store was the financial equivalent of Sandy’s car. Luckily, I was doing a lot of car shows and cruise nights back then. I told Sandy that maybe I could ask around. Maybe one of the car people would have an idea of what we could do. If nothing else, they might know a junk yard with a hole in the fence. We could sneak up one night and shove her old car through the hole and run. Maybe too, I said, the hot rodders might know someone who sells cars cheap.
So, I think I was at the Chatterbox playing tunes for the Wanderers. When I felt the time was right, I picked up my microphone and made my plea. Mostly, I asked if anyone knew of a place where I could find a good but cheap used car for Sandy. I didn’t need to get rid of the old car anymore. It dissolved in a heavy and windy thunderstorm. Just the tires were left and I used them to hold down the tarps on our firewood pile. I didn’t get too many suggestions. People mostly told me about this dealership or that junk yard. I wasn’t getting anything concrete for sure.
The gig was over and I was packing up my stuff. I was wondering how I was going to get my equipment to the car shows after Sandy commandeered my van. I was thinking if maybe I could get a cheap horse and buckboard somewhere. I turned to grab one of my turntables and stopped short. I almost bumped into Smitty.
Smitty was and, still is, I believe, one of the Wanderers. He and his wife Marie live in Florida now. But, back then they lived down in Morris County near Denville I think. If I had to describe Smitty in one word, I’d have to say, Fonzie. Smitty might disagree just because like the Fonz, he’s not full of himself. He’s a quiet, tough, observant, human being. Like Fonzie, he’s one of those people who always have lifes jumper cables or the right tool handy for whatever life throws at a fellow traveler in this world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Smitty brag about any of the cool things he’s done. He just quietly does them. Tough as he is I don’t think I’ve ever seen him push his weight around as a bully. In an argument, he would listen as well as talk. I’m sure this is embarrassing him. Marie picked herself a great husband and I’ll leave it at that.
So, Smitty kind of startled me when I turned and there he was. But, I’ve always been happy to see him. He had something to tell me. Smitty said that he heard that Sandy needed a car. I said that he heard right. It turns out that Smitty had a pretty good idea. He said that he had a car back at his shop that was just gathering dust. It was just a little sub compact. It might have been a Dodge Colt. It had quite a few miles on it. It needed brake pads but, other than that it ran pretty good. Smitty also said that he felt it was safe enough to drive. It just wasn’t much to look at. It wasn’t like it was rusty or dented or anything. Smitty said it just wasn’t the prettiest or snappiest car on earth by any stretch of the imagination but, it would get from point A to point B in due time.
I was intrigued. This sounded like a way out of the pickle barrel for Sandy. I asked Smitty if we could see it. He told me he’d stick it on a trailer and bring it by my second hand store on Monday if I’d like. That sounded good to me. I gave the OK. I felt Sandy could go for this car and paint it up herself if need be. I also figured it wouldn’t be a whole lot of money either. So sure, I said, “Let’s take a look.”
Monday came. I think Sandy had something she had to do that day. I think we were in the middle of cleaning out a house or something. She said she’d be happy with whatever decision I’d made. So, I waited for Smitty to come on by.
I didn’t have long to wait. Shortly after I opened the store, I was looking out the front window and I saw a car carrier truck with a little white car on the back. It was slowing down and signaling a turn. I ran outside and over to the side parking lot of our store. Yep, I could see Smitty in the drivers seat. He was climbing out of the cab as I drew closer.
I was eyeballing the car. “Smitty, that car looks way better than you said. Sandy’s going to love it.” Smitty smiled as he got it off the trailer. He wanted to show me that it started and drove ok. I had to drive it around the parking lot a bit. He wanted to be sure I felt it was OK. It ran just fine. He felt, with care, it would be good for a year or so. Still, it needed brake pads but, that shouldn’t cost much.
I said we had a deal as near as I could tell. But, I needed to know how much he wanted for the car. I about fell out of my skin when Smitty gave me the price. I was shocked at the amount he wanted. With a smile, he said, “I don’t want anything for the car Doc. It’s free. Just take it. Here’s the bill of sale.” With that, he started rolling up the hoist chains. I just stood there all quiet with my mouth open.
Sooner or later, I spoke. “Are you sure?” He was sure. I think he said something like that I was always out helping people and it was about time someone helped me. That’s about all he said. I’m going to run this story by him before I publish it just because I don’t want Smitty to be feeling like I’m bragging for him, which of course, is just what I’m doing. He’s a great guy.
To make a long story short, Sandy loved the car. She got the breaks fixed. I don’t remember that she painted the car. She did however, get a cast iron basset hound doorstop and had our mechanic bolt it to the roof. It was her idea of spiffing the car up a bit and making it cooler. She drove it for quite a few years and it gave her very little trouble. I think she loved the car and, it loved her. Thank you Smitty.