This wasn't actually my dad's car, but close enough in color and vinyl roof. Trust me, he would not have had a California license plate. He's probably spinning in his grave because I have one...and dared to move more than ten miles away from Mount Vernon, New York.
Yep, the Buick LeSabre was Dad's vehicle. And he certainly was a loyal customer to a brand. When it came to TV sets, he always purchased Zenith. When it came to beer, it was always Schaefer...when you're having more than one (and usually he did). And, for cars, it was always some sort of Buick in his driveway.
This particular car was the one I remember most because he had it all the way from my grade school years to almost the day he died. And the history of that car is such that, if you knew it, you knew my father.
The first day it showed up, the thing seemed huge to me. Parked in front of the garage (which barely fit it), it looked like the Queen Mary docked and awaiting the next voyage to England. The car's appearance was commanding. The interior was so big that you could comfortably sit three people in the front seat. I know because, once I was driving it, we shoved a lot of my friends in there like clowns in a Volkswagen.
Dad was proud of this barge. One of his regular trips was to motor around downtown Mount Vernon. As he did, he would see his pals hanging out on various street corners. Dad would honk, stick his arm out the window for a wave, and continue on. Why he never stopped is beyond me.
Trips to see relatives in Long Island would find us in the car for an hour or two, usually stuck in Sunday traffic on the Long Island Expressway. We'd take my dog Tuffy along and the LeSabre had a great spacious window ledge in the back for her to stretch out. Until, of course, we stopped short and the poor dog flew off the ledge and landed on the floor of the back seat.
Those Sunday excursions to Long Island sometimes included my grandmother who needed an airing out. So, Mom and Dad were in the front. I was in the back seat with Grandma and Tuffy. Of course, as soon as we got into the Buick LeSabre for the at-least-an-hour trip home from Deer Park, Long Island, Grandma would take her house keys out. And clink them in her hands to the point of annoyance. Of course, being natural enemies, the one who really got pissed was my mother.
"Godamnit, put those keys away!"
Or something like that. As huge as the car was, the tension filled the vehicle.
When the time was right, I learned to drive on the Buick LeSabre. My dad would take me on Sundays to Woodlawn Cemetery and that was where I got the feel of steering this tank.
"You can't kill anybody here. They're already dead."
It took months for me to get the hang of maneuvering this four-wheel yacht. I always steered wide around corners. It was like the passenger side of the car was in another zip code.
Unlike some kids, it actually was about four years before I got my driver's license. I was already in college. And the timing was perfect. I remember the first time I asked Dad if I could use the car the following Saturday. I had a wedding to go to. In Brooklyn.
"Brooklyn???!!! We don't go to Brooklyn."
Dad was right. The Buick LeSabre had been in Westchester, the Bronx, and Long Island. Never ever Brooklyn.
My father apparently had faith in me because he let me have the car. I'm sure that he sat home that night anguishing over every second I was gone. He should have. As I was steering that thing on the Belt Parkway, I was scared shitless. I had no idea where the hell I was.
But, once that threshold had been reached, I became a regular driver of the Buick LeSabre. My dad worked nights in Stamford, Connecticut, but luckily, he was in a car pool with another guy. When I became a regular fixture behind the wheel, I got to have the car on both Friday and Saturday nights.
Trust me, the roominess of the front seat was not an advantageous once I got to dating age. And popped up to the Elmsford Drive-In with someone. The conversation often had an echo.
During the winter, the car seats in the Buick LeSabre got extra cold. If you came out of a Yonkers movie theater and it was zero degrees, you could barely let any part of your body touch the upholstery. Beef could age nicely if you hung it in the back seat.
While I got quite adept at handling this monster, there was one college night where I couldn't accurately measure distance. I was picking up two ladies on a small and curvy Bronx street for a trip out to a Westbury concert where we would pick up my college roommate at his Newsday internship. There was another car parked on the curve of this thoroughfare and it was precision to try and get the Buick LeSabre past it without contact.
I didn't succeed. Metal on metal. Crunch, scrape, crunch would be seen in the comic strip bubble of my life. I asked one of my friends to survey my car.
"Good news. There is no damage that I can see."
Of course, when we pulled up to Newsday, my college roommate's jaw dropped.
"What the hell happened to your car???"
I made a mental note to come up with some good excuse for my father. And also to have my friend make an immediate appointment with an optometrist.
But, by this juncture, the Buick LeSabre had already withstood a few nicks and dents with my dad behind the wheel. He never got any of them fixed. Until the day he parted with the car, you could see the handlebar indent on the front driver's side where the guy on the bicycle had landed.
Of course, the Buick LeSabre saw less and less action over time. I moved off on my own and began my own chain of brand loyalty with Toyotas. And, as Dad got older, he would refuse to drive at night. Once he got sick and was starting to speed away from this existence, the Buick LeSabre stayed in the same parking space on the Bronx street in front of his apartment. Once a month, I would come over to start it just so the motor would get some sort of exercise.
It came the day that my father needed the Buick LeSabre to be taken away to Junk Heaven. He got a couple of his cronies to do the job because, by this time, Dad couldn't venture out-of-doors. I remember calling him the day the car would be removed. He picked up the phone and I could tell there were tears rolling down his face. His chums couldn't get the car started.
"I wish I could help them. I know that car. It would start for me."
I know it would have. If only he could have slid behind the wheel one more time.
Dinner last night: Italian panini at Greenblatt's.