Monthly Archives: January 2016

The ’68 Charger

As much as I liked my ‘61 Tempest, after a year and a couple of months I began to feel the need to upgrade. My father was a “Chevy man” and following the family tradition I was quite fond of the Camaros of the late 60s and disliked all Fords on general principles (although I would go on to own three Mustangs in my life – so far).

But the car which caught my attention in the spring of 1968 was the Dodge Coronet. So after no small amount of thought, some consultation with Mrs. B, who ran the Thor Credit Union, I made my way one afternoon to Aurora Dodge, located on N. Lake St. in North Aurora.

I was extremely disappointed that they did not have a Coronet on site with the right set-up, and which was – importantly –the right color. I had already made up my mind as to what color I wanted. Medium green – what many would call avocado – with the darker avocado green vinyl top. (I had not yet succumbed to the notion that every car I owned must be Ferrari Red). No problem, I was told, I could order just such a car as I wanted. I understood and accepted that reality, but I was still rather put off by the idea that, having now decided to act, I would need to wait an additional several weeks for the car to arrive.

However, they did have, – right there, not 50 feet away – a different model, that I might like, with precisely the right color combination. Willing to at least take a look, we walked to this alternate selection. At first sight I knew this was my car. As much as I liked the Coronet, this 1968 Charger R/T, with a 440 Magnum engine, and Torqueflight automatic transmission, road wheels – and without the notable “Rumble Bee” stripes – was not just significantly better, It was perfection.

This was the car I had to have. I have no doubt that my face gave me away, and even if I had been skilled at negotiating a good deal for myself, it was probably out of the question in this case. This car was more expensive, from the start, than my earlier choice. But I did have the backing of the Thor Credit Union, and make-able payments could stretch as far into the future as necessary. I say again, this was my car.

So couple of days hence, on Friday afternoon, the deal was done and I could pick up my Charger. This event was almost delayed due to a brief, but heated, disagreement with my mother who wanted – for some incomprehensible reason – to wait until Monday to add the new vehicle to the family insurance policy. But I prevailed, and took possession of my new car on my way to what promised to be a very long second shift in the milling machine department at Thor.

Arriving on time, more or less, I parked my new car in a (daytime) supervisor’s slot right outside the window of the area in which I worked. Walking by the window often and gazing out at my new beauty was just too much. When the lunch break came at 7:30, I feigned some malady and headed out on the town to show off.

At about 8:30 the next morning my mother knocked on my door, waking me to tell me how beautiful she thought the car was. So all was again well at home. That weekend, and beyond, I made the rounds. The car was a big hit at the Office, and also when it revisited North Lake Street to cruise the Sears parking lot and Tops Drive-In.

 

The City By The Bay

I had learned a lot about San Francisco in the past year. On my previous visit I didn’t really know my way around and exploring the city had mostly centered on my temporary home base – the hotdog place on Market Street – where I had hung out with new friends while awaiting my separation from the Navy, and a bit beyond. Since then the words and music of Rod McKuen and Glenn Yarborough (and Tony Bennett) had led me to see San Francisco with yet new eyes and to learn much more about this city with which I had fallen in love. Most of what I had learned however had been from afar.

But now I was here, and with a rental car I was free to roam. I could explore, and see, and experience firsthand all those things about which I had read, or seen in pictures or films, or learned from studying maps. From my hotel room on Van Ness Avenue, I traveled to the Italian neighborhoods and beatnik hangouts of North Beach. To the Sunset District (Pete Seeger’s “little boxes on a hillside”) and the broad sands of Ocean Beach. I drove from the Presidio and the Marina to the Haight, and from the University to Marin County and back, as I tried to pack everything into this all too brief visit.

Recalling lines from Rod McKuen’s poem*, in the evenings I too would ride the bridge from Sausalito home; but unlike the poem, I felt that San Francisco and I would always be friends. And I knew I’d be back.

And as I roamed, the music on the car’s radio would be “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles, “Pictures of Match Stick Men”, by Status Quo, “Love is Blue” by Paul Mariat, and “(Sittin’ On The) Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding – a song which maintained its No 1 status in this city long after its popularity had faded in other parts of the country. A song which will forever remind me of San Francisco – as it was in the spring of 1968.

Not only the glamour of Fisherman’s Wharf and the Top of The Mark, but the then un-restored Victorians of the working class neighborhoods. The bars and clubs on Broadway; Vesuvio, the Condor Club, and The Hungry I. Keezar Stadium, and the double-decker freeways, which survived until the earthquake of ’89. And the old Embarcadero highway, hugging the bay shore past the piers, and warehouses, and the freighters at China Basin – where now the Giants play baseball – and bending the corner and past the bridge to end at the Ferry Building. How I loved it all.

But soon enough this California adventure came to an end as I returned at last to Aurora, and the milling department at Thor, and to a still uncertain future.

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* Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows” Rod McKuen 1967