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Posted by on February 6, 2017

Pat had a VW. Tim had a cool, red, ’57 Chevy convertible. McGee had a corvette. Thom, a flaming orange ’57 Chevy. I had a choice between my mother’s pink ’57 Olds or my Dad’s black ‘60 Cadillac. So I mostly rode with friends. Now the Caddy was sweet in its way. It had those classic big fins and an actual telephone…I mean you could open the huge glove box and extrude a full, black, roto-dial phone. (This phase lasted about two years, when our family was almost well-to-do. The company where dad worked,, Transco, was riding the space boom. We belonged to the Del Mar Club…a lower shelf version of Sand and Sea, Jonathan, or Bel Air Bay Clubs which were arrayed along the beaches north of Ocean Park’s Del Mar…but that is perhaps better fodder for another story). I took the Caddy on the occasional date, a memorable prom comes to mind…I thought I was stylin’, but now smile as I picture myself. But otherwise, it was off limits.
There was another reason I rode with friends. I had swiped the aforementioned Caddy one night for band practice (not really a band, but that is another story too) and was discovered. Perhaps discovered is not the right term. My Dad discovered the car missing and my sister Sheila, who knew my proclivities, called me at Tim’s place to inquire if I perhaps had the missing car before Dad called the police. I turned myself in and threw myself on the mercy of the court (held in our kitchen). Hence I did not get my license on my 16th birthday like every other kid in my class. I got it a year later.
So I rode shotgun a lot…wing man on many elaborate adventures, the guy in the back seat with his date at the drive-in, actually watching the movie as the heads in the front seat moved in and out of view. We spent so many nights just parked at some convenient view point, sharing smokes, sipping Coors, and prognosticating over the mysteries of life that I would guess there were more than a few friends whose cars had permanent marks from my feet on the dash. My pals never seemed to mind ferrying me around. Perhaps because I usually brought some sort of strategy for the evening with me, a “lust for adventure” one might call it. But more likely they just felt my pain at being wheel-less. Either way, it was always appreciated. Looking back, I should probably designate a portion of my retirement account to Pat or Tim for all the gas money I owe them.
Being car-less on the west side of LA was both a curse and a challenge. For many years my life was defined by the perimeters of where I could walk (and I thought nothing of walking for miles) and where my bike could take me. But bikes lost their cool by high school, which, in hindsight was stupid. As all the places I was drawn to explore got farther and farther apart, I mastered the art of hitchhiking. At about 14, I was delighted to realize that I could get most places pretty fast by just stepping into the road and sticking out my thumb. Yes, I got a couple of lascivious propositions and once I got robbed, but mostly I just met interesting people, folks that would give a kid a ride and often tell their story. I considered the experiences part of a broader education that I was pursuing, outside of that which came prescribed by my formal education. The farthest I ever hitched was to San Francisco, but that was not until a few years later. In 1960, I was content to direct traffic with my thumb on Wilshire, Sunset, and the PCH.
For some reason, many of my high school memories are associated with cars….sitting in them for a smoke at lunch hour, cruising all that could be cruised on the west side of LA, careening up and down the Coast Highway between Santa Monica and Malibu, and of course the occasional near catastrophe. A night comes to mind when we were packed into O’Toole’s VW, me in my shotgun seat, and he took a turn onto San Vicente a bit sharply, causing the car to roll on its side. I crawled out the sunroof as all that could be heard was Bill Geisdorf wailing in the back seat. We thought he was seriously injured until we figured out that he had just spilled his beer all over himself. We rolled the car upright and went on our way.
Cars took us to Tijuana on Friday nights, to Hollywood on Saturday nights, up the coast for waves or down the coast for jazz at the Lighthouse. My Mom’s Olds was only good for one thing: you could fit at least three people in the trunk at the drive-in. Otherwise, it was always shotgun for me, the perennial side kick, wing man, the guy sitting white-knuckled when his pal decides to race someone.
I didn’t get my own car until after graduation, when I purchased the sweetest ’48 Ford woody wagon. I was so proud to sit behind the wheel. It was red and of course wood paneled and my father blanched when he saw that the back seat was only a mattress. It got one radio station only: KRLA. I paid $150…the damned thing would be worth about 10K today. I drove it proudly but sold it back to the guy I bought it from to finance my escape from home. I got my $150 back plus the cost of a bus ticket to Reno, NV, where the next chapter of my life was to begin…once again riding shotgun.

2 Responses to Shotgun

  1. collie

    I remember all those cars very well … fun memories Never drove the Cadillac, but did take the pink Olds out once or twice (maybe with you?) and recall how very long it was when trying to parallel park. Luckily Sheila let me use her Ford Falcon to get my license.
    Back then I thought KRLA was the only radio station!
    I really enjoyed reading this, Dennis

  2. Eileen

    Loved this, Dennis! Pat taught me how to drive a stick in his VW, and Thom & Tim were my first crushes in their cool cars:) Never knew about that phone though in Dad’s caddy!

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