At 16 I Had No Muscles But I Drove a Muscle Car


I recently read Auto Biography by Earl Swift in which he retraces all the owners of a '57 Chevy and it's had me thinking about my first car.

It was a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda. I unwrapped it in the Fall of 1990. Twenty one years after it rolled off the assembly line. It was a cool car. I, on the other hand, was not cool car guy. Nor was I even a cool guy. In the movies a guy gets a cool car and then suddenly he has people following him around buying him pizza. That’s Hollywood. In real life I didn’t smoke or have a varsity jacket. No tattoos. I didn’t listen to cool music or have a cool haircut. I was tall and awkward. After my 16th birthday I was a tall and awkward kid driving a 1969 Barracuda with a slant six engine.

The car was a surprise. My father and I went car shopping in the months leading up to my birthday but unbeknownst to me, that was a ruse. My muscle car was parked in the neighbor’s garage the whole time. Interestingly enough, during the car shopping game I picked out several equally cool cars that neither fit my personality or my body type. There was an awesome topless Jeep whose seat belt wouldn’t have been able to restrain my lanky frame had I taken it off road like the trying-to-prove-something 16 year in me would have done. There was an equally preposterous MG that I had my eyes on even though at over six feet tall, my head touched the roof while seated and once inside the only way for me to exit would have been to recline into the passenger seat to get my legs out of from under the steering wheel.

So instead of those silly toys my father surprised me with 3000 pounds of banana yellow steel Detroit classic. If cell phones would have existed I would have had Heart’s “Barracuda” as the ringtone.

My car wasn’t necessarily a muscle car but just as I looked in the mirror hoping to see a muscle or two somewhere on my frame I called my new ride a muscle car. I bought a car cover fabric to protect it from the elements although it was over twenty years old and had proved it could survive just fine in the Florida sun. I installed a cassette player in the glove compartment to not damage the look of the dashboard and rocked out to very uncool music.

I think the plan was for the car to be a team building exercise for my father and I. It was a high ropes course for the two of us. Actually, it was more like going to a high ropes course with no ropes, helmets, gear or upper body strength. None of which we had.

But, we had a guide! Our guide had tools and knowledge and experience. And a sales pitch! A coworker of my father’s was a muscle car guy and explained to us how much fun it would be and how much we would learn about cars, the world, each other!

And then soon after I unwrapped the classic he moved out of state and we were looking up at the high ropes course without gear.

One of the first projects we undertook was replacing the master cylinder.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. “But the 1969 Barracuda had manual brakes. Are you sure it was the master cylinder you replaced?”

Before the Fall of 1990 I wouldn’t have known that either. The power brakes were an after market add-on a previous owner had installed.

With our guide out of state he sent us step by step instructions via fax.


This was 1990 remember?

The nearest fax machine was at my father's office.

Follow up illustrations were a drive away.

“And where is this nut that we loosen to bleed the lines?” We would ask on the long distance phone call.

“I’ll send a drawing.” He would answer.

To the office! A fax awaits!

By the end of the project the faxed instructions were as stained with red brake fluid as our hands and bodies were.

But our team grew stronger.

I owned the car for a few years and then upgraded before I went off to college as I needed a more reliable car to make the journey out of state with.

I replaced the muscle car with a more practical VW Jetta that needed less maintaining and fit my uncool lifestyle a little better.

Pacita Jugo Ladd... "Nana"


My Nana passed away on February 13th surrounded by her family after being diagnosed with cancer just a few weeks before. She passed very peacefully and kept her wit until the very end. Hours before, when people were coming in and out of her room I said to her, "I think you, Susan and I are the only sane ones in this bunch." She replied, "I think your right, honey" My Nana was many things to me over the years. She was a grandmother and a babysitter. She was a mentor and an advisor. She was a resource for travel tips and great grandmother to our son. Through it all, and especially as I grew mature enough to realize it, she was a friend. Our conversations, though split by a fifty year spread, were always casual but meaningful. She would offer me suggestions on how to live my life and how to raise Judah and do so as a peer... never with an air of authority. She kept that spicy Filipino side suppressed until necessary to quickly end a conversation. And believe me, should could pull out the big guns if need be!

Growing up, Nana was my tour guide when I was too 'sick' for school. Whether it was a museum or a theme park (or hours at the beauty parlor!) she wasn't just taking me to get us out of the house she was taking me because she wanted to go. I remember her being as excited as I was at the things we would see. But, I'm certain that our trips to see the alligators at the Seminole Reservation were as much for her sake as mine. We would always leave with cartons of tax free cigarettes.

She never stopped thirsting to learn. In the past ten years, as she became active online, she would always call with questions about the internet and her computer. She wanted to know how to keep her computer running smoothly as well as how to create profiles on social networking sites. She once called asking how to 'defrag' her hard drive. Not long ago she emailed wanting to know how to set up an account on "The Flickers". I'm sure she wanted a login so she could comment on my pictures. After Judah was born, I bought her a webcam and we have been using Skype several times a week ever since. A few times she would call Susan's Skype account not knowing she was teaching and Susan would turn the computer around so the kids could talk to Nana.

Looking back at both this blog and my Facebook page, it was Nana who was always the most prolific commenter. Always in CAPS! I knew after I posted a blog, photo or video she would be the first to see and 'like' it. Before she returned from the hospital for the last time, she requested a video of Judah to be online for her when she got home... something to look forward to. She said it was one of the first things she did when she got home.

Upon her passing, it was my grandfather and I at her side. He held her right hand while I was holding her left. I feel honored and loved to know that she chose to share that moment with me. It was peaceful and painless for her. I will always love and cherish all my memories with her and will do the best I can to ensure Judah knows how much she loved him.

Some of her comments from Facebook.



LADD, Pacita Jugo, 84, of Temple Terrace, Fla., died Sunday, February 13, 2011, at home surrounded by her family. "Pat" was born July 1, 1926 in Manila, Philip-pines, the oldest of nine children. It was during World War II, that she met her first husband Tom McEwen in Manila, where he was stationed. After the war, they eventually settled in Temple Terrace, where she raised their two children. In 1959, Pat started her many years of playing golf and bridge with her circle of close friends at the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club. In 1969, she married Andrew Ladd and became mother to his four children. They enjoyed many great years together traveling the world and visiting with family. She was also a passionate Gator and Bucs fan. Pat was a proud and beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend, who lived life to its fullest. The memories of her will be honored and cherished by all who knew this amazing lady. Pat was preceded in death by her parents, Rafael and Carmen Jugo of Manila, and five siblings. She is survived by her husband of 42 years, Andrew M Ladd; sisters, Mila Garcia and Menchu Alleja; brother, Joe Jugo; son, Rick McEwen (Jane); daughter, Virginia Mullaney (Kevin); sons, Andrew Ladd (Donna), and Robert Ladd (Dawn); daughters, Susie Weda (Jim) and Bitsy Calloway (Donnie); grandsons, Christopher Stork (Susan), Sean Mullaney (Meghan), Ricky McEwen, Lucas Calloway (Erin), Jarret Calloway (Callie) and Andrew Ladd; granddaughters, Stephanie Flynn (Mark), Ellie Ladd and Hannah Ladd; great grandsons, Jordan Flynn, Foster Calloway and Judah Stork; great-granddaughter, Jocelyn Flynn and many loved nieces and nephews in the Philippines.

Since storms cancelled our evening with The Flaming Lips - I had to go to Youtube.

Well, The Flaming Lips show in Philadelphia turned into “A bit of a bath - a big bath” (to quote the Woodstock documentary - although theirs was in reference to the bath the promoters would take upon getting the bill for the festival.) Although we had a nice evening and some great Indian cuisine downtown with some friends at Karma, our evening of Lips was cut off after about 6 songs when storms rolled in from the West and forced us all into the air conditioned “too unbearably hot outside” tent. Or in our case, the air conditioned and cold “too rainy for outside” tent. Actually, first Susan and I cut through the rain into an unused beer tent that had since closed up shop. We were dry for about 60 seconds until we were forced to vacate our dry dwellings by a water saleslady, “You’re not allowed in there!” In the larger tent we waited for the storm to pass while I watched the Weather Channel app on my Google Phone draw red cells around “our current location”. We were warned about the possibility of storms before the set started and were assured by the band they'd play as long as the weather cooperated and the promoters said it was safe. First came the rain and they played on - then the lightning. After an hour in the tent, and amidst the worst of the thunder and lightning, the staff announced we should leave, "the show is over." Although I was optimistic up until this point, I figured the venue had a curfew and this couldn't go on for ever. We left during the Philly accented and encouraging, “you’s all should leave now” but I knew the tone would turn less pleasant as I already heard a few staff grumble about how they were supposed have gone home 5 minutes ago. Into the rain we went. We regrouped with friends at Dave and Busters next door and played video games in wet clothes to wait until the weather gave us the time to walk to the hotel. Sitting in wet clothes at video games took me back to Adventure Island in Tampa and playing Pole Position in a wet bathing suit. Much like then, I’d have hated to be the kid in the seat after me. Ah well, all in all the bit of the set we saw was fun. Lots of confetti and balloons and great music. Next time, we will have to see them inside in August.

I never got many Gold Medals - But I used to make them.

medalI once quit a job without giving two weeks notice. I quit after my lunch break. The boss wasn’t surprised at all. I think she even wondered why it took so long like it was a bet amongst the bosses. Each day that went by with me still on the line was another nickel in the jar.I worked at a trophy factory in Tampa and made the medals people wear around their neck after winning track meets and what not. For some reason we made lots of medals for the PBA - "The Police Benevolent Association" and I thought that if I ever got pulled over I could use this as a conversation starter. I was on an assembly line and would be given scalding hot medals from out of the mold and was to sand down the edges on a steel-brush sander until they were smooth and round. Like when Christmas cookies come out with bits that cooked under the Santa mold. My job was to remove those bits with spinning bristles of steel. These were very hot cookies and shards of lead would fly off everywhere. Along the line there were several of us with varied levels of sanders in front of us. The first would sand off the rough edges with each in the line making the edges smoother until the last in line had a very fine sander that polished the final product. Although each on the line spoke a different language... I was the only one who could communicate with any of them. On Tuesdays, it was my day to control the radio - I got news from the outside this way. We were in a hot windowless room. Often while sanding the medals I would secretly sharpen a screwdriver into a fine point to make a shiv for the day I broke free. I would tuck it under my lab coat when one of the bosses walked by. We had to wear lab coats to keep the shards of medal off our clothes. Once, I had my coat open and got it caught in the sander when I took a big old "look how many medallions I’ve completed" stretch. The sander instantly pulled me up to the machine and was sanding my already hairless chest until the Korean guy next to me turned off the power to my machine. He gave me a pat on the back as if to say, "This is why we keep our coats buttoned you little jackass who plays stupid music on Tuesday." The next day, the “No accidents in 300 days" sign changed to "No accidents in 1 day". So, I quit one day when I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t even have to use my weapon.

I used to watch alot of Fanny at my Nana's house

Plenty of sick days from Grade School were spent at my Nana's in Tampa watching this show from her king sized bed. I think it was on at 1pm while she was watching Days of Our Lives in the other room. (Side note - I threw up on her new carpet one day and while she was yelling at me for puking she started throwing up too. As a result, if it was "Bridge" day, I'd sleep in the back of her car in her friends driveway while they were inside drinking Martini's and playing cards. The ladies were afraid I had a weak stomach and would ruin their carpet.)

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My childhood "Boy named Sue" moment

This is a girls shirt!

In grade school we wore navy blue pants and white dress shirts. The boys had triangular collars while the girls wore the rounded ones that little Catholic school girls wear. There was an unfortunate era when my sister and I wore the same size shirt even though we were two years apart. And, of course, there was that day. One of the days that sticks with you forever and came back to me the other day when i was trying on used sweaters at an outdoor market in Amsterdam.

"This is a girls sweater." I said to Susan.

"Oh no it's not. It looks good on you." She answered.

"Irrelevant how it looks, the buttons are on the wrong side."

Back to grade school. The unlucky day must have been around 5th grade and it was made clear to me by my teacher that I was wearing a girls shirt. She asked, of course, in front of the class. "Are you wearing your sisters clothes?"

The class turned and errupted in laughter.

"Stork-dorks wearing a girls shirt!"

So my question is this, was it I who was half asleep while dressing watching Woody Woodpecker or was it my father who was half asleep while he ironed our shirts that morning. Where were the parental checks and balances to sound the buzzer for these things? Was this just a "boy named sue" moment in which my father tested me on how I would handle the rigors of manhood? The only thing it has taught me is to pay extra notice as to which side the buttons are and what shape the collar is.

I was just a guy on a plane

As I made my way down the aisle yesterday for my flight back from Tampa I saw two kids sitting in the row I was to take. They had the aisle and middle seat - I was to sit by the window where a bald baby doll was strapped in. The mom was in the aisle ordering them to behave themselves and not to bother anyone and that she would be just across the aisle watching them! I asked if she'd rather sit with her kids and she pointed to a third child strapped into the seat next to where she'd be. So I was with two kids on one side of the aisle while she'd be on the other side with her other one. Between us though was a Korean man who apparently spoke no English and was disinterested in making a better seating arrangement for all of us. I made small talk with the four year old girl to my left. Well, I accepted her invite for small talk. We'd chat and I'd answer questions about why I wore glasses and what I had for breakfast and then I watch her get scolded for talking to the 'nice man next to you!'

We'd sit in silence for 30 seconds and then she'd start in again. I was having no trouble talking to her and was enjoying myself but every few minutes or so her mom would scold her and even went as far as to offer money to her if she stopped. (Later she did give her a daughter a dollar. When her mom turned away, she split it with me by ripping it in half and saying I was talking too.)

What to do?

Ignore the child and be rude or talk and get her in trouble?

She asked me to help her with her homework.

"What do I do on this page?" She asked pointing to a cartoonish page of 1800's America.

"Draw a circle around the things that don't belong in the picture of old timey times." I said running my finger across the words.

She circled the dad and told me they didn't have dads in old times. She circled the dog and said they didn't have pets. She circled the wheel chair and said they didn't have those either. For this one I had to think though. It was a modern chair but they must have had some sort of wheel chair.

"Argue with the teacher if she marks that wrong." I told her.

When she missed the airplane up top I asked her what that was.

"An airplane, dummy! Like the one we are on!" She said.

"They didn't have those back then." I told her.

"Of course they did! What if they wanted to go see their family or go to another city?"

"They rode horses." I told her. "Or horse and carriages."

"No they didn't!" She rebutted. "They put their horses on the plane! They left the carriages behind."

I let her think that... I was just a guy on a plane.

I pointed to the light outside the barn in the picture. "And what about that."

"Did they have lights?" She asked out loud. "Of course they had lights." She answered out loud. "Without lights they wouldn't have seen the little baby Jesus."

It was September and she was referencing the little baby Jesus.

"Don't you think they used candles?" I asked.

"Of course not. They didn't have birthday cakes then. Candles are for birthday cakes. You don't get a cake when you are born only when you are one."

How to argue with that? Again, I was just a guy on a plane.

My theme park - My babysitter



I grew up in the theme park Busch Gardens and its water park sister Adventure Island. They were my babysitters. They were Grandma’s house. They were home. They were where I went when school was out for the summer, where I went when I was too sick for school or where I went when the parents didn't want me around for the day. They were where my sister and I did our homework and worked on after school projects. We weren’t latch key kids. We were turn style key kids. “Pick you up at the gate at 5” was as synonymous as “Don’t give your grandma a hard time.” Growing up, my parents both worked in management there. He was the VP of Marketing. She did the same but for the Special Events department. Both titles had there own distinctive perks for two spoiled theme park kids. Marketing, through the eyes of a child, was more about trade than advertising. We had plenty of coupons and free food cards to eat wherever the current ad campaign was partnered. One month it may be a stack of free Taco Bell tacos for dinner. The next we’d have our fill of subway six inch meatball subs.

Special events was hosting parties after the park closed. Often we’d pack up our homework and have to go to the park at sunset. After dining on whatever the banquet was serving for their guests we’d ride the rides until forced to do homework. The lure to finish was the promise of Churro’s and Strawberry Mirage’s for dessert from the stand outside the dolphin show. You might think the lure would be the actual dolphin show. When you’ve seen it as many times as we had it becomes no lure at all. Yet the dolphins get excited and jump through the same hoop for the same raw fish as last night?

During these events, the party would be held in one of the many themed sections of the park. The company would rent a section and have all the rides and shops open for them during their event. This would mean we’d have all the rides and shops open for us. Being that there were often more rides than people… there would be no lines. We’d have our run of the park. Ride all the rides we wanted or hit the water slides until our bathing suits wore thin. Often we’d not even get off the ride... they would just run it until we told them to stop or it looked as if we were too sick to continue.

The Python

The Python

Busch Gardens is an African based them park. Even though I’ve never been to Africa, I feel that I am somewhat of an expert. I grew up in the suburbs of Tampa but African craftsman, belly dancers and snake charmers were my neighbors. As a child, I could probably bang out a brass pot or weave a leather sandal given the right tools. 
My treasure map was the printed park map or Busch Gardens. My friends would play hide and seek in Timbuktu or in the Congo or take a nap along the train ride through the African plains. I would wait for my father along the eastern edge of Lake Victoria or outside Stanley Falls. I'd use my Busch Bucks to buy a pith helmet from the gift shop to go along with the rest of my theme park wardrobe at home. The place that kept me most entertained was the Sultans Arcade. If the parents were looking for me… they knew to look in the arcade. I grew up thinking how great it would be to work in a game room. (I was given that chance in high school and it wasn’t that great.) I was there for the release of all the great games of the late 70’s and 80’s. This was my babysitter and home away from home. Being that I was there every day the clerk would give me a key to open the game and manually trigger the switch to simulate feeding it a quarter. I was there the day Paperboy came out. I was there the day Dig-dug was delivered. I remember watching them take the plastic off Hard-Drivin. But I was also there when they wheeled some of the greats out to sell them off to bars or laundry mats. My games were shipped out to undeserving drunks who would actually pay money to play them.



Walking around the parks now as an adult I have the nostalgic feeling of going home for a visit. Like seeing your babysitters house from an adult eye... things look a lot smaller. I am reminded of so many pivotal moments from my childhood. Where I fought with my best friend or where I was shutdown after revealing a crush on a schoolgirl. I can pick out the spots where I was scolded for arguing with my sister and where we’d both have to sit and do our homework until we got along.

Maybe one day I'll make it the actual Stanley Falls. I hope they sell Churro's.

Collection of pictures.



With not much on my plate yesterday I made the short trek out to Crabtown to see what it was all about. I figured if it was listed on the internet on a website devoted to classic arcade gamerooms and was ranked high on the most games list... I should check it out. Especially if Mapquest said it was just 9 miles away. I clicked on "map the scenic route" because it was going to take us to the heart of Glen Burnie, MD and all routes in Glen Burnie are scenic routes. As my buddy Ben said on our drive out, "If you're every feeling down about yourself, go to the Wal-Mart in Glen Burnie."

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