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

barracuda
barracuda

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.

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.

On Fatherhood: Almost 40 With a 4 Year Old

headphones

How different his world is in 2014 than mine was when I was his age in 1978. This is the blessing of the late blooming father. Had I begun the child rearing phase of my life a decade or more ago things would be different. We could enjoy the Hunger Games together, we could both simultaneously suffer from Bieber Fever and I could have eaten all of his leftovers without worrying about calories. Not so when 35 years separates us.

Now I can easily justify saying, "When I was your age."

"When I was your age, we called a thirty second video clip a commercial."

Will I be able to teach him to appreciate the things that made me who I am today or is he too far removed from my generation? Will the coming of age moments for me be relevant for him? Will the movies, books, video games and music mean anything now or will they be campy and ironic to him?

I've begun compiling a list of media he will need to consume (and appreciate) as he matures in order to continue calling himself my son.

When he comes home from school with awkward adolescent struggles and feelings of not fitting in I will sit him down to watch Weird Science to understand my 80's awkward. We had to watch our back then. When we (the nerds) weren't doing so we were fantasizing about a time when we could control our destiny with computers. We were on the front lines. "Back in my day, nerds weren't cool like they are now. Who knew it would take something like Glee to allow us to come out."

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Who knows where he will be and what he will have seen by then but when he is in high school and surely feels trapped, he will read On The Road and dream about wandering. He will not read it digitally. He will not listen to it. I will get him the book. I will encourage him to write in the margins and dog-ear the corners. I will teach him that the scuffed up pages with take him back to the spot where he scuffed them up. He will remember the book but more importantly he will remember where he was and who he was with when he reads it again later.

When I first started playing my fathers records, naturally I was drawn to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". It became mine when I heard the tracks that weren't overplayed on the radio. That album came out only 7 years before I  was born but seemed from another time. If my son does the same, maybe he will stumble upon my Nirvana "Nevermind" CD. That album came out almost twenty years before he was born! Twenty years! What a gap. If 7 years was a lifetime for me then... what will a two decade spread sound like? The Beastie Boys album "Licensed to Ill" was one of the first tapes I bought on my own. A quarter century before he was born. To him... vintage. But the lyrics are timeless right? "Don't step out of this house if that's the clothes you're gonna wear. I'll kick you out of my home if you don't cut that hair."

As an avid collector of classic video games whether he will enjoy the games from a simpler time is a grey area for me. Will he have the imagination and patience left to be able to experience games in anything less that HD?  When we start playing together, where to begin? Do I introduce them after the fact as being retro and nostalgic or slowly trickle them out in chronological order so he can watch them develop as I did but on a much faster scale. If so, we need to start playing Pitfall on the Atari 2600 soon. He's not too spoiled yet to think those green splotches are alligators and naturally you need to jump over them.

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Will these things hold up? Will he tell me to turn that old stuff off? Who knows. My only hope is that he can appreciate them and although it's decades later maybe they will resonate with him at the right time and the right place as they did for me. Then again... maybe it will be his turn to teach me something.

 

 

You Say You Want A Revolution?

image There will certainly be a time in our sons life where he will think he is cooler than us and rebel against the way we chose to raise him. He will be on his way to becoming a Jedi of his own. In an attempt to limit the damage to his ego and curb his embarrassment when he realizes he is, and will always be, less cool than his parents, I will attempt now to predict the ways in which he will play in opposition to our interests. This way, how can it be his revolution if I called it first?

Note, on this day in 2013, I predicted he would go through these phases and also predicted they won't last long.

-Dad. I'm really digging this new band. Actually... The whole genre. I'm really into Christian Rock now.

-Dad. I like wearing white tank tops because they really show off my gold chains.

-Dad. I know you like watching Seinfeld but that show is thirty years old. Can I please turn on Sports Center?

-Dad. I can't believe you were around when The Fast and Furious movies had their theatrical debut and you didn't go see any on the big screen.

-Dad. Can we get something really messy for dinner tonight? Like really wet barbque ribs? I really like finger licking food now.

-Dad. I don't need to know what their voting record is or what their values are... They are Republican and that is all I need to know.

-Dad. It was just a few beers. I really like the taste of High Life.

-Dad. I don't know what your problem is. Everyone jaywalks.

-Dad. I thought you'd like the lights under my car. It's retro. Like the cool kids did to their cars back in your day.

-Dad. It clearly says we have the right to bear arms.

-Dad. Sometimes (Unintelligible sound of talking with a mouth full) you and mom (unintelligible sound of talking with a mouth full) that first year. (Said while talking with a mouth full.)

-Dad. I think I just read my last book. I've pretty much learned all that I need to know.

-Dad. We've had this conversation before... Pink Floyd sucks.

-Dad. I don't have a problem with it. If I'm not doing anything wrong I have nothing to hide from the Government.

-Dad. I really hate video games... And Star Wars... And airplanes.

Catholic School made me a Sinner

I put in twelve years of Catholic school... I was released on my on recognizance but served parole under the watchful eyes of a Baptist College. You could say I was "institutionalized" and feared life on the outside. Twelve years of a regulated wardrobe can have a lasting effect if they occur between five and seventeen years of age. I was the kid at the skating rink in navy blue dress pants and a white dress shirt. My time with Catholics made me a sinner. I'm not sure if it's that they taught me what sins were or made it so damned easy to be one? I get it, you break the rules... you're a sinner. But they made the rules and had I not gone to a Catholic School - I wouldn't have known they were there to break. I worried for my friends who weren't baptised because after they died they'd spend their life in purgatory with all the dead pets but they didn't know what purgatory was. What came first the chicken or the idea of a life of eternal damnation?

One of my most memorable grade school sins is also one of the most ironic. It happened once a month when we had to meet before the priest and confess our crimes against the church. I would practice my confession and set it to a rhythmic cadence to help with the memorization. The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian" was a fun era for the Holy Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Bless me father for I have sinned

It's been one month since my last confession

I lied to my teacher

I stole from my sister

I skipped detention

I walked like an Egyptian.

Most of these were lies in themselves... lip service to get through the ordeal. If I had learned anything from Mass it was showmanship. Making up lies about lies was easy. First grade stuff. These were easy ones that would only merit the canned "Three Hail Mary's and an Our Father" penance.

The real lie came with the stagecraft. I often performed this well rehearsed song and dance in an empty confessional... I'd confess my made up sins to no one. No priest, layperson or janitor would be on the other side of the black screen to critique my routine.

As we would enter the church we'd line up in two single files lines of boy and girls, tallest to shortest. I'd be near the front of the male brigade and as such, I'd scope out the church for the empty confessional and form a line outside of it. Our teachers would split the lines up after a half dozen kids so there would only be a few behind me I'd have to remind of what we practiced in scrimmage. In the event the next tallest person wasn't an ally, I'd tell him the priest would be back in a bit after I'd emerge from the empty confessional downtrodden and gloomy after airing all my dirty laundry.

Sure, a big lie. But in the Catholic way, I always gave myself three Hail Mary's and an Our Father as my own penance to clean the slate so I could sin again.

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.

My theme park - My babysitter

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ad1

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.

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b2

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.

https://photos.cltampa.com/60-years-of-thrills-these-vintage-photos-of-busch-gardens-tampa-show-how-far-the-park-has-come/?slide=1&c034379

WHERE ARCADE GAMES GO TO DIE

WHERE ARCADE GAMES GO TO DIE

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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