Left Coast/Right Coast: Cars (and the detritus that surrounds them)

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been a lifelong “car guy.” When you grow up on the streets of New York City cars are actually superfluous. You have outstanding bus and subway service.
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on various subjects. Photo credit: Frank Hammer.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve been a lifelong “car guy.” When you grow up on the streets of New York City cars are actually superfluous. You have outstanding bus and subway service.

In my neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn) there was a bus stop directly in front of my house. That bus took you to the Sheepshead Bay Subway Station (part of the old BMT Line – Brooklyn Manhattan Transit line), which went from Coney Island all the way to Manhattan in about 35 minutes.

Forget about even trying to drive from anywhere in Brooklyn (Sheepshead Bay was about as far from Manhattan as you could get in Brooklyn) to Manhattan especially in rush hour in less than about 80 minutes. Then you would have to pay  about $50 (in today’s $) to park for the day plus the tolls in the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

With all that, why was/am I always a “car guy?” Simple. Freedom.

A driver’s license, especially when combined with a car, was a rite of passage for any teenager. In New York the driving age even back then was 18. So what did I do? I got a New Jersey license at 17 (you could get a “junior license” at 16 ½ - but it was only good when you had a fully licensed driver sitting in the passenger seat). Technically, you were not legally allowed to drive in New York City proper unless you were 18, but that didn’t stop nearly every 17 year old with a New Jersey drivers license, including me, from driving into the City.

Okay, now what car to drive? In last place was the “parents” car. In my own family’s case, that was typically a new to 2-year-old low-end American sedan. (This was long before the Japanese invasion – no Toyotas, Hondas, etc.).

My dad had several somethings like a Plymouth Valiant with the infamous “slant six” 225 cubic inch engine and a two speed automatic tranny. Zero to 60 in something like a minute or so. Not one’s first choice.

In fact, we previously had a ’57 Chevy with a V8 engine (today a real collector’s car), but my dad hated it. “Too thirsty,” according to him (and this was in the day of 30 cent/gallon gas).

I tried everything I could to convince my dad to hold onto that car – but it went away in favor of our 1960 Plymouth Valiant. BORING! But you know what? It did get us from point A to point B.

By the time I was in college, I had wrangled a promise from my parents to get me a car if I made Deans List. Needless to say, I made the list as early as it was possible to do so.

My “college” car was a trusty and well used VW Beetle. Yeah, it couldn’t reach 80 mph, had no heat (not great in upstate New York with those cold winters) and it was so unstable in crosswinds. So much so that you had to slow down to 45 mph or so to avoid getting blown off the road. But it got me where I wanted to go on my own schedule and most importantly, had that comfortable “back seat” (which in the old VW’s folded down into a short bed).

It also sipped gas and was among the only cars that could burn that Sunoco and Gulf “sub-regular” gas sold back then. In Troy New York, there was a Sunoco station and a Gulf station located right next to each other. They had a perpetual “price war” for all four of my college years there (but only on their sub-regular grade) as a loss leader. I routinely paid $0.19 cents/gallon. I could fill my VW for about $1.25. Those were the days!

My college roommate (rich kid) had a Type 356 Porsche. That car would be worth over $75k today if in “good” condition and not a rusted out hulk. That sucked me into a life of sports cars that exists to this day. I’ve owned dozens of Porsches, Mercedes, BMWs and other “high-end” cars.

What is my secret (not being rich)? Buy used, fix them up, drive them for a while, then sell them and do it over again. That is so New England (as well as Pacific Northwest). The old New England Yankee adage, “Buy it old, make it new, wear it out, do without.” New Englanders (and to some extent Pacific Northwesterners) “bury" their assets not display them conspicuously.

When we lived in Florida – you were what you drove (not unlike California). People buy a car based on how “impressed” the neighbors will be.

In New England as well as in the Pacific Northwest, people seem to keep their old car going forever. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, one was lucky to get 100,000 miles out of a car. Today, even an econo-box (say a Mazda 3, a Toyota Corolla, or even a Chevrolet Cruize) with reasonable maintenance routinely can go over 250,000 miles on its original engine and transmission.

I like what J. A.  Jance (well known Seattle-bred mystery writer) had one of her chief protagonists (a female detective) yell out whenever she saw a “macho” guy driving one of those testosterone fueled exotic cars, “Sorry to hear about the small size of your organ.”

My last Porsche 911 used to regularly get glances. Not from attractive women, but rather from 12-year-old boys.

See? Future car enthusiasts are still coming along.




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