The Car That Never Ran

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Just out of college and nearly broke, an artist moves to San Francisco and begins to sell his glasswork as a street artist. While struggling to pay the rent, he hatches a bizarre and convoluted strategy to solve his business storage problems with the purchase of a $15 car that will not start.

Submitted: August 05, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 05, 2019

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A A A


The Car That Never Ran

by James M. Carroll

©2018 James M. Carroll, All Rights Reserved

 

 

It was 1975, I was twenty-three, and had now moved to San Francisco from New York state. Having just finished college, I planned on starting a new life in a large and exciting city. Despite arriving with little money, I did however have a free place to stay with a couple of very close friends from high school.


Trying to find a job at that time was nearly impossible. It had only been a few months since President Nixon had been removed from the White House, and the economy was still reeling from his abrupt and scandalous departure. Even simple minimum-wage jobs drew scores of applicants by ten o'clock in the morning.


But while in college I had studied the craft of stained glass and realized that the Street Artists Program — a municipal program which enabled artists to sell their handmade work in public areas — might allow me to make a living by selling stained glass of my creation. And so I applied for a Street Artists' license, bought a card table, and began to sell my stained glass work near Fisherman's Wharf on the sidewalks of San Francisco.


Though my business sense was not good and sales were slow, I persisted. Within a handful of weeks I eventually found inexpensive housing and moved out of my friends' apartment, but I couldn't yet afford to buy a car with which to transport my stained glass and selling-table. As a result, I had to carry a suitcase of stained glass and a card table back and forth on the bus whenever selling at the Wharf. The buses were frequently crowded, and their many commuters were typically annoyed by my heavy suitcase and bulky table. I desperately needed to find a place to store my supplies at the Wharf, but everywhere I looked the rental cost of storage space was exorbitant — much too high for a struggling artist in his first year. My transportation problems seemed hopeless.


But then life would present an opportunity: one of my roommates decided he wanted to leave town, and he offered to sell me his car for only $15. Unfortunately the car wouldn't start, and its driving days seemed over. To make matters worse, he refused to leave the license plates on the car, and so I wouldn't be able to easily register the vehicle.


And then I hatched a plan.


Not easily daunted, I went ahead and paid the grand sum of $15 for a 25-year-old Rambler that was without license plates and was illegally parked on the street. However, I had often seen cars whose license plates had been stolen, and the owners had subsequently made cardboard license plates to inform the meter maids of the car's actual license plate number. If cardboard license plates could work for them, then they would surely work for me.


And so after drinking a few beers that night, I went to work creating a fake cardboard license plate from the state of Maine. Then I walked to the car, removed the numerous parking tickets bearing the original license plate number, and placed my new cardboard license plate under the car's windshield, along with a note saying my plates had been stolen. Sure enough, on the following day I discovered that the meter-maids had believed my story, and had now begun writing new parking tickets using the fictitious number I had just created for the cardboard license plate.


At this point, I finally had a vehicle that could hold my stained glass stock and selling-table, but unfortunately it wasn't at Fisherman's Wharf where I needed it. Though storage space at the Wharf was costly, it was however, cheap to rent a single parking stall within an apartment building's garage. After searching the neighborhood for a couple hours, I eventually found a sign that advertised a garaged parking-space for only $24 a month. And so I phoned the building's manager, said that I lived in the area and needed a place to park my car.


The manager gave me an application form to fill out and said to come back tomorrow. Since I was going to have to fake most the information on the application, I decided to give my high school buddy's phone number as a reference. I then informed my friend Wes to expect a phone call from the building manager, and that he should pretend to be my landlord. Wes wasn't the greatest liar in the world, but when the manager called and asked about his experiences with me as a tenant, he cleverly mumbled the phrase "no problem" over and over again, until the manager eventually hung up. That did the job, the manager bought our ruse, and I now had the keys to a garage space at Fisherman's Wharf.


On the following day, and in the middle of the night, I hired a tow-truck operator to pull the car to Fisherman's Wharf and discretely tow it into my newly rented garage stall. With my garaged Rambler I could now store my glass stock and selling-table in the trunk of the car at the end of a selling day, and then ride the bus unencumbered to my room across town. Things worked out well even though the car never left the garage.


When I told the story of my budget storage scheme to a fellow street artist, she laughed and told me she also needed a small storage space for her craft. And so we agreed she could rent out the back seat of the car for half the price of the garage rental, for $12 a month. On occasion I introduced her as the girl who rented out the backseat of my car, but my abrasive little joke irritated her enough so that she always felt obliged to insist she wasn't renting out the backseat for sexual purposes.

 

 

The scam went on smoothly for months, but eventually the building manager figured out what was going on, realized the car didn't move, and that I was merely using it for storage. To make matters worse, the manager had now begun to receive complaints about the car's dilapidated appearance from the building's upscale clientele. As a result, the manager desperately tried to contact me so he could demand that I move the car out of his garage.


But since I hadn't given my real phone number on the application form, he once again got my buddy Wes on the phone, who was now posing as my roommate and no longer as my landlord. Wes was very evasive and always said I wasn't at home. The phone calls went on for many weeks until it became evident that I had to get the car out of the garage immediately, or the manager would call the police and have it towed at my expense.


The apartment building was located on a steep hill, and it seemed that if we rolled the car out of the building, I could coast it to a new parking area that was two blocks down the street. Unfortunately there was a traffic light in the middle of the route, and I wouldn't be able to stop the car at that light, or it wouldn't have enough momentum to coast through the intersection and on through the second block.


One night, near the end of a dinner party at Wes's apartment, I announced to his friends that this would be the night that I'd take the car out of the garage and coast it down that steep hill. Wes's guests eagerly gathered outside to watch as I attempted to safely make the two block journey to the parking area.


I carefully measured the cycle of the traffic light so that if the car were released at the right moment, the traffic light would be green on arrival, and I could sail through the intersection without having to use the breaks. But we weren't sure the brakes would even work on that steep hill, because the engine would not be running.


As I climbed into the car for its final ride, I saw a look of apprehension and fear in my friend's faces — afraid that I might not be able to slow the car down enough at the bottom of the hill to safely make a sharp turn into the parking area. But what the hell — it had to be done, and so I climbed into the car.


After adjusting the front seat and rear-view mirror, I released the emergency brake in sync with the traffic light ahead and started to coast down the hill through the first block. As I approached the traffic light, it predictably turned from red to green, and I safely got through the intersection and completed the first leg of my journey. Only one more block to go and I would have to make a sharp left turn at the base of the hill or crash into the Maritime Museum. I gave the brakes a little test, and they seemed very weak. But luckily for me, the car was moving slowly enough that I could still make the turn safely and cruise into the parking area.


As soon as I emerged from the car, I could hear the sound of loud cheering from two blocks away — my friends were celebrating that I didn't kill myself in a wreck. I felt a little like a daredevil who'd just been shot out of a cannon.


For another few weeks, we continued to use the car for storage in that municipal lot, but it was only a matter of time before the growing cluster of new parking tickets would cause the city to tow it away. But by that time the summer was nearly over, I had saved some money, and could now afford to buy a real car that could actually carry me to work.


That night was the only time I had a chance to drive the $15 car, but I never would hear its engine run.  

 


© Copyright 2020 James M. Carroll. All rights reserved.

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