In 1962 my dad bought a brand new Corvair. It was a two door, painted tan, with the new concept of an air cooled rear engine. Well, it wasn't exactly a new concept since Hitler's Volkswagon had been around for some time. But, now, with my driver's license having recently been converted from the 6 to 6 variety into a full fledged adult license, I had wheels practically any time I wanted.
It was fantastic! It was freedom! It was three on the floor. I have to admit here that three on the floor was not the ideal four on the floor but the gear shift was not on the column. It was as close to a hot rod as I could imagine. Kicking the clutch, slamming the gear into the dashboard with mercurial shifts while flooring the accelerator sent my imagination along the Darlington speedway with supercharged wings. The actuality was not so lightning fast but, hell, it was three on the floor and the dream to be Fireball Roberts incarnate. I was purring down the highway in a streak of tan.
The day I showed up in my sporty tan set of wheels, I pulled into the parking strip directly across the street from a gigantic quonset hut. For the next three months I was to come here to work and sweat in this aluminum oven. The double doors at each end remained open through all manner of weather, heat in summer and cold in winter. No air conditioning unit could keep this building cool so there were sprinklers outside atop the curving aluminum frame forming a long half metal cylinder set upon a concrete slab, half a block long. The metal cave became my home away from home for the next three months. Did that continuous flow of cooling water spouting from the sprinklers reduce the temperature in the cavern? Add to that the continuous river of sweat plastering our clothes to our bodies, I would have to say no. We were told constantly, "Talk your salt pills." These we got from dipensers on each wall near water fountains.
That first day I slammed on brakess, kicking up a spray of rocks and gravel covering the strip cleared for parking. I looked around as the dust settled. I was sixteen. I could see everyone else was old, mid to late twenties all of them. What am I in for, I asked myself closing the door with a solid thud.
"Hi," I said to the guy parked next to me. He looked at me over a hawk nose, his eyebrows knitted over dark eyes. His hair was raven black and slicked along the side of his head forming a DA in back.
"Hey," he answered back. His surly response I chalked up to the hour. It was seven AM.
"My first day," I said.
"Good for you."
We continued across the street.
"What's it like here?"
"It's a party," came his response. I let it go. Several concrete steps led to the entrance. We both took the steps two at a time. Inside the manager called me over.
"Rickey, come into my office for a minute. Let me give you the run down."
He was a middle aged man with greying hair and the start of a double chin reflecting the paunch above his belt. His manner was gruff as he began to talk.
"Your first day, eh? You'll like it here. Everybody is real friendly."
Yeah, I thought. I've met friendly.
"I know your dad really well, Rickey. It's because of him you got this job. You're only sixteen and we don't normally hire anyone under eighteen. You're a special case. He said you would be a hard worker and I don't want you to let him down. Know what I mean?"
"Yessir." My dad had said that? He hardly ever said anything to me. I had no idea he thought I would do a good job.
"Anyway, I wanted you to know that and welcome you aboard. Your job will be anything anyone asks you to do. We'll keep you away from the heavy machinery until you become accustomed to this work environment. Make sure you show up on time and give us a full days work and we'll get along fine. Now let's go out there and get you introduced."
He led me out into the open area to a crowd of people waiting at the clock to punch in.
"Alright, listen up everybody!" He proceeded to introduce me to everyone. There were about nine employees. He told me their names but being bad with names they flew into one ear and dribbled out the other. Everyone grumped hello. They turned to the clock which had just pinged and began to punch their cards.
"Here you go, Rickey. This is your time card. You must punch in and out or you don't get paid. Slip it into the slot like this, press down and it will stamp the time on it. There, it says seven-oh-three. You have five minutes to stamp in and out. And don't forget. If the card doesn't show times the finance office doesn't issue a check. This is important."
"Thank you, sir. I'll remember."
"Just put it in a slot here on the wall when you've stamped it. Now let me turn you over to my floor manager."
He led me to Mr. DA who provided a slight sneer with his hello.
Our boss left me in his hands and returned to his office.
"What size is your hand?"
"You want to work with gloves don't you?" he said, his sneer growing.
"I..I guess so, but I don't have any idea what size my hand is."
"That figures. Bringing in a child to do a man's work. Gimme your hand."
He grabbed my hand and grabbed a ruler from the desk. He lay the ruler across my palm.
"OK. It'll fit."
"What? What'll fit?" I asked completely mystified.
"Come with me." I followed him over to the corner where he reached into the shadows.
He grabbed aomething and slapped it into my hand. It was a broom.
"There," he said. "It fits perfectly. Now go sweep until I call you."
Walking to the middle aisle of this huge cavern I veiwed the acres of concrete floor to be swept.
"Oh yeah. You'll need this too." He tossed me a dustpan which I dropped with a clatter.
He shook his head then was gone.
From seven to twelve I swept the floor. I bumped into everyone there at least once. They were friendly enough but not overly talkative.
At twelve everyone stopped and walked to the break room for lunch. I walked out to my car. That was enough of that place for a few minutes. It was going to be a tough summer if today were any indication.
I rolled the windows down and opened the package of nabs I'd brought for lunch.
"Corvair, eh?" Mr. DA was leaning down looking at the interior.
"Yeah, '62 with floor shift."
"Pfft. A toy compared to my Chevy."
"It does pretty good for a rear engine." I had to defend my ride.
"What year's that thing?"
"'58 V-8. Race you any time."
"OK. Let's do it now."
"You kiddin'? That tin can couldn't hold a candle to this."
"Maybe but let's do it. Right here. Right now."
"Alright, candyass. Hit the street."
I cranked my mother's car. The rear engine purred to life.
"You gonna crank it?" He yelled from his steering wheel.
"Yeah. It's running."
"Pfft, pansyass car." He cranked his. A gutteral roar poured from his engine with a turn of the key. He revved it several times. The mufflers weren't standard because the noise erupting from them brought everyone from the break room outside the hut. We had an audience.
The road running past the hut was straight narrow macadam two lane. He pointed down the street.
"We'll race to that point," he said punctuating his words with a blast of exhaust. It was a railroad cross bar about half a mile away.
"You got it." I didn't have a chance and I knew it but the challenge had been issued.
I slpped the floor shift into reverse and sprayed rocks under the car whipping into the right hand lane. A cloud of dust hid my opponnets car. A roar and deepening cloud of dust let loose his Chevy with a squeal when rubber met paved surface. He pulled along side of me in the opposite lane. The workers lined the side of the road laughing and pointing at the tan tin can.
"You ready!" he yelled above the V-8's roar.
"Hell yeah!" I shouted back.
"On three!" came the response.
Blue smoke poured from tires liquifying on pavement. The Chevy shot forward amidst a steady squawl of spinning tires. I floored mine and it whizzed forward. The smoke from his tires was blinding me but I held it steady and popped the clutch slamming the gearshift into second with a tiny squawk of tires. I glanced to the left to see a trail of rubber leading to the tail lights up front as I hit the clutch again and pulled the bar down into third. My tan can was grabbing road hitting fifty by the time I reached the tracks and pulled along side of him.
"Let's go again!" I yelled at him. "Let's turn around and go back!"
His laughter drowned out the gutteral purr of his V-8.
"LIne 'em up, Patsy!"
Once more we were side by side. Once more he yelled three. My hand flew to the shift nob as my foot slammed the clutch down and up with a tiny squeal of tire. Second popped, third popped and I was flying down the two lane watching his back lights disappear in smoke of peeling tires.
I hit the break and slid into the parking spot I'd left ten minutes before.
He was closing the door getting out as I switched off the ignition.
"Told you it was a good car," I boasted while stepping out of it.
"Beat you all to hell and back," he said with a laugh.
"Yeah, you did," I admitted. "Hell of a race though."
"It did get the blood pumping," he said putting his hand out. I grabbed it and we shook. I never took notice of his disdainful looks after that. It was just his natural look.
"HEY! You two! In my office!" The boss was yelling. There was no mistaking the look on his face. It was anger.
We got a real scolding in the office. Reckless endangerment! In front of his plant! He had a mind to call the cops! He wanted to suspend us!
My first day and here I was in the principal's office again. Suspension. My very first day.
But he calmed down after screaming for fifteen minutes. It was my first day after all and my dad's name came up somewhere in the tirade. We weren't punished but were warned about such craziness. If it every happened again we would be let go. It was simple.
I don't know why he carried on so. We certainly weren't going to do that again. It wasn't like it was a planned daily activity. It was spur of the moment.
When we emerged from the office everyone moved back to their work stations. My new buddy and I walked out suitably chastised. Our grins proved all was well.
Mr. DA slapped the broom back into my hand, smiling.
"Glad to see you know your place, buddy." The rest of the summer was a blast. I was never late and, Mr. DA was right, it was a party.