I was purchased by a man who lacked both the emotion and the
enthusiasm you would normally associate with someone buying a car.
Immediately we headed south, arriving in Memphis late the same
evening. As we turned into a long driveway, we encountered a
foreboding iron gate. "Hi, Billy," the guard said.
"The boss has been waiting for you to get here with the
car." Soon a shadowy figure emerged from the home -- actually
a twenty-three-room mansion. He walked slowly toward me, and I
knew him instantly.
slid behind my steering wheel he spoke. "Thanks, Billy. This
is just the car I need to be able to slip away in. Everyone is
watching for a Cadillac and no one is going to look twice at a
Chevy." And so for the first time Elvis and I drove out of
Graceland Mansion and into the night together. As we did so Elvis
patted my dash and whispered, "You're my ticket to a little
bit of freedom, my friend. I'm going to enjoy our time
together." Me too
fabulous -- better than anything I had ever imagined in my wildest
hula-hoop fantasies. Parked among a fleet of Cadillacs, I was the
envy of all. Everyone knew I was the boss' favorite because I
provided him the anonymity he craved. I was kept spotless and was
always on-call. Slipping out of Graceland into the night was
exhilarating for both of us. More than once someone in a passing
car would recognize Elvis, and more than once he stomped my
accelerator pedal to the floor. As my dual four-barrels kicked in,
we would leave yet another gawking fan in the dust. After one such
"escape" he mused, "Man, you've got more pick-up
and maneuverability than any of my Cadillacs. And my friend,
you're a heck of a lot more fun to drive!"
passed blissfully by. However in 1969 Elvis began performing
regularly in Las Vegas and was rarely at Graceland. There were no
good-byes. One day I was unceremoniously driven to a Memphis used
car lot to be sold back into the real world. I had given Elvis the
gift of anonymity. Now however, I was suddenly just another very
anonymous old Chevy.
August 16, 1977
I was prepared for the worst after my pampered existence at
Graceland, but a pleasant surprise lay ahead. My new owner was an
Air Force Colonel named Chris, who served as a Military Aide at
the White House. His family car was a 1969 Chrysler Town and
Country station wagon -- a gas-guzzling behemoth that weighed
almost two and a quarter tons! Even at age twelve, however, I was
still showroom sharp and continued to draw my share of admiring
glances. Chris really enjoyed my quick response and loved to floor
the gas at intersections. Life was great -- and interesting too.
evening in July of 1971 Chris and I headed for the White House --
something we had never done before at night. As we pulled into the
back service entrance a man emerged from the shadows and quickly
slid into my front passenger seat. "Thank you for the ride,
Colonel", the man said. His deep voice and German accent were
unmistakable. It was Dr. Henry Kissinger. And our assignment was
to transport him to Andrews Air Force Base "incognito".
Both Chris and I sensed something monumental was happening.
"You have a very sharp car here, Colonel. I always liked the
clean styling of this model of Chevrolet. Well, anyway, wish me
luck." Dr. Kissinger then hurried to board his waiting plane.
As we and the world would later learn, he was off on his
groundbreaking trip to China for a secret meeting with Premier
Zhou Enlai. Our "lift" was actually the first leg of his
historic mission to open Chinese relations.
passed pleasantly and life was good. Then one day Chris got orders
to an overseas military assignment. The mood was solemn as he
drove me for the last time. The only upbeat thing was that my
radio was playing one Elvis song after another without any
commercial interruption -- unusual, but I was enjoying the music.
Then a very somber deejay interrupted to announce that Elvis
Presley was dead. It was August 16, 1977, and I had lost two
beloved owners in one day. I was now twenty years old, and this
was unquestionably the saddest day of my life.
Proverbs, Frankfurters and Tools
After two great decades my worst fears were becoming reality.
Chris had sold me to a Bible salesman whose route traversed the
state of Rhode Island. He was a nice enough fellow, although I
think he had me confused with a truck. My rear end always felt as
if it was going to scrape the pavement due to the fact my trunk
and back seat were continually weighed down with untold boxes of
The Good Book. I shouldn't complain, however. My next owner, a man
from Kentucky, ran a chain of fast food outlets with a menu
featuring primarily hot dogs. I was constantly hauling carton upon
carton of wieners. They weren't quite as heavy as the Bibles, but
they could be messy. Alas, it wasn't until I was sold to a heavy
equipment mechanic in Mississippi that I really learned the
meaning of messy. Tools. Lots and lots of greasy, grimy, dirty
tools. What was left of my once fine upholstery was stained and
torn beyond redemption without even an "I'm sorry". It
was proverbs in Providence, frankfurters in Frankfort, and tools
Life was no
longer a joy -- it was now a constant struggle to simply endure.
My body was badly scarred with scratches, dings and rust. I knew I
was now only a barely recognizable shell of the beauty I had once
been. I often thought of the good times at Graceland and the
intriguing years with Chris at the White House. And then there was
my first owner, Huey, the two-faced hula-hooper (or was it
hula-pooper?) who had so unceremoniously dumped me. A brief moment
of pleasure in my otherwise dull existence came when one of my
confused owners (one of the many who confused me with a truck)
loaded me full of -- you guessed it -- hula-hoops! This particular
fellow happened to be an avid flea market seller. "I only
paid a dime apiece but I can't give these &#!%* things
away," he cursed as we headed for the dump. Carrying that
load of hula-hoops to their eternal rest was one time I didn't
mind at all being used for a truck. My momentary pleasure was
enhanced even more as I conjured up a vision of Huey now penniless
and perhaps living homeless (maybe living in an old truck!) near a
dump just like this one. It would be such sweet justice for
"my old pal"!
As the decade of the nineties dawned it appeared as though my life
had come to an end. My transmission had given out and I was
abandoned on the spot -- in a dense patch of forest in northern
California. Occasionally scavengers would stop and take some part
off of me that they needed. One even went so far as to unbolt and
steal my front fender! Soon however I was covered with vines and
foliage, protected and barely visible to passersby's. Life seemed
without hope and I found myself drifting through the seasons in a
make at least three pieces out of this," a somewhat gruff
voice said. Awakening from my slumber I found myself being pulled
from the snarled growth that fought relentlessly to keep me
ensnared. I didn't understand the "three pieces"
comment, but I was clearly on my way back to civilization. At that
moment the chance to resume my life again was all that mattered.
A butcher --
the guy was a butcher! I soon learned he planned to dissect me and
make three pieces of trendy furniture out of me! His first project
would be to turn my trunk area into a couch that would feature my
tail-fin fenders as the two armrest ends. How gross! I had heard
that with the fifties nostalgia craze making couches and other
"hip" furniture out of old cars was in vogue, and that
'57 Chevies were the most desirable of all. Please. Take me to the
junkyard -- run me through a car crusher even -- but leave me in
one piece! Oh to be back in the forest and to feel the grip of
those protective clinging vines "lovingly" holding me
safe once again.
intervened. As the day of my "surgery" grew near a young
man who had seen me parked along side the butcher's shop asked to
buy me. "Well", the butcher said, "since I've got
two other fifty-sevens in better shape than this one, I guess I
can let you have it. Besides, it's missing a fender I need to make
a small cocktail bar with.” I didn't know where the young man
was taking me, but I could have cared less. I had escaped my date
with the scalpel.
"My name is David," the kindly but firm young voice
said. "I haven't got any money to spend improving your looks,
but I know where I can get a transmission and I'll make you run
again. I spend every spare moment at the beach surfing, so it
would be pointless to fix up your body. It'd just rust out in the
salt air anyway." However David did make me whole again with
a used replacement fender. "One of these days I'll paint it
to match the rest of you," he said.
Back in 1957
I had been "it" -- the total embodiment of chrome and
glitter in the Age of Pizzazz. My sharp good looks had been
all-important to me. How vain I had been! Now none of that
mattered anymore. Beneath my wrinkled and rusted skin I was alive
and healthy -- and more importantly, I was wanted and appreciated
once again. Not since my hula-hoop days had I worn a roof rack --
however this time it was being used to strap on surfboards. David
asked only that I carry him from beach to beach and wait
patiently. Alas, I had been blessed with a second chance at life.
I wonder -- could those thousands of Bibles I
"faithfully" carried all across Rhode Island have had
anything to do with my good fortune?
My new home
was the prestigious oceanside community of La Jolla, California.
I'm sure some saw me as an eyesore but I could have cared less.
David and I spent every possible moment at the beach. From
Oceanside to Carlsbad to Encinitas to Cardiff to Solana to Del Mar
and on down to Pacific, Mission and Ocean Beach -- David and I
were an inseparable pair. Surfboards strapped on, I faithfully
carried him up and down the San Diego coastline. Wherever the
waves were breaking, that's where we were. Often we traveled I-5,
and I still had what it took. David loved to stomp my gas pedal
and leave yet another modern four-cylinder wonder as if it were
standing still. Life was good and I wanted for nothing. The golden
California sun warmed my rough and weathered skin and I felt a
sense of calm and inner well-being. My four-barrels inhaled the
salty Pacific air deeply and the exhilaration was profound. Could
life get any better?
Eight Hundred Dollars
"Eight hundred dollars is a lot of money, pal, but you are
definitely worth it." What was David talking about? Eight
hundred dollars? David's next sentence answered the question.
"It's going to cost $800 to ship you to Maui, but how could I
surf Paradise without you?" For the first time in forty years a
tear fell from my eye. Every cruiser's dream is Maui -- blue skies,
gentle trade winds, golden sand beaches, palm trees -- and always an
easy laid-back life style. Boy, those Bibles were definitely working
David and I
have settled in among the hundreds of other young people who
comprise Maui's North Shore surfing community. Living in the lush
tropical area known as Haiku we are only minutes from the best
beaches on the planet. When David isn't working at his job in a
surfboard shop, it is guaranteed we can be found at the beach. In
addition to longboard surfing we can often be found windsurfing at
Hookipa Beach or perhaps kitesurfing at Kanaha Beach. As I wait
patiently along the shore I still draw my share of admiring glances.
There are a few who find my badly weathered looks pathetic. But most
recognize my appearance embodies the character that is the essence
of a true cruiser.
is precious, but the most wonderful time of all is around sunset
when David slips on my favorite CD. "Dreams come true in Blue
Hawaii" -- and as my beloved Elvis croons I close my eyes and
taste the Heaven those Bibles spoke of. There are a lot of
immaculately restored '57 Chevies still around. Their chrome
glistens and their open, airy, and vivid colorful interiors are
spotless. These polished classics have become symbols of a
romanticized era, the Fifties. Well, the Fifties was a great decade.
Spawning a revolution in car styling and performance, it also gave
birth to rock and roll. But the truth is I would far rather be who I
am and where I am today. For me happiness is being alive and a vital
part of an exciting new century. Surrounded by young people and the
invigorating surfing scene, Maui is my Shangri-La. Dreams really do
come true in Blue Hawaii.
-- The End
Cruiser Art 1999-2015
(Note: This Auto Biography is included with each Chevy
Bel Air print)