Things happen to me that I am sure never happen to normal people. It’s been this way ever since I can remember. Take for example the old Datsun I drove for a while in the ’70’s…
A’67 Ford Falcon that got me through my college years started to have periodic mechanical issues which were exacerbated when I was side-swiped by a tractor-trailer as I merged from Southern State Parkway onto the Van Wyck at JFK.
The truck driver probably didn’t even know he hit me as he sped off leaving me thankful to be still breathing. But it stove in the whole right side of the car and I began to feel that I needed a new set of wheels, or at least a different set. I daresay my young pride had something to do with it. I didn’t like driving around in a wreck.
Co-incidentally, – there’s that word again, – my father had just decided he was no longer going to drive. My parents were living in Barbados. There were public buses and taxis, but it wasn’t the sort of place where you can manage well without a car. My Dad owned a late 60’s Datsun. However he always hated driving, as was obvious if you ever made the mistake of getting in a car with him!
One day, when Dad was driving a visitor around the island, he got involved in a fender-bender. It was a very minor accident but it provided what he felt was the excuse he needed to abandon his chauffeur duties. Driving was one of the very few things my mother never mastered, so it was a great inconvenience, but there was no changing the man’s mind and the Datsun sat gathering dust in the car port, much to my mother’s annoyance.
During my next visit, I must have mentioned the sorry condition of my own transport. I was somewhat surprised, though, when I received a letter from my Mum telling me that Dad had decided to send me the unwanted Datsun. I’m not sure why he didn’t just sell it. Perhaps he thought my mother would be less displeased with him if she thought I would derive a benefit from his unpopular decision.
In any case, without any great amount of thought or discussion, the Datsun was launched off on a northbound ship. This involved an extraordinary amount of paperwork which I daresay my mother had to deal with. As the receiver of said car, I had a fairly large pile of papers to sort out myself, including, I think it safe to say after all these years, forging my father’s signature, as he had neglected to sign the transfer document.
I went down to the World Trade Center, feeling like a criminal and expecting to be arrested and deported. Dealing with Customs officials always made me feel that way, but I secured the release of my “new” car and next day I got a ride to the Brooklyn dockyard to collect it. It was November. It was exceptionally cold.
One of the considerations that could have been made in the matter of sending a car from the West Indies to North America is the fact that cars sold in the tropics had a different set of specs to cars destined for sale in cold climates. (I don’t know if this is still so.)
I’m not sure we even talked about the Datsun being a right-hand drive, but it was not illegal to drive it here. I had a slight problem when approaching the staff car park where I had to insert a card into a slot , – on the left side of the car. An ingenious colleague created a pole that held the card , however I could never manage to get the card into the slot from my position on the wrong side of the car. Inevitably, while I was waving my arm around madly, like a left-handed fencer, a queue of cars would form behind me and start sounding their horns. In the end I used to scramble across the car as quickly as I could, get the gate to rise, and then scramble back again, by which time my skirt was knotted up around my waist. None of this was made any easier by the fact that the window had to be hand cranked.
There was no turning back, however, my beat-up Falcon having, to my surprise been taken off my hands. So I made do. But I did get a lot of funny looks.
One night when I was coming home from my late shift at JFK, a police car came up behind me. My heart sank, wondering what I had done wrong and thinking how much I really didn’t need a ticket! The policeman peered at the car, looking a bit bemused and came around to my window. “What did I do?”, I asked plaintively. “Oh, nothing, I just wanted to look at your car”. Really.
I can’t really recall having a heater installed, but I am sure I must have. Otherwise that drive back and forth to JFK would have been a trifle chilly. One way and another, my Datsun and I got through that winter.
One Sunday I had been badgered into covering a work shift for a colleague. It was a warm sunny day and I left early as it was taboo to be late if you were on a day trade.
On Northern State Parkway, approaching Grand Central I began to think something smelled a bit weird. Suddenly steam came pouring out of the Datsun’s engine. I don’t know how how long I waited at the side of the road for a policeman to stop. – Where was the dude who wanted to check out the car!
After what seemed like an eternity, a tow-truck arrived, the car was hooked up and we were deposited unceremoniously somewhere on Northern Boulevard, a long way from JFK where I was already late for work. I arrived there by taxi in a state of nerves and befuddlement which seemed, at least, to go some distance to winning a reprieve from my irate boss.
It would have been useful to know that my father’s Datsun had been designed exclusively for the tropics. Failing this, it would have been even more handy had the loaders in Barbados thought to drain the radiator. But what did they know of the frozen North?
My mother’s fruit and vegetables lady used to pray for me always, when I was flying home: “…and Lord keep her, in the cold country warm”. But people who have never left the tropics cannot know about frost and ice.
Remember I said it was really cold on the Brooklyn dock when my car arrived? All that steam resulted from the radiator bursting open, having been cracked when the water inside froze.
But that wasn’t quite the end of the Datsun story. I started to imagine I could hear water sloshing about, as if in a big container. Turned out I was right. The water was contained within the doors. Have you ever heard of anyone having water in their car doors? Just as well it didn’t happen in the winter or the doors would have burst as well as the radiator. By this point I was becoming just a bit nervous of even getting in the damn car.
And perhaps in retaliation for my uncharitable thoughts about it, the car suddenly decided, driving home one night, that it would plain stop going. Just coasted to a gentle stop, as if to say, “there you are then, see how you get on without me”. Water, water, everywhere, including in the gas. Somehow I made it home that night, but not long after I started driving a Ford Capri. It was a nice little car. Then one day as I was driving home, the bolt holding the driver’s seat broke casting me adrift, which made for a unique onward journey.
Poor old Datsun. It wasn’t me who sent it to the scrap heap, however. It was purchased as a novelty by an older man who wanted it for his grandson’s graduation. He had it all checked out by his mechanic. It did have very low mileage and a new engine, so I hope it turned out all right. I never heard otherwise.