From An Old School Low Life

12/05/2014 — 8 Comments



I never could afford to maintain a car, not even when I worked fulltime. Needing a car was never high on my priority list. When I was 20 years old I owned two cars and didn’t even work. You could get a decent used car for $30, less than minimum wage for a week’s work back then. I haven’t owned a car in 35 years. I’d love to own one but am not about to put any effort into it maintaining it or anything else for that matter.

When I drove a cab in L.A. the son of the guy I drove for offered me a decent old car. It ran, but I knew maintaining it would be more trouble than I could afford. I told him thanks but he’d be better off giving it to someone who is able to take care of it. I know myself.

In 1968, before I moved to L.A. at age 21, I owned two cars, a 48 Plymouth and a 59 Studebaker Lark station wagon. I had to decide which one to take to L.A. What a luxury dilemma that was – and I didn’t even work. I chose the station wagon. It cost $80 and was one of the best cars I ever owned.
It got me to L.A. and lasted a while before it started overheating. The gas stations back then were all full service. Every time I’d pull up for water a mechanic would come out running. “What seems to be the problem?”

The problem was it was always the most expensive thing they could find, something I could never imagine paying. I need a new radiator or a flush job, something beyond my comprehension.

One day I pulled up again to a water hose, not looking for mechanical help, just wanting to let the engine cool down for the water flow, and here comes the mechanic asking what the problem is. I’m waving him off. “No no, that’s alright, I can’t afford any repairs, I just need a little water.”

But here he comes anyway, must have been the 30th mechanic I’d encountered during such drop ins. He asks me to unpop the hood.

“Looks like you need a new radiator cap”, he says.
I tell him there’s one on there.

“Yeah”, he says, “but it’s no good – you need a new one.”
“How much are they?”, I ask.

“Let me see if I have a spare one in the back”, he says.

He goes into the shop and comes out with a used cap and puts in on and the car is good to go. That was it, no more overheating. I had to go through 30 mechanics to get to that guy – and I wasn’t even looking when it finally happened. I had given up. Can you blame me? But I am not afraid to admit that repairing and maintaining things was never my forte in life, probably because I always assumed I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 20 and other people would be doing it for me. I assumed wrong.

I don’t know how long that car lasted, maybe a few months. Something minor went wrong with it. But it wasn’t minor enough for me to do anything about it. So, like all the other cars I have ever owned I let it sit on the street until one day I walked by and it was gone – in the same way that one day you and everyone you know will be gone – poof – towed away forever, just like that.


8 responses to From An Old School Low Life

  1. Dinny Chisholm 12/05/2014 at 20:02

    Yes, cars are basically meant to get you from here to there, and back again. But, they also respond to loving care! Also, just like people!

    • Tommy Joseph 12/06/2014 at 05:24

      I know what you mean. I never paid over $100 for any of the 11 cars I’ve owned. Never sold one either. They were all towed away, except for the one me and my buddies pushed into a swamp down in Florida.

      But I know what you mean about loving care. I’d be driving across the country wondering if the car would make it and I’d be patting the dashboard and calling the car good names hoping it would catch the vibe and get me through. Ungrateful young punk that I was I never said thank you when I got where I was going. I was one of those guys who prays to get home safe and doesn’t say thanks once he arrives. I also used to take my car to the wash once a week whether it needed it or not. I felt it might make the car feel better so it would treat me nice in return.


  2. James Linaras 12/05/2014 at 20:28

    My favorite car that I ever owned thus far was a freebie…given to me by my uncle George!! ’73 Pontiac Grandville 2-door hard-top. 455ci 4bbl V8 MONSTER!!

  3. Warren Lunsford 12/05/2014 at 21:28

    My favorite was a 1974 Blue Nova. My next favorite car was the Oldsmobile Cutlass,

    I did enjoy owning and driving a 1962 Volkswagon in 1972, when I was 20 years old. The only problem with it was the cost of maintaining it. It cost me 500 dollars in repairs to bring it up to good working order. I bought it used for 500 dollars, so the total cost to me was $1,000.

    A lot of money for a guy earning $50 per week then.

    • Tommy Joseph 12/06/2014 at 05:31

      I’ll say it was a lot for a guy making $50 a week. In my entire life I have never paid $500 for anything. Most money I ever saved was $800 back in the early 80s. I was able to manage it only because I had incredibly lucky low rent.

      Rent is tough. I remember in Hollywood a character named Blackie Gallo who made a practice of walking out of restaurants without paying. I did the same but only because I was broke. Blackie did it to keep from being broke. He had a thick Boston accent with which he would often express one of his sentiments about life in general – “You can beat the knife and the fork, but you can’t beat the rent.” He may have meant it to apply only to walking out of restaurants being easier than walking out on the rent. But no matter how he meant it I always took it in a broader way. You can learn to cook and eat healthy and cheap. You can adjust to lots of things. The only way to adjust to the rent is to take on a boarder. That can lead to homicide charges.


  4. Tommy Joseph 12/06/2014 at 05:16


    Thanks for putting my car story in your site. I forgot to add how the experience of going through 30 mechanics to finally get one who knows what he’s doing and isn’t out to rip people off applies to just about any profession, not just auto mechanics. Doctors and dentists are high on that list as well. It happens with everything. You might have to go through 30 restaurants before you find a decent waitress. But that doesn’t cost $300 a pop. So the same bullcrap exists in all fields. I call it the percentage theory. It states that a certain small percentage of people in all fields know what they’re doing and are proud of how they do it, and a certain larger percentage of people in all fields don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care, and the percentage is the same regardless of field or education or whatever piece of paper they’ve got hanging on their wall. I forgot to put that in there.

    One time I picked up some pre-med college students in the cab and told them my theory. They all rabidly agreed, except for the guy in the front seat. He said, “Well, I’m not sure that applies to doctors exactly.” I knew then that he would be one of the ones who doesn’t know what he’s doing and doesn’t care how he does it because he’s already making excuses for his profession and he’s not even out of school yet. I drove a cab fo 33 years and if someone got in and said most cabbies were scum I wouldn’t argue the point, I’d agree and say, ‘Yeah, I know, but I am not one of them.”

    Thanks Kip,


  5. I remember in 1980, I was 20 years old & went to the DMV to renew my license. I was driving a 1973 Mustang that I had purchased used, 4 years before. It would give me trouble starting every so often, so I had gotten used to starting the car first, before even closing the door in case I had to pop the hood. We get in my car for the road part of the test, I turn the key and the guy giving me the test is already checking a box in the wrong place. I closed my door beforehand so I had to ask why? He told me I needed to put on my safety belt before turning the key. My bad habits when it comes to car maintenance cost me a perfect score. It didn’t mean a thing in the end. But I still remember and tell that story when I can. To remind myself, even now 34 years later, to get off my butt and maintain my vehicle or I won’t even have an opportunity to achieve perfection. Imagine if I had started the car with the door open. He probably would have just stepped out of the car and told me to try another location.

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