Auto-biography 10: Strung Out

Paul Niedermeyer
by Paul Niedermeyer
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auto biography 10 strung out

Once I crossed the line, once I became a fifteen year-old driving addict, there was no turning back. Nothing could stop me from using my drug of choice. Like most addicts, I was willing to cross any line to get my fix. If my supply was cut off, I found another. Needless to say this is not my auto-biography’s most innocent chapter.

After my first illicit drive in the family’s Dodge Coronet, I couldn’t stop. On the day after Thanksgiving, I cruised to the mall. A sale-crazed woman ran a parking lot stop and hit me in the rear. Panicked, I drove away. It was just a dent, but returning the keys to my parents was not a Kodak moment.

My punishment: a two year postponement of my license. Did that stop me? Did that even slow me down? Hell no. They might as well have banned me for life for all the difference it made.

I cultivated other sources of wheels. In a pinch, I still took out the family Dodges. Locked? A stick opened any Chrysler product vent window. No keys? A piece of wire and a screwdriver and I was ready to roll. Oh, and I also unhooked the speedometer cable; my father had a photographic memory for (odometer) numbers.

I finagled a job at a tiny two-pump gas station. I worked solo on Saturdays, pumping extra-high-octane Sunoco 260.

I only had some twenty customers a day, but many drove high-performance motors looking for their un-cut fix. I eagerly popped the hood to check fluids, especially if a Jag 4.2 or 426 Hemi was lurking there. It was a great way to spend Saturday: listening to The Doors blaring on the radio, examining the obscure objects of my desire. AND I got paid.

The boss owned a fleet of taxis (Coronets!), which he parked behind the station. Most had tired slant sixes. One ’67 still had a semblance of vitality, holstering a 318 V8. I always went to work an hour early and treated myself to a therapeutic “wake-up drive.”

In the fall of 1968, I was a sophomore in a boys’ prep school. It was destined to be my last year at that august institution (I flunked out). The school had a fresh-out-of-college French teacher who drove a ’65 VW bus. He was very friendly to his students.

During lunch, half the class piled into the VW “smoke-mobile”. We had our mid-day nicotine fix while (slowly) touring the neighborhood, smoke billowing out the windows. It shouldn’t have surprised us that our accommodating teacher was fired after only three months.

Because I could get his bus started when the choke stuck, or perhaps for other less salubrious reasons, the French teacher became particularly friendly. Next thing I knew, I was driving everywhere (slowly) in a VW bus.

To honor its name, the smoke-mobile eventually blew up in a cloud of…. smoke. The ex-teacher’s grandfather gave him a pampered 1962 Olds F-85 Cutlass coupe: black, bucket seats, and the four barrel 185 hp version of the immortal Buick-Rover-MG-Morgan-Land Rover aluminum 3.5 V8. Those ’61-’63 GM compacts were sharp looking and light; they shared their Y-Bodies with the Corvair. With the V8, the Olds was no slouch.

We went to Ocean City. At night, somewhere between Cambridge and Salisbury, I opened up the Cutlass. The speedometer needle’s progress slowed above 95. But it kept moving: 96, 97, 98… damn!

Steam erupted from the front of the hood. The thermal challenges of the aluminum V8 had stumped the GM engineers. Maybe that’s why they sold it cheap to Rover: the weather’s always cool in England, no?

After his dismissal, the ex-teacher (and accelerative enabler) tried out the monastery. Driving back late from an outing, the police pulled me over going a little too fast on the Beltway. I shook the intoxicated sleeping novice awake.

While Maryland’s finest got organized and out of his car, we changed seats (no joke in the little coupe). The fogged-up rear window helped. The dazed-looking theologian in the black Olds presented his religious-affiliation ID, and was instantly absolved. Praise the Lord! My, how times have changed.

Even though most of Baltimore was still in 1959 (think “Hairspray”), I embraced the psychedelic late sixties fully. Hallucinogens opened new windows of auto-perception. It was like being five again; cars became living, breathing entities. We communicated, and I gained new insight into their personalities as expressed through design. I almost solved the mystery of the ’61 Falcon grill.

Although my fellow mind-travelers were freaked out at the idea of dropping acid and driving, I never had problems driving in drastically altered states of consciousness. You just had to know how to talk to cars and ask for their help, when needed. As I soon to discovered, danger was never far away.

[Editor’s note: TTAC does not recommend driving while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. Always wear your seat belt.]

Paul Niedermeyer
Paul Niedermeyer

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  • MgoBLUE MgoBLUE on Apr 04, 2007

    Fabulous work, Paul!

  • Leewestover Leewestover on Nov 09, 2010

    I know I am like three years late to the party but I had to comment. I am a Towson High alum, but about 30 years younger. I had my license junior and senior year and there really wasn't anything that appealing to me on the student parking lot. I like to think I was near the top of the food chain with my 1986 300zx junior year and 1991 Talon Tsi AWD senior year. There was another student who had a pretty nice 1981 Corvette but they didn't have a parking permit so it was never parked within a half mile of the school. Driving on acid can be scary, but acid in general was scary. I didn't really intend to. I thought acid would enhance a concert going experience just like mj but I was sadly mistaken. The whole crowd thing totally freaked me out and I convinced myself I had to get home. I had a long drive back from DC to Baltimore, scary at first but I sort of got into it and enjoyed myself after the fear let up. My only regret is leaving my friend who had also dosed back at the concert grounds by himself. Our friendship was really never the same after that.

  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.