Chapter One: The Repo Man and the Lexus
Hi folks. My name is Daryl Horton and I run an auto recovery company out of Tallapoosa, Georgia. It’s a nice little place on the very tip of southern Appalachia that I always like to call a “big small town.”
We happen to have about 3,000 people in the city limits and about 30,000 more in Haralson County. The county pretty much stretches like an angry copperhead from the border of Alabama to the outskirts of Atlanta, thanks to the South’s unique killer combo of old liquor laws and modern day politicians. I always tell folks that we may someday run out of jobs in Tallapoosa, but we most definitely will keep on having snakes whether they’re in the bottle or out walking around!
Anyhow, life has always been a bit interesting out here. I grew up in Tallapoosa and my mom, who worked as a secretary at the nearby elementary school, made sure that my two sisters and I would become straight arrows. She loved us, but cars brought on an entirely different range of emotions in my mom.
Hate at best, and extreme rage at worse.
My Dad died in a car accident when I was about five years old and it broke my mom’s heart. He worked at the cotton mill right after high school where he had been a baseball star. My Dad, Frank Horton, was a bit short like me. My mom was nicknamed Gidget by most of her friends, and probably a few of her enemies, because she was short and strong, too. They were made for each other.
Grandma always said that she could play ball with the best of ’em, and my Dad was actually the best ballplayer of all. Baseball was their religion and love quickly became their faith. They got married at 19 years old and by the time 25 rolled around, there were three more of us. I was the big brother, which turned out to be a pretty big deal after the accident.
Dad died in a Dodge Van. My mom wouldn’t ever tolerate me saying this, but, long story short, he made a terrible mistake and paid God’s price. One too many drinks. One too many drives. No seatbelt. It made my mom an angry widow with three kids. She broke down a bit after the funeral and recovered enough to become a secretary at a school that was within walking distance of our home.
I became the straight arrow. See that Boy Scout at the 6:52 mark? That’s me. I looked 12. But I was actually 14 back then. Grandma took care of my sisters growing up and my mom’s church and friends took care of practically everything else. I was never deprived of anything growing up except cars.
Mom never bought another one and Grandma never bothered to learn how to drive. Tallapoosa was like a car heaven looking back at that old film. Cars tended to rust out after a few years in the early 1970s, but we didn’t have a lick of that to deal with! Nice roads. Well kept one-laners that could take you on a weekend road trip. In Tallapoosa, jobs were good and houses were cheap enough to own a couple of nice cars if you wanted ’em. We even had a new Chevy dealer in my town — Mitnick Chevrolet — that was accompanied by a few used car lots that handled everything else.
My mom’s friends and family, usually my Aunt Sara, would take Mom wherever she needed to go growing up. My cousins were right around the same age and we could all fit in the back of a Chevy station wagon. My family knew better than to bring up cars with my mom. It was just one of those things that you didn’t do unless you wanted your head to be verbally ripped off from the rest of your body.
My mom was a bit direct with people — me most of all. When I started misbehaving in school in sixth grade, my mom sat me down and told me, “You’re making my life a bit hard Daryl,” and then slapped me a good one. I fell right off the chair and pretty much took it. No man has ever hit me that hard and I never gave her or my teachers any trouble after that. She sat me down after dinner and pretty much gave me the talk of a lifetime. It started with, “I want you to be what Daddy could never do”, and that’s when I learned that my Daddy had one hell of a drinking problem. He was a happy drunk. A nice drunk. But still “always … damned … drunk!”
He loved his family, but felt like he was passed on for a baseball scholarship because he was too short — only about 5 foot 5. Back then baseball scouts would look at you more for your physical body than your talent, short players — even the really good ones — couldn’t get so much as a wink or a nod from the worst teams in baseball, and the few colleges which offered scholarships back then were no different. I soon learned that this stiff arm would apply to me too.
I was the most competitive son-of-a-bitch you could ever imagine on the field. I wouldn’t slide to second base to break up a double play. I would aim spikes first for their middle and try to surprise em’ enough so that they couldn’t throw the ball in time. Before I got to the plate, I would take a hard swing at the on-deck circle and look hard at the pitcher like he was the complete embodiment of scum.
There are tons of ways you could get your opponent off balance in baseball, and I played em’ all back then with no regrets. As long as my enemy wasn’t bleeding or dying, everything else was fair game.
I batted second and played centerfield. Pete Rose was my idol and though the Braves were a Georgia team, I was a card-carrying diehard member of the Big Red Machine. One surprise of it all is that my love for the Reds helped me avoid becoming a racist.
Joe Morgan, the Reds second baseman, won back-to-back MVPs back in the 1970s. The Reds back then were pretty much like Noah’s Ark. They had two of everything. Blacks, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, hippies and weirdos. Heck, they would have probably recruited some ballplayers from Japan if the playing style of Japanese and American baseball weren’t so different.
Baseball was going to be my one way ticket out of Tallapoosa. When the Reds swept the Red Sox and Yankees, I was hitting over .600 and my team, the Tallapoosa Rebels, was crushing most of what Georgia had to offer. We never won the state, but our small little county of 30,000 always gave ’em a hell of a run for three straight years.
What didn’t happen was a scholarship. I was small — only about five-foot-six. The only short guy that made it to the show back then was Freddie Patek of the Royals. He had to bat over .800 in high school to even get noticed by what was then the worst franchise in baseball. Sometimes in life you can pray like an angel and play like the devil, but God always has other plans for you.
I graduated and went to the army in 1978. It became the best thing to happen to me. I saw the world. Met my wife. Stayed in shape while my friends got fat or far worse. A lot of folks make excuses in life and the army is one of those places where you can’t survive if all you do is make excuses. For a kid from Tallapoosa who loved his country, there was nothing better.
I did make one mistake early on and married too young at 20 — divorced at 21, and thank God for the both of us, no kids. From that point onward I decided to be a bit more patient when it came to dating women. There was also another thing. I never owned a car through my 15 years of service. Not once. But that didn’t interfere with my dating all that much. To be honest, a lot of the cars we had weren’t worthy of a date.
What it came down to was that I could fix pretty damn near anything that had a wheel attached to it. They weren’t as bad as the rolling relic you see above, but trust me, they were really close. I pretty much got used to either sharing or asking for a vehicle whenever I wanted it. I used to read old auto magazines to pass the time and noticed that auto journalists always get the nice shiny new cars, while we mostly got the rolling turds that were usually worth more dead than alive.
I served 15 years and then got really homesick. Mom was getting on in years and my sisters were having kids of their own. I had found a new love of my life and decided to take early retirement for what would become an opportunity to serve my hometown.
I would become a high school social studies teacher and a baseball coach, but before I could walk back into the halls of Tallapoosa High School — a school that looked almost the same as it did back in the 1970s — I would need to figure out one more thing.
My next car … and believe me folks, it was by no means a Lexus!
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