My father was, how do you say, frugal. When it came to our family cars, he was at his “frugalest”. When I was in high school we had a 1965 Mercury Comet. We pleaded for a newer car. It was embarrassing to pick up girls in this car. The doors were as heavy as a door to a safe. If the door didn’t close on your date and kill them, they cut their knee on the 8-track tape machine hanging down from the dash.
This car was not automatic. It was a three-speed shift model WITH THE GEAR SHIFT ON THE STEERING COLUMN. Hey, that’s good car design. Might as well have hung the gear shift from the roof. You had to throw the shifter up and down through the gears like you were conducting the Cleveland Symphony.
Sometimes it wouldn’t start. One time I started to leave to pick up a date. I had to talk my brothers into push starting the old Comet. This got me out of the Ditzel compound. At her house I left the car running in the driveway. Once we got to the mall multiplex, I realized it may not start after the movie and we would be sitting in a parking lot in Des Moines, Iowa in the middle of winter. So I told her I was going to drop her off at the door of the mall to “be a gentleman”. I figured then it would be easier to talk her into letting me run to get the car later and she wouldn’t be sitting there while the Comet went RRRRRRRRRR.
So, my plan was working. After the movie I told her to wait at the door and I would pick her up. I jumped in the Comet. Ok, baby, please start! RRRRRRRR……RRRRRRRRRRRRR……….RRRRRRRRRRRRR. Gosh-darn it all, I said, or something like that. What I need is a hill to run the car down to get a natural jump start. I looked around at the flat landscape of the Valley West Mall parking lot.
My eyes stopped right next to me on the Safeway loading dock ramp. A hill! I pushed the car over a little to the top of the ramp. I thought if I can get the car rolling down the ramp I can jump start it. Trouble is, once it starts it will shoot faster toward the cement wall of the loading dock.
I pushed the car down the ramp and jumped in. Since the car wasn’t warmed up, the windows were all fogged up. I peered through the dingy windows. I was really rolling now. The timing was critical. Too soon and I would be stuck on the ramp with no car and no girl. Too late and I would be a Mercury Comet Pancake.
I threw the steering-column-mounted-gear-shift into first. Now!!!!!!! I popped the clutch and the engine shuddered to life. The car lurched forward toward the wall. I banged on the brakes and let out the clutch as I skidded to a stop just inches from the dock.
The engine kept going and settled into a steady murmur. I pulled up the ramp and picked her up at the door of the mall.
“Any problems?”, she asked.
“Nah, I said”, popping America’s “Horse with No Name” tape into the 8-track.I drove out of the mall as we talked about the movie we just saw- “Goodbye Girl”. While we jabbered, I drove to a good make-out spot outside of town near the Des Moines Golf and Country Club.
In the Comet there was only one criteria for what made a good make-out spot- a big hill.