The Best $5 I Ever Spent
By Russ Towne
I just had to have a car. I ached for one. Unfortunately, I was only fifteen and had a mere $300 in savings. Earning just a buck thirty-five an hour I knew it would be a long time before I’d have enough to make a noticeable difference in what I could buy.
I was impatient, but about the only thing available in that price range was a 1960 Rambler. It was a big, ugly white box on wheels that was nearly as old as me. I knew instantly I’d be embarrassed to drive it. Other kids in my school drove Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds, and the like. But back then about the only thing worse than driving an ugly car was not having a car at all, so I swallowed my pride, spent every dollar I had, and got behind the wheel.
I named her Ramblin’ Rosie.
Her steering wheel seemed to be the diameter of a manhole cover, and without power steering it felt about as heavy to turn.
Rosie’s heater took about five minutes longer to warm up than the length of any trip I made.
She had an automatic transmission with different colored shift buttons on the dash board. They lit up like a Christmas tree when her lights came on. She was better looking at night.
Once, I accidentally pushed her reverse button when driving down the street. I knew in a heartbeat I was driving fast enough to blow her transmission. Rosie shook, shuddered loudly, and came to a standstill. My heart plunged to my stomach. I killed Rosie! Out of desperation, I pushed her drive button and held my breath. She lurched forward like nothing had happened.
She’d given another chance to me and I never pushed the wrong button again.
A Lot of Heart but Almost No Muscle
Many cars accelerate like a dream, with Rosie is was more like a nightmare with all the cars blowing past so fast they were blurs, and eighteen-wheelers loved climbing on my rear bumper.
Things got even more exciting when I tried to take her up a hill. Driving her over the Santa Cruz Mountains on Highway 17 was like never-ending, nerve rattling torture. I’d give her a head start by accelerating as fast as she’d go before the slope began, then try to keep her floored all the way up the hill. It was a race to reach the summit before she came to a complete stop. My heart pounded so hard and beat so fast I thought it was going to explode. White knuckles clawed the steering wheel so my sweaty palms wouldn’t slip off. My eyes frantically flew between the rising road and the dropping speedometer as it fell agonizingly closer, and closer to zero. Meanwhile ever-helpful drivers behind us prodded us to go faster in a wide variety of unfriendly ways.
Rosie kept me on the edge of my seat, but she always made it—-though just barely.
We Brake for Police
Once, Rosie got me involved with the police. It started innocently enough. Solvent spilled on her new brake pads when they were being installed. Later as I drove down a four-lane road, a police car which was hidden by parked cars on the side of the road suddenly veered in front of me to chase a speeder. Startled, I stomped on the brakes a little too hard. Alright, a LOT too hard. Rosie’s brakes completely locked up with an ear-splitting SCREEEEECH, thick black smoke, and the stench of burning rubber.
That startled the cop. He slammed on his brakes and did a complete donut in the middle of the road as he tried to decide which vehicle to go after. He took a look at Rosie. I guess he decided no one could have been speeding in a car that looked like Rosie because he ignored us and resumed chasing the speeder.
We didn’t wait around to see if he would change his mind!
Rosie Earns Some Respect
During the CB-radio craze, Rosie helped me to come up with my “handle” (a name one uses while talking on a CB). I became the Midnight Rambler. Like a lot of boys my age, I was a “Casanova Wannabe.” In my case it was too often more “Wannabe” than Casanova, but I liked the handle anyway.
My peers, who were unenlightened by Rosie’s finer attributes, occasionally made fun of her. That was largely corrected one night at a high school dance. The band played a song about a 1960 Rambler and mentioned it had bench seats that folded into a double bed. Those who knew what I drove turned to look at me. I just nodded and smiled, bursting with pride.
The Best $5 I Ever Spent
I paid $300 for Rosie, drove her for a few years, and sold her for $295.
That was the best $5 I’ve ever spent.