My father was neither a patient nor a stupid man. This made my days as a nascent driver complicated. Acquiring and retaining driving privileges with the family car required a certain amount of -- let's call it "information management." And as any White House press office understands, successful information management relies upon a passive and gullible audience, of which I had neither.
"Mitch needs a ride to the library. Can I take the car?"
"Since when did Mitch start going to the library?"
"He has a research project."
"Is he researching whether your dad's Pontiac is faster than his dad's Buick?"
"The library is five blocks away. You can walk."
Curses. Foiled again. (Translation for readers born after 1970: Doh!)
The family car was not the one my dad drove every day. He had a "company car." At least that's what he told us it was. I think being the parent of teenage drivers requires a certain amount of information management too. We were told that only he could drive the company car for very important reasons we were too young to understand -- so don't even ask.
I never questioned the story at the time as his company cars were always Chryslers and we knew Dad was a Pontiac man. In hindsight, though, it may have all been a brilliantly crafted ruse. He's gone now and we'll never know for sure, but as I said, he was not a stupid man. Besides, I gave him plenty of reasons to do whatever was necessary to protect his car from me based on what I did to mom's Grand Safari station wagon.
General Motors should have employed me as a product tester. I managed to find several vulnerabilities in the design of the 1970 Bonneville Grand Safari wagon not referred to in the manuals.
It's worth noting that the Grand Safari was the largest automobile Pontiac ever made, which if you know anything about Pontiacs, is saying something. It was so big, in fact, that a 16-year-old driver who wrestled in the 105-pound weight class just the year before would barely compress the seat cushion.
Whatever kinetic impact said driver might have on the machine, however, depended entirely on where the point of contact was. If, for example, it was between a puny butt and the upholstery -- this could be sustained for a hundred years. Maybe longer. But if the points of contact were hand-on-steering wheel, hand-on-shifter, foot-on-gas, foot-on-brake....the resulting dynamics were immediate and catastrophic.
The rear universal joint on the Grand Safari wagon is the weak link, it turned out, in the process of trying to lay rubber with a 6000-pound vehicle in front of your idiot buddy's house. All one has to do to shear it off is to put the transmission in neutral, rev the engine to a high, eight-cylinder wail, then drop it into drive.
Not only will the u-joint break, but the loose drive shaft will flop around mercilessly under the car rupturing mufflers, pinching brake lines and scarring asphalt.
Crisis Message Manager: "I didn't do anything! It just happened when I stepped on the gas!"
Impatient, Not-Stupid Father: "You were trying to lay rubber to impress your idiot buddy."
CMM: "Who told you?"
INSF: "You. Just now."
Curses. Foiled again. (aka: Doh!)
Being given several months to think about what I had done (while I worked to pay off the damages), I did not. Think, that is. At least I didn't think about what other design flaws I might suss out on the family wagon. This I was able to do instinctively.
Besides being too heavy for its drive shaft, the Largest Pontiac Ever Made was also too long. This was ascertained while entering a Michigan hayfield for a creekside party when the car proved incapable of avoiding the gatepost due to its excessive length and inability to bend itself around corners. The caved-in rear driver's side door and dangling chrome trim remained operable, but the astute operator quickly came to the conclusion, "This looks bad."
Going into Crisis Management mode, the car was returned to the Youth Center parking lot where it was supposed to have remained all evening while the operator attended a dance with a non-existent date instead of trolling country roads for beer parties with his idiot buddies.
Glass was spread around the scene to suggest a hit-and-run parking tragedy. Cops were called in mock distress. Impatient, Not-Stupid father was called by cops.
Cop: "He says he came out of the dance and found it like this. Says it looks like the other car might have broken a headlight."
INSF: "I've never seen a Fanta Grape bottle used as a headlight."
Cop: "Me either."
INSF: "Judging by the field grass trapped in the door, I'd say it was a farm truck with a Fanta Grape bottle headlight."
Crisis Message Manager: "Shouldn't we be out looking for it?"
INSF: "Yes, I'm sure the officer will want to get right on it. Why don't you and I go into the Youth Center here? I'd like to meet your date and see what kind of dance floor would put that much mud on your shoes."
My first son learned to drive 12 years ago. Within his first few months on the road with a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck he rear-ended a Suburban ("She stopped for no reason!"), caved in the driver's door in a parking lot ("Stupid truck is too long!"), and insisted in full crisis management regalia that he had no idea how all the bugs, dust, and leaves clogging the air filter had gotten there as he certainly had not been off-roading with his idiot buddies like his impatient not-stupid father had forbidden him to do.
INSF: "Do you think I'm stupid?"
INSF: "Then why don't you tell me the truth?"
CMM: "I've heard your stories, Dad. You never told grandpa the truth."