Fred

August 27, 2016

 

In high school I drove a 1945 Willys army jeep. Canvas top, fold-down windshield, and stick shift. If you opened the hood, it had four spark plugs, four wires, a distributor cap, a solenoid, a flywheel, a radiator, and a battery. I could fix anything with a hammer and screwdriver.

 

On a good day, going downhill, with the wind behind me, I could almost hit 40 mph. The canvas top was ripped, and it flapped when I drove. In the winter, snow would come inside from every angle. When it rained, it was helpful to have an umbrella. You had to operate the windshield wiper by hand using a little handle. I used to pick my girlfriend up every morning and drive us both to school, but when it rained she preferred to take the school bus because there wasn't really a floorboard on the passenger's side, and when I went through a puddle it sprayed water all over the passenger's seat. For some strange reason, she objected to arriving at school soaking wet.

 

It didn't always start very well, so I would try to park it on a hill when I got home. That way, I could jump start it as it rolled down the hill. Many times at school, I would have friends give me a push to get it going. One year I was at my girlfriend's house and the jeep wouldn't start. I left it in her yard under a tree until I could get it fixed.

 

Her family has pictures of the jeep sitting under that tree. The tree in one picture is green. In the next picture, the tree has turned fall colors. In the next picture, the tree is bare and there is snow on the ground. In the final picture, the tree is turning green again. The jeep never moved. Why her parents allowed me to just leave it there, I'll never figure out. I did get it working the next spring, and off we went.

 

I called the jeep Fred. I don't know why, it just seemed like a Fred.

 

Fred was very valuable in the Great Pumpkin Stealing Contest of 1968. A group of friends challenged me and my buddies Don and Bruce to a contest to see who could steal the most pumpkins on Halloween. No problem, guys, I got this.

 

Don was a track star, and he was the focus of our plan: I would drive Fred over the lawn and right up to the front door of a house where the pumpkin was. Don would jump out, toss the pumpkin to Bruce, and I would begin our getaway. Don would run and jump in the back before we got back to the road. We went up and down streets, driving across lawns, putting tire tracks all over the place. Man, did we get a lot of pumpkins.

 

Main Street in Hyannis in the summertime was the place to be. We would all cruise up and down looking to meet girls. We weren't very successful—truth is, we weren't successful at all—but we had some great times on Main Street.

 

One day we were coming back from Craigville Beach and managed to score about half a dozen squirt gun rifles. Main Street here we come! I drove while Don and another friend, Paul, squirted everyone we passed. This went on until we squirted a guy on bicycle and he crashed into a parked car right in front of a cop. Getaway time again.

 

Paul worked as a cook at a restaurant on Main Street, and we decided it would be a good idea to hit the restaurant in the afternoon with our squirt guns. Into the kitchen we went, firing at full blast. We hadn't counted on the dishwasher and his giant spray gun. Time to get out of the kitchen. We ran through the dining room and down a set of stairs to the basement. At the bottom of the stairs, we stacked cardboard boxes to build our own personal Maginot Line. There was a bathroom there, and Don stayed near the sink and refilled our guns when we ran out of water. We were able to successfully hold off the kitchen crew for about 15 minutes. When they started throwing pots of water down the stairs, we made our escape through the basement.

 

Jumping back into the jeep, I took off just as the police cruiser arrived. They were looking for us for squirting the bicycle guy. I gave them a merry chase for about a mile. It was sort of like OJ because I couldn't do more than about 40 mph. They were getting close when I realized we had a jeep and they only had a police car. As soon as I realized this, I drove off the road and through the woods. The police couldn't follow us, and I made it home without a criminal record.

 

Fred was at his finest in the summer. There's a place where I live called Sandy Neck. Seven miles of sand dunes, and in those days you could drive wherever you wanted. I used to make money driving around the dunes looking for guys from New York who took their fancy four-wheel-drive vehicles out in the dunes without knowing how to drive in sand. When they were really stuck, I would offer to tow them out for $10. If they didn't want to pay, I would just sit there and watch them dig. Eventually, they would give up and ask me to tow them out. Sorry, Yankee fan, it's now $20 because you made me wait. Almost all of them paid up.

 

Eventually, Fred succumbed to rust from the salty air and I sold him to Blackburn's Auto Salvage for $15. I still miss him, and one of these days I'm going to replace him with another 1945 Willys jeep. In 1968, I paid $25 for Fred. Now they want around $10,000 for a decent one.

 

My feeling is that if someone wants to organize the Great Pumpkin Stealing Contest of 2016, then $10,000 would be a small price to pay to guarantee another victory.

 

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