My First Ride-
An ode to the Brooklyn of yesterday
By Ruth Chon
Being 27 I felt it was finally time. I was adult enough, had gathered plenty of advice from friends and also read through one of those idiot guides detailing the pitfalls, warning against impetuous decisions, promoting safe practices. I was ready. I went online and after an hour of mouse-clicking came upon My First Ride: A 1987 VW jetta. It was hunter green with 60,000 miles. On sale for 2Gs by Tommy from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. A steal. After a few email exchanges the deal was in the bag. I asked all the key questions. Had the car any trouble, was it ever in an accident, blah blah blah? I was young and impetuous. I wanted all the answers to be clear of stress, and I believed everything Tommy was telling me. Theodore, my slight of frame friend, told me I was too trusting, which was his euphemism for lazy.
24 hours later, we're cruising down the BQE in this lovely emerald green bullet -- windows cranked, music cranked, and engine roaring at an even 4000rpms.
For the next few days, me and my jetta drove to the far reaches exploring the 7 wonders of Brooklyn.
1 . Revere Sugar Refinery in Red Hook
2. Jacob Riis Park on a Saturday midsummer
3. Dime Savings Bank on Dekalb
4. all of Prospect Park
5. Toxic Park on N7th and the water in williamsburg
6. Ye Olde Shipcaptain's quarter on the south end of Dumbo
7. and to end the two weeks of euphoria... Between the Bridges Bar... an extremely jubilant working class dive bar run by Flo and Thelma. That's where the ceiling started caving in.
After four rounds of pints and makeshift jukebox karaoke limited to the Boss, Billy Joel, and every speed metal band to come out of the 80's, the car wouldn't start. In my 2020 retrospective vision I see I should have cut my losses and walked away, still sane, savoring the good memories of footloose and fancy freedom.
Theodore who was often riding shotgun manning the cassette player gave it three tries and went back into the bar to inquire about a local mechanic. A local mechanic... I've heard of the breed and dared not enter the fold. A tow truck came (charged me $150 and towed the car home where Xin the dock manager of the restaurant equipment factory across the way worked on it for $200. He jerry rigged it so it would start but diagnosed that it wouldn't last long. I took that opportunity to take it straight to a dealership in NJ, entrusting that the VW dealership would fix the problem.. Why trust NJ mechanics over Brooklyn ones? I see the flaws of my prejudice and realize I should have trusted none.
$1200 later I'm put-putting through the Holland tunnel a glimmer of hope at the end, when everyone's worst nightmare settles on me like a dark fuel-injected cloud. The engine dies. Horns blaring, hazard lights blinking, my celphone isn't getting reception. What can one do? I saw THEM a million times before, as child driving into the big city, the catwalk. And as a child I dreamt of running alongside the traffic, just a few inches away, but now.. I only imagined the panic attack that would lunge me straight into the path of a rickety delivery truck. I stepped out in front of the jetta and shouted to every passerby... "Notify the tunnel patrol.. Tell them to come for me... I need a tow" But my words were lost to the zoom of angry drivers cursing my broken down car and its mechanically challenged driver. One kind soul in the midst came through .. and after four hours of inhaling CO exhaust and three failed attempts at pulling myself and my new goiter up onto the catwalk did the tow truck arrive, this one charged me $300. (subtotal: $2000+$150+$200+$1200+$300 = $3850)
I decided to take the car straight to a mechanic so I phoned the Between the Bridges Bar for their referral. Nobody answered. Again, without much thought, I directed the tow truck to drive into the vicinity of the bar and picked the first lucky autobody shop we came across. Bobby the mechanic barely greeted me with a grunt.
"What's the problem?"
"It doesn't run"
"Yeah I can see it doesn't run..."
"Listen, I already took it to one mechanic who did nothing. You can understand how wary I am at this point. I'll pay you a max of $150 to run diagnostics but anything beyond that I'm not authorizing."
Bobby smiled, I wanted to believe it was a kind compassionate safe smile but my gut knew better. It was the smile of a fox who fortuitously falls upon a breed of newborn bunnies.
I walked to the bar, where I nursed a cocktail and watched a bald man in a white button down shirt sing "Tell her about it" better than even Billy Joel could have. Flo told me she's made alot of money off of Bobby's patrons. They come in their to unwind after dealing with his antics. I knew then that I had screwed up. My celphone rang. It was Bobby.
"$350 DOLLARS!!! THREE-HUNDRED AND FIFTY *$!@*% DOLLARS, WHAT THE *&%!! I'M NOT PAYIN YOU A CENT OVER $150. I SAID $150... $150. YOU KNOW ONE - FIVE - OH!!! "
"Well I'm not giving you your car until you shell out $350. and for each night you keep it here, I'm charging you another $50 for lot usage fee"
"YOU'RE GONNA BURN, YOU CROOK! I'M CALLING BETTER BIZ BUREAU AND YOU AND YOUR BIZ ARE GONNA BURN"
"Listen, I just did what you asked, ran diagnostics to see what the problem was. it happened to..."
"I ASKED FOR $150" My mind was so clouded at that point from CO exhaust, from dreams gone awry, from BudLight.
Bobby cleared up the fog "You know what you are? You know what you ARE?" he says.
"ANYTHING'S BETTER THAN A CROOK!"
"YOU'RE A VICIOUS DOG!!!"
And with that, I broke.
The realization washed over me, that I had been naive and dumb and now add to that, a vicious dog. I was a vicious dog. I had accused this man of all sorts of things. I hung up the phone and cried like I've never cried before, into my beer. Flo handed me a cocktail napkin and told me to blow my nose. She came around the bar and tried to console me. I felt ugly and needed penitence. She handed me the mic and put some quarters in the jukebox. Out came Purple Rain by Prince. A song full of sorrow, grief, a heart torn up by longing, uncontrollable emotions purged by shrieks and cries. I karaoked like a swan singing her last song. The room watched in respectful silence. I paid my tab and walked to Bobby's. I called Theodore and told him to meet me there. I was going to pay the fee, claim my car, and have Theo help me push it all the way back home.
When I got to Bobby's I could see him sitting at his desk through the clouded glass window on the door. He knew I was there and by his hesitation, I knew he was just as wary of this encounter as I was. Theo showed up and told me I was crazy but he and his buck fifty girth were ready to do the pushing. Bobby opened the door and gestured me to come in. My legs were shaking as I sat down on the chair.
"Bobby, listen. I have to start off by apologizing. You're not a crook. I realize now that you were doing your job. I'm sorry, so sorry" I could feel tears in my eyes, a lump in my throat. Embarrassed to reveal my tears I kept my gaze down. There was a deep silence. Then I heard sniffling. Bobby was crying.
"Yeah, I WAS only doing my job, apology accepted and reciprocated"
He continued to cry so I put my hand on his and said, "You're not a crook" To which he responded "You're not a vicious dog".
To a third party listener, it's an overly cheesy hallmark moment, but to me and Bobby it was real, our humanity had taken control and all were happy in the end. We compromised on $225 and Theo was thrilled to find out he wouldn't be pushing the car at all, just sharing the passenger seat with me while Bobby commandeered the tow truck back to our apartment... free of charge.
Afterword: Xin bought the car from me for an initial price of $200 later negotiated down to $5. Flo and Thelma's bar was purchased by gentrifiers who have turned it into a fancy cafe. Bobby now makes bank by servicing the BMW's and Audi's of those gentrifiers and their lot. Theo... still somewhere in Brooklyn. As for me, I purchased a Brand New 1999 Saturn with a 7 yr full service warranty. It has survived a cross country journey and offers me hours of cruising time down the freeway with Prince's amazing composition and lyricism blaring from the speakers.
Ruth Chon lives in east los, califas. She is the author of Social Dancing and other pieces in the Archive. She remembers Brooklyn before the hipsters and yuppies and also the yuppie hipsters. Recently, she got a new car.
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