By David Farrow and Charles W. Waring III

Forty years ago when Gerald Ford was president, it was time to head back to start the fall semester at George Washington University. It was time to pack up my things to head for Bev-er-ly. Problem was, unlike the, Clampetts, I had nothing with which to move my stuff.

Back in those days, the “Automile” was up on Morrison Drive. I ventured up to — I think it was Hoover the Mover — where I bought a 1963 Plymouth Satellite for $400. It was great. The automatic transmission was controlled by push buttons for the gears. It rolled upon massive mag wheels. It had no back seats; they had been replaced with red swivel chairs. I’m not making this up. Oh … someone had painted the exterior with a paintbrush — black streaks of oil paint brushstrokes glinting in the hot September sun.

 

What it had going for it was a huge engine, plenty of room in the back and a good stereo system. My friend Federico “Fred” Sanchez, my roommate for a couple of years at G.W., came to stay with me the night before we drove back to Washington. Federico had a late model boss Porsche; for once, I think that he was kind of jealous.

As I mean to tell you, I was flying in style that September. One might think that women would grow weak-kneed when confronted with such a manly vehicle. Sadly, I did not find this to be the case. Right after I bought the car, I had lunch with one of my best friends, Anna Hollings, at Mike’s Harbor House, which would later become the No Name Cafe.

All through the she crab soup and the fried shrimp, I bragged about my new boss wheels. I will never forget the look on her face. As I led her out to the car that I had parked by the marsh and rotting piers where the Waterfront Park fountain is today, her features contorted from disbelief, to chagrin to hilarity. As she caught her breath, she informed me that I had to return it forthwith.

She was not alone. As I made my rounds, saying goodbye to one incredible summer, folks, young and old, implored me to return to Morrison Drive to redeem my standards of grace and style. Fred accompanied Drew Drury and yours truly as we hit Big John’s and Myskyns while my new car was mocked and ridiculed. I learned that evening that the deck chairs were spray-painted poorly and a crimson film ruined some skirts (sorry, ladies).

We closed out the bars so we didn’t start until afternoon. I got two things from that trip. The first was that AM radio was boss. I screamed out “Born to Run” and “One of These Nights” amid the ads for farming implements and hog futures. The second was that a Plymouth Satellite could smoke a late model Porsche. Thus, a ten-hour drive took eight.

As the sun went down over the terrain from Rocky Mount to Richmond, Fred and I celebrated the immortality of our youth. As the miles disappeared, little did we realize that time did as well.

Charles

I did not have a car until my sophomore year at Sewanee. After much negotiation, I ended up with the “Family Truckster,” tooling around in a 1978 Ford LTD station wagon for two years until an accident claimed what was affectionately known as the “Chuck Wagon.” I was glad to have it in that way you once enjoyed four stations on the black and white before you got to know cable in color.

The trips to and from school, class and Memphis for the odd weekend were inspired because the green machine played an eight-track that was filled with oldies I picked up at one of the truck stops in Monteagle for around a buck a pop. We played tunes from the theme song from “Shaft” to the Ink Spots; naturally, my friends thought I was a premature geezer. That wagon was good for carrying everything you needed and more, but the ride was as smooth as guiding a tricycle down a cobblestone street. A patch of black ice claimed the beast, but it also opened two doors — the social life of summer school and a sedan that had comfy as its middle name.

After the late winter accident, I went home to recover and returned for summer school in 1986 before my senior year. I went to Palmetto Ford’s used car lot with my father and paced back and forth until I saw the brilliant shine and sleek appeal of what became known as “The Pimpmobile.” I appreciate this opportunity to recall a glorious feeling of floating in the air while driving back to school.

Truly, it did float. Heaven was near when I zipped up to the Mountain in my blue 1982 Oldsmobile 98 with a crushed velour interior with a soft top. When I say float, I really mean it. When that four-door couch on wheels hit 80 miles an hour, the occupants could sense being in an almost weightless condition. Mixed with Motown or U2 at nearly full volume on my custom stereo (no wonder I am deaf), I learned to enjoy the open road just as much as those in their sporty BMWs.

Those days were about far more than my “Pimpmobile.” I learned about having a cadre of the best friends you would ever want; from my SAE brothers to my pals over at the KA or the Delta house, we had the world on a string for brief fling — at least we thought it for a while. There is nothing quite like a serious car accident to get your attention and sort out your priorities. Dust cleared, I came back to school with an eye to study with more focus and enjoy the social life a little less, since I had done too much of the latter my freshman year. It took a little more time before it became clear that one’s social life was even better when you made good grades. Kill the guilt with hard work, as I tell all our Mercury interns.

Today’s college students don’t have Charleston’s Big John’s, the Cougar’s Den or the World Famous Rip Tide Social Club. They may not have a roommate with a sense of style for places in Memphis like The Peabody for drinks and The Rendezvous for ribs. They do at least have the Blind Tiger and Gene’s, which are links to the old days of a festive Charleston. As the hipsters dream of being balanced with chic and retro, they might grow some appreciation for the old school by finding an Oldsmobile 98 from the early 1980s; the world is now your oyster, so see what pearls you might unearth in your adventures on the road.

If you have a legend for us to uncover or a historical quirky point you wish for us to address, please send same to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, please email David Farrow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Discover the real “southern charm”; join him at duskamagicalhistorytour.com for a look at Charleston 25 years ago with updates and new interviews with Harlan Greene and Jane Thornhill as well as new stories. Visit his Facebook page “Dusk: Charleston in the 20th century.” This is a chance for you to tell tourists exactly what you think and a chance for tourists to do the same.

 

 

Mercury newspaper racks are located at the following locations:

The Meeting Street Inn

Clair's Service Station at 334 Folly Rd.

Harris Teeter on Houston-Northcutt Blvd.

The Square Onion in I'On

Mt. Pleasant Library on Mathis Ferry Rd.