It all started in 1995. For the summer (even though it snowed on June 1st), we were lily-livered landlubbers (taking a break as live-a-boards on our sailboat in Florida) in Flagstaff, Arizona. 7600 feet altitude with mountains all around. After living at sea level for so long, I did experience altitude sickness initially.
Hubby and I were painting a house for my brother and sister-n-law when he spied this forlorn orphan great white whale of a car next door. He painted and panted after this car. When our day was done, we went next door. The owner was home.
“Is your 73 Buick for sale?” he asked.
Her immediate reply was, “Make me an offer.”
“Does it run?”
She said, “Make me an offer.”
“Can you tell me something about the car?”
“This is very simple. Make me an offer.”
“Fine, I’ll take it.” Then, she proceeded to tell him a little bit about the car. Her husband was an astronomer. He used to put his large telescope in the back seat of the car to study the stars. Flagstaff has preserved the night for astronomy since 1958 with lighting ordinances. Lowell Observatory is located there on pine-crested Mars Hill. Flagstaff became the world’s first International Dark-Sky City on October 24, 2001. Distant galaxies, constellations, the Milky Way, planets and whatever else shines above will delight your eyes. Now back to the story. Therefore, there was no back seat in the car. The rest of the interior was pretty shabby. The rear fender arches were in the early stages of cancer. But the rest of the body was nice. The paint was old but still on the car. Most promising was the convertible top.
Hubby asked if it had any hub caps. The owner was in the process of moving. She said she would look and then pulled out a loose-leaf notebook, looked up hub caps and stated that they’re in box number thirty-nine. We proceeded to the garage where she gave us the hub caps. The Buick did not run because it needed a distributor. He went to the local car parts store and purchased a brand-new distributor in stock (for a twenty-three-year-old car) for $89.00. More than the car costs. But wait…it gets better.
When we opened the trunk lid, there was a treasure of $11.50 in pennies. Therefore, the car only cost us $38.50! Hubby eagerly got the car running in no time. He then searched the town for similar Buicks and found yet another abandoned orphan Buick. But this one had a nice interior. The two orphans were united into one.
Tangles With The Tank
Then it was time to go back to being sailors. The Buick and our Chevy Beauville average white van (we also met a Vanna White van of Wheel of Fortune fame at a rest stop) were put on the market. Whichever car sold first would determine our fate for the cross-country road trip. The Buick Centurion became our new commander; we were the soldiers.
Being avid windsurfers, we had hauled a mountain of boards, masts, and sails with us which would not fit in the Buick trunk. Mr. Resourceful got creative. He found what I’m sure was the first original pop-up camper trailer. It popped out too. We named it Pop Tart. And piled it high with gear.
At the beginning of August, we headed east with plans to attend hubby’s brother’s wedding in Cincinnati. The car’s air conditioning was cold as ice which made us and our two cats purr with happiness. Then disaster struck. Right at the New Mexico border, the car started overheating when the AC was on. We were doomed. No more AC. And getting hot and crabby. All four of us. Both cats were desperate to escape. We could not roll the windows down. Would you spend up to $2,400 for AC repair on a $38.50 car? And, who knows, would the car even make it? We decided to tough it out much to the chagrin of both cats. And they let us know. One of them tried her best to get adopted at a Shoney’s coffee shop. Thank goodness we found the escapee before she was successful. After that, she resorted to sitting on the dashboard, right in front of the driver, whenever she could. Her anger was apparent.
Danger In The Dark
Down the road, we set up camp in the middle of nowhere. All was well. It was peaceful with the roar of a river nearby. The cats, afraid to explore, stayed right between us on the blanket with our sleeping bags. In the dark of the night, we hear this blood-curdling scream. A BIG cat scream. Hearts palpitating, adrenaline rushing, feet pounding the earth, we all rushed to the car. All were safe. The small cats liked us again. We did our best to sleep.
The Clampetts Have Arrived
The next day, we arrived at a five-star hotel in Cincinnati for the wedding. I remember this like it was yesterday. All of us were exhausted, sweaty, and crabby again in this beat to shit car with a pop-up trailer in tow with all kinds of crap piled on top of it. One of the cats had her face squished up against the window trying to get out as fast as she could. The concierge came out to greet us. I opened the door a bit, and all this trash fell out. The Beverly Hillbillies Clampetts have arrived! Totally embarrassing. I think the concierge was embarrassed too. He clearly stated that we would not fit in the hotel’s parking garage and directed us to street parking. How could I convince him that we were not white trash? After we had cleaned up for the wedding, I don’t think he recognized us. Thank goodness. And thank goodness for the family: they will love you no matter what you drive. A great time was had by all.
Flotsam And Jetsam
A few days later, we were at the end of our journey. As we pulled into Saint Augustine, Florida, both cats popped straight up. They smelled the salt air and knew they were home. They had this glory hallelujah look on their faces. We did too.
It was back to working on the boat. We had the steel hull built and then finished it out ourselves while living in the boatyard. We had an off-shore shipping container (looks like the trailer of a semi-truck) that served as our workshop, kitchen, and storage area while under construction. We used to sleep in the average white van until we had a berth ready onboard. There was a communal bathroom/shower for the boatyard. Some of our family and friends were quite shocked as to how we lived. We couldn’t have been happier.
Now despite the fact that storage space was severely limited, we still went out most weekends “garage-sailing” for entertainment. One sale after another. The rule was: we could not return home until the convertible was heaped high with stuff. We’d buy anything that maybe, just maybe, could be useful to a friend or us. Or anyone in the boatyard. Or some guy walking down the street. Or maybe it just struck our fancy, like this industrial blue blob that was regurgitated from a plastic extrusion machine. It captured hubby’s heart. To him, it was artwork. To me, it was toxic waste. It didn’t matter. Sharing our loot was great fun! At least for us. The Buick served us well.
Get Your Beach On
The Buick Centurion was also useful as a playpen for childish adults at the beach. We’d pile all our friends into it with the radio blaring the best of Motown and head for the beach. In Saint Augustine, you could drive on the silky, white sand beaches. The sand was so fine; it squeaked when you walked on it. Boogie boarding in the pounding surf, gobbling french fries and pounding down drinks at the beachside snack shack made for a perfect Slacker Snack Sunday. Never mind that we fried our bodies in the sun until we were candidates for a 911 call. Life was good. Except for the time I got a speeding ticket for going 21 mph on the beach. A sticky choke prevented compliance with the law of 15 mph. Tough enforcement on the playground.
It all came to an end in the Spring of 1996. The boat was finally ready to travel, and so were we. The beloved Buick was put up for adoption and found a very good home. And we sailed away. A happy ending for all!