Sometimes we learn the hardest truths in unexpected ways.
I was in my early twenties and living in Hollywood, and I’d just started making enough money to replace my beater car. Don’t get me wrong: I loved my car, but the only way I could’ve guaranteed that I’d reach my destination reliably was if I cut a couple of yabba dabba doo holes in the floorboard and paddled my way across L.A.
Since I was a kid, which was about five years prior, I dreamed of owning a vintage Mustang: the sleek lines, the V-8 rumble, the extreme cool factor. I watched the Recycler, the paleolithic version of Craigslist, for weeks, wasting time looking at old Fords that were worse hunks of garbage than what I was already driving.
And then one Thursday I found it: A 1965 notchback with a 289 and what appeared to be a straight body and clean interior. I called the owner, and the car sounded great. “How about I come take a look on Saturday morning?” I said.
“Sure. Here’s my address. See you around 10.”
When we hung up I pulled out my Thomas Guide, the Jurassic version of a GPS, and looked up the dude’s address—right smack in the middle of Compton. South Central. Ice-T and Colors and “Fuck Da Police” and all that stuff.
But that’s pop culture, right? The Mustang’s owner sounded really cool, really laid back, and I really wanted that car. I wasn’t going to be scared off by a bunch of rap songs and the fear hype around Compton. It was just another neighborhood. Did I mention that my car was a piece of junk? I was willing to set aside my “bad neighborhood” perceptions in the interest of Mustang-itude, but breaking down in South Central? That didn’t sound too fun. I called my buddy and asked to borrow his brand new Honda Civic wagon.
Saturday morning came, and I piled into my pal’s family truckster and hit the freeway. I took my exit and followed the map through block after block of stucco homes with bars on the windows. One more turn and I was on the right block. To my left stood a home with a waist high cinder block wall running along the sidewalk. Five or so guys sat on the wall or leaned against it, drinking forties. They wore matching Raiders gear and heavy coats, though it was the middle of summer, and jammed to the biggest boom box I’d ever seen.
And right next door in the middle of the front lawn hunched my future ride, gleaming in the late morning sun. Oh, man was it beautiful. I wanted that Stang. Come on, those guys aren’t going to hassle me, right? I mean, that’s stupid movie stuff. They’re just chilling on the sidewalk, they don’t care about me. I parked my buddy’s new car in front of the Mustang house and got out to take a look.
The owner was every bit as cool in person as he was on the phone, and the Stang still had the much coveted center console. Come on! It was like hitting a jackpot. “Can we go for a test drive?” I asked.
“Sure, let’s do it. You can even go up on the freeway if you want.”
I was in heaven, with that big, long hood extending out in front of me and that Mustang growl bellowing from the twin exhaust pipes. I opened her up on the freeway and it was all I could do not to scream, “Whee!” and then I carved the turn at the bottom of the exit ramp and made my way through the neighborhoods of stucco houses with bars on the windows.
When I made that last turn I knew immediately that there was a problem. The cinder block wall was completely empty, not even a 40 ounce beer bottle remained. Then I looked in front of the Mustang house: my buddy’s brand new Civic wagon was gone.
“Fuck,” I screamed. “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“What’s wrong?” the owner asked.
“Those fucking gangsters stole my fucking car and it wasn’t even my fucking car I borrowed it from a fucking friend because my fucking car would’ve broken down in the middle of fucking Compton and now I can’t buy your fucking car because I’m going to have to pay my fucking friend back for his fucking car because those fucking fuckers fucking stole it.”
We sat quietly, no sound but the rumbling of my dream car’s big V-8.
“This is not my house,” the owner said.
“This is not my house. You’re on the wrong block.”
I can’t remember how I managed to get the Civic back to my buddy, but I can’t imagine that I drove it. Driving is nearly impossible when one has disappeared up his own ass.