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The Pinto 2003
When you mention the words, “Ford Pinto” to most Americans old enough to remember a time before remote controls and cell phones, they will think of American corporate ethics at one of its low points. For those of you that do not know, the Ford Pinto was on of America’s first lame attempts to compete with the Japanese on the small car market. Small cars were becoming popular because the price of gas was sky rocketing and we were supposed to run out of gas by 1984, at which point we would all be metric. Neither of these things happened.
What happened that made Ford Motors as exhibit an in poor corporate ethics was that one Model year of the Pinto had a minor design flaw. This created the unfortunate side effect of exploding if the car was rear ended. Now this was easily fixed by putting a cover on the gas tank but this would require a recall. Ford calculated the cost of a recall compared to the cost of settling lawsuits due to the faulty gas tanks and figured it was far cheaper to have a few of their customers burned to death in a horrible explosion. Unfortunately for Ford this got out and created a firestorm of public outrage towards the automaker. Based on this history I seriously doubt that Ford will be reviving the Pinto model.
If you see a Ford Pinto on the road today (the car would now be close to thirty years old), it makes a statement that the driver has not been a success in their life or that they are eccentric and like spending time working on ancient low end cars. In books and movies, Pintos are used as plot devices to state, this person, the driver, is a loser.
But Ford Pintos have a special place in my heart. Those cars still running into the 21st century brings me back to my youth. This story is about my family, the Ford Pinto and me.
It all started in the early 1980’s when I was eleven years old. I had three brothers and a sister. We lived in a place outside of Washington, DC known at the counties. My hometown was one of those places that never required anyone to parallel park. The house was a fairly nice suburban brick houses that sprouted up everywhere in the late sixties. I had lived in that house my entire life. It was on a quarter acre corner lot that was at one of the busiest intersections of the growing neighborhood and located across the street from Albert Einstein Middle School. It was one of those nameless suburbs that seemed from away from anything. People from places like Tennessee were considered exotic and worldly.
My two older brothers (Charles III and William) were twins that were both out of the house when we became a multiple Pinto family. Charles was a senior at Arizona State, he was right handed and William, he is left-handed, was a minor league baseball player somewhere in Mexico. Neither spoke Spanish. My sister, Emily, was born the day JFK was shot in Dallas. My other brother, Norman, was born on the same day as the twins five years later. He hated sharing the birthdays with the twins. My mother owned a bakery with my best friend’s mother in the nearby town. My Father, who was employed with the Department of Justice, had not arrived home when this story starts.
It was one of those early 1980’s pre-VCR and pre-Cable Friday nights where the family was forced to watch the Love Boat or some other awful show. The digital clock showed it was eight o clock when my father (Charles II) came in and requested all of the drivers to come with him. All of the drivers included my Mother, my sister Emily and my Brother Norman. Neither me nor my three legged dog Lumpy was needed at this point.
It turns out that my Father had spent the early evening at an automobile auction and he purchased eight Pintos. With the four cars my family already had (not counting cars owned by Charles III and William); we now had about two cars per driver. That includes me and Lumpy even if I would not drive for another five years. Lumpy would never learn how to drive, even if a car was available to her.
So all of the drivers in the family drove off into the warm summer Virginia evening to pick up the rest of the cars from the auction. I was not along for this family outing so I located the hidden book of National Lampoon jokes that was under the television set. What struck me as odd is that I do not recall anyone asking my Father, “Why did you buy so many Pintos and what were going to do with them”. My Father had purchased the cars as if they were going out of style. In fact they had already reached that point long before we became an eight Pinto family.
My hope was that my Father was going to build a demolition derby but that was not the case. When I woke up the next morning I discovered that my family’s quarter acre lot had been transformed into a used car lot that specialized in Pintos.
As they were eight Pintos I should take some time in describing each of these vehicles until I get to the one that is the main automobile character in this coming of age tale. Many of the cars would simply be a blur in my mind as my father quickly sold the cars to one of the neighbors (oddly many of his customers were some of the teenaged hooligans that hung out behind Albert Einstein Middle School). Teenagers are scary to most people under twelve or over thirty. The colors of the cars that were sold quickly included orange, black and dark blue. All three had racing stripes which he charged a premium for and which were popular among the hooligans.
The colors of the cars that were briefly driven by my family and then sold to neighbors included another white one (without racing stripes), dark green and light blue.
Out of these three cars the light blue one was the only one to do anything of note.
My father never allowed bumper stickers to be placed on any cars driven by the family as it made the cars look trashy. But if a car he purchased already came with a bumper sticker in most cases he never made an effort to take it off. That is where the second most notable of these eight cars came in. It was a gold Pinto that had sort of glittery ghetto fabulous paint job that sparkled in the sign. The handles of the door were shaped like some sort of pipe. On the back bumper was a sticker of a plant with three leaves. No one in my family knew what the plant was. My mother thought the car was owned by Canadians because of what she thought was a maple leaf on the back bumper. My older brother Norman and I would take a memorable journey in that gold plated Pinto with the maple leaf sticker on the back bumper.
But the car that would always have a place in my heart would be the red Pinto that arrived with the others. It did not have a racing stripe so no one thought it was sporty enough to drive.
As our family leaved in a suburb, the transformation from suburban yard to used car lot that hot August night did not go over well with the vast majority of the neighbors. The Homeowner rules had made decisions about many things prior to my family’s home metamorphosis but they had not thought of making used car lots against the rules.
In addition to my fathers day job in the Department of Justice he was also the head salesmen, mechanic and customer service department of a bustling suburban used car lot. At this point in time the closes Chinese Restaurant was fifteen miles away. The closest Pizza Place (owned by the same family that owned the Chinese place) was only ten miles away. We did not even have a seven eleven or a fast food place until another five years later. So in addition to selling cars he sold sodas to the customers. If someone bought a car he was given a case of soda.
So the kindly neighbors that were against the used car lot felt that they should voice their opinion not only to my father but also to other members of the family as they saw fit. So as I walked Lumpy around Albert Einstein concerned parents would pull over their station wagon to yell insults at me and my three legged dog. In addition to this we would get the occasion anonymous threatening phone call and a handful of death threats. None of which was followed up except one.
Earlier I had stated that one car that was quickly sold stuck out in my mind. It was the light blue one that was sold to one of my fathers loudest critics for his troubled teenaged son. The details of this event were sketchy but late one night I heard some teenagers laughing then some tires squealing and loud crunching news. The next morning we discovered that the teenagers had driven across the yard (not hitting the inventory) and ran over our mailbox. It was the third time that our mailbox was run over since the business opened. But the teenaged hooligans left something behind. It was a license plate of the light blue Pinto. It did not take Interpol to figure out that the culprit behind the reckless driving was the troubled teenaged son of my Fathers harshest critic.
So when the police arrived they discovered a blue Pinto with a dented front missing its front license plate. So it was away to Boys village for that troubled teenager. My father enjoyed having the critic having to write the check to have the mailbox replaced by his son’s reckless behavior. Years later the son would become the fourth Principal of Albert Einstein Middle School.
When the inventory of Pintos fell below the number required that the yard was no longer a showroom the ire of the community waned and they spent their energies preventing 7-11 from expanding to our rural/suburban community.
The Pinto that stood out in my mind the second most was the gold one with the mysterious leaf bumper sticker. That is because in the summer of 1983 my older brother Norman and I were going on a trip to see our older brother play in a minor league baseball game in Ocean City, Maryland. William had been having a breakout year in the minor leagues. He was on his way to a brief, but notorious Major league career. He was a left handed curve ball pitcher that could also hit for power.
Under normal circumstances it should take five hours to drive from Northern Virginia to Ocean City, Maryland. It may take seven hours if you hit traffic and get lost. It took my brother Norman and I thirteen hours to reach Ocean City, Maryland and the car was not the problem.
To this day my brother states that I have a bad sense of direction based on the debacle from all of those years ago but honestly, who would put a flighty twelve year old in charge of navigation.
We were given a map by our older minor league ball player brother that showed the route that we should take to get to Ocean City so we can see his team take on the Ocean City Tidesox.
Now this trip was undertaken before the widespread use of cell phones and the rise of those Internet direction sites. Either one of those advances would have prevented this whole misadventure from occurring. But if this did not happen what would have I remembered when “Every Breath You Take” was the top song on the radio?
So we drove across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way to watch our older brother play baseball and hopefully score with the ladies. At that point my game consisted of running down the beach and falling down in front of my intended target. I would claim that I had sand in my eye and had to use their towel to get it out. This was not the most successful strategy ever devised. In fact I do not ever remember it working.
The map only showed that we were supposed to make a right after the bridge. Not being that experienced with driving or map reading I assumed that we were supposed to make the first right after the bridge. Then we made the first left. Then I assumed the map was incorrect as we were at a dead end.
So Norman and I spent the next several hours getting more and more lost in the Eastern Shore of Maryland. For some reason we never pulled over to ask for directions until after midnight. We had no idea about the time when the radio announcer stated that we had listened to the midnight concert hour featuring Boston.
We stopped off at a state police barracks and we approached a Maryland State Trooper to ask for directions. He then asked if either of us were dope smokers that were turning ourselves in. I proudly told him that I listened to Nancy Reagan and just said no! I had earlier written to the First Lady asking her to speak at Albert Einstein. After hearing that the officer marched my brother and I into the station as he had probable cause based on how lost we were and the way the golden Pinto was decorated.
So it was after one in the morning and my brother and I were in a holding cell pending the search of the Golden Pinto for contraband. Luckily the holding cell was empty and my brother slept on the bench. He was sort of hoping he would be able to use his wrestling moves on the other prisoners but we were the only ones. They used drug-sniffing dogs but no contraband was found and we were allowed to call both our brother and our parents. It turned out that our mother had already called the Highway Patrol as our sojourn to Ocean City had already taken over thirteen hours and we were still three hours away. That is how we learned that the sticker on the back of the car was a pot leaf.
While my brother was napping in the holding cell of the Maryland State Police barracks he had a dream. This dream would for a brief moment in time make the combined paper net worth of my family well over a billion dollars.
Shortly after this epic journey the Golden Pinto was sold to a drifter but the pot sticker remained on the back of the car. I was not quite sure where the drifter came from but the neighborhood was near freight rail tracks so I guess he was some sort of upwardly mobile hobo. He paid my father cash and was given the final case of generic soda from the previous summer.
Now the car that meant the most to me was the Red Pinto. It was purchased by my father when Reagan was in his first term and Cal Ripken was a rookie short stop for the Baltimore Orioles. I drove that car until Clintons second term and close to the end of Ripken's streak. When you grow up in the Washington area you always know who the President is and how both the Redskins and Orioles are doing. No one cares about the Wizards/Bullets as they always find a way to suck.
So the story fast forwards five years in the future to September of 1988. At this point I was a senior in High School at a predominately black high school located at the border of the District of Columbia. The name of the school was Len Bias Senior High; named for the Maryland Basketball player that died of a drug overdose the day after the Boston Celtics drafted him. The previous name of the school until the spring of 1987 was Thomas Jefferson. The renaming of the school was part of a larger effort to name many of the schools in the county after famous local citizens that passed away. Since his death was recent it was fairly easy to get enough signatures on a petition to honor the fallen Terrapin. Somehow money was raised to erect a statue of the player many people thought was going to be the next Michael Jordan. My experience at this school has given me empathy for anyone who has had to be a minority. The reason behind attending this school was that the county, in an effort to integrate one of the worst schools in the county, placed an attractive science and tech program in the school. One class I would be among the best and brightest on their way to MIT and the next class I would be among no future USA on their way to a career in airline security. That career would last until the federal government took over this function.
I was having a rough month as my best friend and companion since I was eight years old, died. Lumpy had been having a tough time of it and one morning earlier in the week she barely wanted to go on her walk around Albert Einstein. When I arrived that evening after cross country practice both my parents and Lumpy were gone. I knew Lumpy had gone to the great school yard in the sky. The next morning I walked around the schoolyard with Lumpy’s leash.
One of the main features of having a Pinto was that its presence was its best security. If you drove a Pinto, you may worry about the explosion resulting from a rear end collision but you never had to worry about theft.
The most memorable incident from my miserable high school years came on a beautiful September day. I walked outside after class to the parking lot to retrieve my running stuff from the car. I could not locate my red 1978 Ford Pinto. I walked around the parking lot several times. Eventually most of the other cars were gone and I was still searching for the car. I turned to a female student and said, “My car is gone”. She went on to explain that my car was not gone because it was a Ford. I then went into the school and found the top-notch security guard and told him that my car was stolen. He knew I drove a Pinto and told me that the car could not have been stolen. I followed this up with a call to the police and we had the following exchange,
911 Operator: 911
Me: I would like to report a stolen car
911: Make
Me: Ford
911: Make
Me: Pinto
911: (Heard Laughing and the sound of speaker phone): Sir, please repeat yourself.
So, I waited outside of the school for the police to arrive. The policeman asked me if I was the one who reported that my Pinto was stolen. He took the report and when I asked if I would ever see my Pinto again he told me that he doubted it. He also told me that this was the first time that he took a report on a stolen Pinto and the guys at the station got a good laugh.
I called my Father at the Department of Justice and reported that the car had been stolen. He then asked me how much I got for the car. His belief was that I had entered the lucrative field of low-end car sales. I told him that I would score a ride home.
So I got a ride home from one of my classmates. He was also in shocked that out of all of the cars at Len Bias High, the thieves targeted a ten-year-old Ford Pinto. Perhaps they were car thieves in training. Maybe they had some sort of self esteem issue. To this day I have no idea why they stole the Pinto from the parking lot of Len Bias High. When I went to my high school reunion I was sort of hoping for a drunken classmate to confess the crime to me but this did not happen. Maybe this mystery will be solved by the twentieth reunion.
I knew that solving this mystery was not at the top of the pile of crimes that need to be solved by the county police. Doubted that I would be successful if I tried to escalate the investigation to the FBI. If I even tried to cross the street of the school I would be called into the Principals office but the crack security team would not notice a car being stolen.
Luckily my family had other cars but I was still angry. I had a vague plan of rear-ending the car if I happened to see my Red Ford Pinto being driven by the masterminded criminals but remembered that the explosion feature was corrected by the time the 1978 model had rolled around. The Red Pinto would have to be written off and that would end a chapter in the history of my family.
But the story hardly ends with a car theft. The crime was partially solved when the property was covered. It was not the tireless work of the county police but my own luck in solving the crime. Was walking across the street from the school with my girlfriend of the month when I saw a car that had been trashed in the parking lot of a dying strip mall filled with vacant stores. Upon closer inspection I discovered that the car was my beloved Ford Pinto. The windows were smashed out. The 8-track player was stolen. The seats were cut up and they had relieved themselves in the back seat of the car. They did leave my entire 8-track collection untouched. I guess the thieves were not fans of either the Steve Miller Band, Meat Loaf, Van Halen or any other Classic Rock standards that were playing on those awful classic rock stations of the era.
Thinking that the car was set up as an elaborate bomb like in the first Godfather movie I called my father to drive the car home after he inspected the car for bombs. The Pinto was now recovered but the criminals are still free probably wrecking Yogis or the other bottom five percent of automobiles on the road. Perhaps they run a chop shop selling parts to the lucrative parts market for these types of cars. When all of humanity’s injustice to humanity is ranked and catalogued, the theft of my Red Pinto does not rank that high. Probably somewhere above the theft of a Dig Dug Atari 2600 game and transmitting accounts of an NFL game with only implied verbal consent.
The car was restored to its former glory and the 8-track player was replaced with a tape deck. Even without a working 8-track I still held onto the tapes thinking that a collector would have an interest and pay me handsomely. Perhaps that would pay for a new car.
One of the good things about driving a Ford Pinto or any other low-end car is that if you are with a female, then you know pretty well they are not with you because of the car. All of the kids with cooler cars drove mid eighties Mustangs or if they were really well off, supped up sub ten thousand dollar Korean cars with gold trim. To this day I am see a car as nothing more than a tool to get between points.
So I would finish my High School career still driving the Ford Pinto. In fact I would continue driving the car for another eight years. Luckily I did not show up to my high school re-union driving the same car. Perhaps for my twentieth re-union I could buy a used Pinto from the classic cars market and show up with it. Maybe that would draw out the thieves.
My performance academically at Len Bias High was neither horrible nor fantastic. Among the gifted students in the gifted program I was completely mediocre in every sense of the word, probably in the lower quarter. Among the general population of the entire school I was easily in the top ten percent. When it came time to choose a school I was not overly ambitious and did not choose to go from home, as I would be driving the Red Ford Pinto. So I applied to a medium sized state school located in the Eastern shore of Maryland whose business program revolved around poultry.
That summer I would go to the beach several times to chase women. A few times I would actually be successful. One of these instances came as I walked down the beach at night like the video of an Air Supply song. I came across a female sitting on the beach by herself that was about my age and was my type.
We hit it off and had one of the late teenage on the beach evenings where nothing really happened. When it came time for her to return to her parents condo she gave me her number. When I returned home I gave her a call and we made a date to see some awful Tom Cruise movie where he was a bartending autistic racecar-driving fighter pilot. When I pulled up to her parent’s upper class home the father requested that pull out his Corvette from the garage and park the Pinto in the garage so the neighbors do not see that his precious daughter is not dating a Pinto driving carnival working loser. As I did not know how to drive a stick she had to move the car and she drove to the theater. She drove one of those VW Convertibles that are issued to attractive daughters of well off parents. Needless to say I did not return for a second date.
At the end of the summer after my high school graduation I packed all of my worldly belongings into my Red Ford Pinto. For the first time in my life I would be leaving my childhood home for the dangers of dorm life. This time I had much better idea on how to follow directions than six years earlier when my brother Norman and I got really lost in the Eastern Shore. My mother cried but I think that is a universal reaction.
As my school was a full four hours away I stopped off at my sisters Kendra’s home that was sort of along the way to my school. Kendra ran a successful dog walking service for rich clients. The name of her service was “One Dog at a Time”. Her theme song for the business was sang to the tune of “One Day At a Time”. Norman, Kendra and I were polishing off a twelve pack of beer practicing drinking games, which is a central focus of the college experience. The evening ended with me getting sick in the sink of my sisters kitchen. This would become common.
That trip in 1983 gave my brother the idea of a service where you could get the directions between any two points delivered to your house a week before your trip. He told me that he dreamed of directions magically appearing in the home while he was sleeping in the holding cell in the Maryland State Police Barracks. He thought he could charge fifty dollars for each set of directions. These directions would not only include what streets to take, but how many miles you would be on each road and would include a map highlighting your route. He was still a little less than a decade away from making his dream of a customized map service a reality, if only for a brief moment in time.
College kids across the country are always worried what their roommates would be like. Sometimes you worry that your roommate will be a complete psychotic, playing dungeons and dragons till the wee hours. Another different problem could arise if the roommate is good looking and is always stealing the woman’s attention. One common fear is that the roommate will be gay and will make passes at you. This last one was the subject of a number of urban legends.
When I got to the dorm I thought it would be a good time to play a practical joke on my roommate. I knew that everyone always checked your music selection so I placed a Jermaine Jackson tape into the tape deck. I also carefully draped a set of Miami Dolphin colored spandex running tights over my chair. He never said anything but was happy when I would kick him out of the room when I had women over.
To make some extra money at school I got one of those awful retail jobs at the mall. At least it gave me a chance to put the moves on all the female customers. After about a week I met a dimwitted high school senior that quickly became my girlfriend out of lack of other applicants.
One of our first dates we drove around the countryside in the Ford Pinto, as the car was about to flip over the mileage. Back when American auto quality was not high flipping the mileage over was both an occasion and an achievement. It was not unusual for someone to pull the car over and dance a jig when the mileage was turned over. Right around 99900 your awareness would rise that you would soon be doing incredible. Perhaps you would make a special trip when it came close. We had a camera to take photos of the point when the odometer would be turning from 99999.9 to 00000.0. This was all very exciting. None of the pictures came out but I did dance a gig. We broke up a brief time later because she was simply too stupid.
On that same role of film that I took the photos of the mileage turning over I took a picture of the overhead light for some unexplained reason. I told one of my college friends, little brothers that the photo was that of a UFO. When you are always playing jokes on various people eventually the tables would be turned.
My just deserts came when I was a sophomore the next fall. We had all been drinking heavily as college kids all around the world are to do. Our school was known as being the top of Playboys number one party school but outside of Brigham Young and the Naval Academy I have never found a school that did not claim this elite honor.
I was drinking especially heavy that evening and I am sure I was behaving in an extremely charming manner at the party. We started with “Happies” at one of our friends off campus apartments so we would already have a base level drunk before we arrived at the party and the buzz would not wear off if the lines were long. We would normally polish off a Coors party ball between seven or eight of us before we arrived at the party. If we were feeling especially festive or one of use came into a twenty then we would make Boil makers by adding whisky to the beer. The evening in question we did have whisky with our beer.
Surprisingly none of us were successful with the ladies when we made boil makers. But it was not for want of trying and I am sure that I had made a fool and a nuisance of myself this evening. None of this has been recorded as I do not remember the details but I am sure it played a part in the joke.
I went home, alone and went to bed. A few hours later I was woken by a loud knock on the door. It was the Heat! It seemed that my car, the Red Pinto, had been driven into the building and it was blocking entrance into the building. Judging from my current state, it was a very real possibility that I had driven the car into the building. But I had not driven that evening and I doubt I parked my car when I came back from work earlier that evening. But the problem was that I could not find my keys. The police were asking me how much I had drank, so I told them some story how I had been in Canada drinking with my parents. Luckily the police were either bad at geography or felt like giving me a break considering I was driving a Pinto in the 1990’s. So with the help of some other guys at the dorm and the police we moved the car by putting it in neutral and pushing it back into a legal spot.
But I still had a ticket for twenty dollars for having my car parked in that precarious position. Considering I did not have that sort of money to pay the fine I went down to the station and came up with a story how a group of evil townies had moved my car. I did not want to get my friends in trouble, as I probably deserved to be a part of that prank.
The Pinto somehow ran all through my college years and was well over 150,000 miles when I graduated. I somehow came up with the decision to move to Atlanta based on a decision matrix based on the number of jobs and single women. Now the Pinto did not have air conditioning. My father offered to go halves on installing air-conditioning in the car, as Atlanta was hot. One of the stupidest things that I had ever done is turning down that offer because Atlanta in the summer is hot. Anyone without air conditioning is a fool.
So I moved to Atlanta and sublet the only non-air conditioned room in the entire state of Georgia. I worked every miserable telemarketing job that summer as I had no connections and no experience. I was a lowly telemarketer who made a living out of harassing people at dinnertime to tell them that they won a free vacation. When these poor souls came to claim their prize it would turn out they were given the hard sell of marginal time-shares. At least I did not have a car payment to worry about.
At this point my older William was in his forth season in the major leagues as a reliable middle reliever that could hit well above average for a pitcher. For that reason National League teams were always far more interested in my brother. That summer he was playing for the New York Mets. During the first road trip to Atlanta of the season he was on the injured reserve and did not make the trip. It was always fun going to a major league game if your brother pitches. During college I made several trips to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to see my brother play. I wished he had played in the American league so I could see him play against the Orioles at Memorial Stadium.
It was the end of the season when the Mets would be coming to town to face the Atlanta Braves in a final four game series. The Braves were three games ahead of the Mets as the series began. This would be the end of my Brothers major league career even though he would be a hero of one of the games. His twin identical twin brother Charles III would be flying in to hang out with us.
I even had trouble telling Charles and William apart as they had been away from home since I was a little kid. As a joke they swapped places for an autograph session. No one seemed to notice that Charles was right handed.
Charles was famous in his own right as a writer for silly but popular movies. Normally his movies were about explosions or talking crime solving Pandas. He had written an amazing story while in college but since then he had written nothing but highly successful commercial crap.
The first game the Mets blew away the Braves so my brother did not play. That did not stop William from taking Charlie and I out on the town. For old times sake he wanted to drive to Buckhead in the old Ford Pinto. He asked why I was still driving that piece of crap Pinto but did not offer large amounts of cash when I explained that I was broke. He did pay for all of the drinks and as we took a Limo back to the fraternity house he paid for the impound fee on the Pinto as we parked in front of a fire hydrant.
So the second game of the series and the Braves were two games in front of the Mets. If the Braves win one game they win the division. It was that end of the season series that mean everything to those that care about professional baseball.
It was the bottom of the eighth inning and the game was tied three to three. The manager put my older brother in the game. His first six pitches were all strikes and the seventh was a pop up that retired the side.
As I mentioned before my Brother always was an above average hitter among pitchers. It was top of the ninth with two outs and a runner on second. Many managers would pull the pitcher but not tonight. His first pitch was hit perfectly and he stretched to a double and it batted in the runner at second.
The bottom of the ninth, my brother struck out the first two batters using only eight pitches. The ninth pitch was another pop up and the Braves lead was cut to one game with two remaining. William had both the win and the game-winning run. For the next twenty-four hours he would be the toast of New York before he would spend a lifetime being the item of scorn of Mets fans.
After the game my brother gave far more interviews than normal for a reliable middle reliever but Billy was a hero for at least one night. We met my brother outside of the visitor’s locker room and we drove into that Atlanta night from Fulton County Stadium to Buckhead for a night of debauchery where discretion was not in use.
Parking was tight so we just parked on the sidewalk for the car to be towed. My brother, the major league hero of the evening would simply pay the $300 fine to get the $200 car out of the impound lot for the second night in a row,
Partying at Bars when someone is else is far more fun when someone else is picking up the tab. Under normal circumstances I would drink at home before I would go out and then hit bars that were having some sort of drink specials. Then I would drink beer because it was normally cheaper. Most of my experiences with hard spirits had been of marginal quality and major quantities. That fateful we were at an establishment called, “Lulu’s Bait Shake”, based on my recommendation. We kept the wait staff busy ordering round after round of shots, mixed drinks and those blue punch bowls with floating sharks. In addition many of the patrons, despite being Braves fans were buying us shots. My brothers had their antics photographed on more than a few occasions. When William got sick on the dance floor over a Georgia Coed and then tried to sleep on the bar it was time to leave.
We got a cab as none of us could drive and the red Pinto had long ago been towed away for the second night in a row. The cab driver recognized William as we pulled away from the bar. He did a double take due to his twin brother.
The three of us went back to my rented room at the fraternity house. William got sick again in the shared bathroom of the floor. I had gotten sick but it was not a photo worthy event.
Late the next morning I woke up with a taste like a sour cotton field in my mouth and my stomach was upset. My head felt like my skull was being cracked with knives. At this point this was the worst hangover of my life but as everyone knows one of the things that gets far worse with age is the hangover after a night of heavy drinking.
This theory was proven by the fact that my two older brothers were in far worse shape than I was. At least I was able to get Charles up but William was simply still too hung over to go to work today. The problem with his “sleeping it off” was the fact that there was a major league baseball game that required his attendance. For the moment this problem was solved by Williams idea of sending Charles, his identical right handed, non-baseball playing brother in his place. Under normal circumstances this would not have been a problem as William would not have pitched having pitched the night before but this was not a normal game.
So Charles took Williams identification and we went to the impound lot to pick up the Ford Pinto. He was wearing Williams Blue Sport jacket as the major leagues has a dress code. This was not the first time they had swapped places but this time would not work out well.
The game was one of those once in a lifetime masterpieces of pitching that becomes a part of baseball legend. Neither team managed a run through the firs t nine innings as both pitchers had a complete game shutout. In fact the Mets had only managed a single walk in the second inning. Both teams used all of their pitchers over the second nine innings and still neither team managed to score over the first eighteen innings in this critical game. The manager turned to my brother Charles and said, “William, get warmed up!” Charles was dreading pitching in a critical major league game as he had never played baseball outside of the side yard and that was with a hollow plastic ball. Even then he was not that good. Charles had watched the other pitchers warm up and he simply stretched in the bullpen. He was hoping that the game would end before he would have to pitch in his brother’s place. The fact that he was still hung over did not help matters, as he got sick in a trashcan in the corner of the bullpen. One of the pitching coaches made a nervous crack that William looked like he had a rough night.
It was the bottom of the 18th inning with two outs with a runner on third base that reached base by a walk and advanced from second and then to third by sacrifice flies. Charles, the major league imposter had one pitch, if you want to call it that. To make matters even more difficult the pitch was made using his left arm, as Charles was a right-hander and as said before, not a pitcher. The ball fell about ten feet and the runner on third took off scoring the winning run and the Braves had won the division.
William had gone from the toast of New York to the goat but he was not even in the game, in the stadium or even awake. I made my way down to outside of the visitor’s locker room. Charles made a few mumbling interviews before he got away and we drove back to the Fraternity house.
With the magnitude of the game rumors started to circulate that William was drunk during the game causing him to throw one of the worst pitches in baseball history. Then the photos of the previous night started to surface and speculation began to rise that William was not even at the game and was replaced by his non-athletic brother, the writer of bad but successful screenplays.
The New York Mets released William, that night and for about a week he was monologue fodder on late night shows. He was also the subject of a skit on Saturday Night Live. The tabloids started to publish the photos from the night in Buckhead. The Pinto was in the Enquirer three weeks in a row. They even had an interview with the tow truck driver that towed the same Pinto two nights in a row. No teams even in the minor leagues would offer my brother a second chance. He was no Steve Howe. That is how my brother became a disgraced former major league baseball player. He would move to West Virginia and would stay out of the spotlight for the next few years.
Things would get worse. I drove to my dreadful telemarketing job a few days later. As we called the poor souls that were stupid enough to fill out those entry forms at one of those Chili cook offs the police came running in and arrested most of the management. One of those TV crews that feature better business stories that covers stories about people who send all of there money to dubious money making schemes was parked outside filming the whole scene. The police cars were parked next to my Pinto so my car was featured on the nightly news.
It was the end of my time in Atlanta as I was sick being recognized by my car and still being broke so I decided to return to the Washington area. On my last night in Atlanta I parked my car in the normal spot across the street from the fraternity house. I was woken at six in the morning by a loud sucking sound and the room shook. The news had woken up many of the other neighbors as a sinkhole had sucked in several cars in the parking lot. The car that was the first not to be sucked into unexplainable oblivion was the Ford Pinto. One of the disadvantages of living in Atlanta is that CNN over covers local news and tries to pass it off as international events.
As my car was located next to a crater it was for the third time in three weeks on the news. I enjoyed the indirect attention but many times fame does not come with a paycheck so I left Atlanta once I was given access to my car once it was removed away from the mysterious sinkhole in the parking lot.
Leaving Atlanta like the reverse of Midnight train to Georgia returning to Maryland compared to returning to Georgia from California did not put an end to working awful jobs. I spent the next few months as a management trainee at Enterprise Rent a Car making less money than I was as a retail salesperson while in college and having a lot less fun. One of the most sobering things about post college is the fact that dollar pitcher night is a thing of the past and these insane establishments expect you to pay three dollars for a single glass of beer and they want a tip on top of that! Many weekends found me driving the Pinto back to school as I could to afford to have a social life. Women after college often have an issue being driven somewhere in a fifteen year old Ford Pinto.
As a management trainee at Enterprise you are rated in getting the poor fools that rent from you to agree to pay more for insurance. If you have existing auto coverage and/or you pay for the car using a credit card (which is required) then the coverage is not needed and simply adds to the profits of the rental company.
One of the benefits of working for Enterprise was getting a slight discount on one of the used rental cars that were for sale but the monthly payment was more than my biweekly car payment and I did not see a 1993 Ford Escort that much of an improvement. To this day when I rent from Enterprise I enjoy getting past the thin smile to the misery when I chat with the management trainee about their experience with Enterprise. Alls I have to do is simply ask them how they enjoy working for Enterprise. They respond with a chipper speech about the opportunities with the company. Then I say that I am a former employee and I know what it is like. Then they become sad and start saying how much they hate their job. If you reach the point of desperation in a job search that you consider the management-training program at Enterprise you should consider homelessness as a more pleasant option. One positive thing about working in misery is the thought that your future (either unemployment or another job) will be more pleasant.
Norman was working as an accountant but he still talked about the custom map service. Now instead of mailing in a request the service would be done over a computer by having users sending in their request by calling into a BBS (Bulletin Board System). Once the request was submitted then the user would call back in the next day and find their directions in a personalized mailbox. He would charge his customers twenty dollars each time they got directions. Based on that he would only need to give directions to fifty thousand people before he would be a millionaire. His model and the economy would be tweaked a bit but his project would be briefly be worth quite a bit more than the million dollars that was his goal.
So after several miserable months working for slave wages at Enterprise I decided that going to grad school was my path out of this ring of hell that was Enterprise. So I went to those grad school fairs that are always popular when the job market is horrible for those that want to sit out the job market.
I picked out several schools that I could get into without much effort but I learned the truth about the less you say to your idiot coworkers the better. If I would have known what I knew then what I know now and I knew the