Orlove's question in today's COTD post prompts me to spill the beans on myself. Or at least my teenage self from whom I'm now separated by three decades. If you're reading this Ralphie, please keep doing that; I love the conversations these questions provoke :)
Anywho, the time was the early-mid '80s in the windswept borough on Lancaster, CA in northern LA county, my hometown and where I spent my formative years until I was old enough to get out for college and never look back. During high school I worked for a friend of my parents, Gary Fisher, an intimidating but in retrospect genuinely nice man who was the proprietor of what was then one of the best places to stay for those who had reason to spend more than the time required to stop and grab a bite and/or refuel as they passed through town (as most everyone else did). The hotel was called the Desert Inn. It was a full service hotel with two restaurants, two pools a bunch of rooms, conference facilities, and a Hertz agency. The latter being the subject of this post.
I tried to find an image of the hotel's iconic sign but the was the best I could do. Need a light?
While I started off as a busboy in the coffee shop, at the time the events in this story went down I had moved on to the the hotel's "bellman," which really meant "Jack of all trades" because I did everything from bellman duty to pool maintenance to chauffering guests to/from the local airport to running hotel errands and "servicing" their fleet of Hertz rental cars.
My jerb involved a lot of rental car driving. This was back when there were no computers so the only way we could tell which cars we had in stock was to glance at the pegboard holding all the keys. Front desk staff manage the car rental operations so there were no Hertz employees at all. If I had to drive somewhere for any reason, I'd just grab the keys to whatever I fancied. At the time I could tell you exactly how fast each model in the Hertz lineup would go in each gear before bouncing off of the rev limiter. There were long, straight stretched of road between the hotel and Fox Field (the airport) that became the proving ground for my vehicular tomfoolery but both stupid, stupid incidents took place much closer to home base.
Victim #1: 1982 Camaro
My first act of utter stupidity involved a then brand new 1982 red Camaro, almost identical to this one pictured above. The redesign had just came out and that car to my teenaged self might as well have been a Ferrari; it was so sleek, shiny and fast (looking). I just had a fight with my girlfriend (don't drive angry) before I got to work and was asked to run to the store for something one of the restaurants needed. Seizing the keys of the dreamiest joyridemobile I found started to seal the fate of that poor car. On the way out of the back parking lot where we kept the Hertz cars, I saw a buddy who was getting off work as a busboy in one of the restaurants. "Brian! Nice car!" he says. "Wanna go for a spin? I'm running a quick errand," I reply. Of course he did.
I told him about the fight I had with the girl whose name I can no longer even remember and, in doing so, I made my anger surface anew (don't drive angry). I took a shortcut by ducking into the ally driveway of one of those L-shaped strip malls near the hotel so I could avaoid an intersection and save some time. The back of the strip mall building was to my left and the 6-7ft concrete wall was to my right. Naturally, there was a 90 degree left turn at the base of the V that would take me to my desired shortcut exit. Welp, I hit that turn at roughy 60mph touched the brake pedal in mild panic as I started to experience the nose push which is when I learned my first lesson in corner braking really damn quick. That brand new, flawless Camaro proceeded to produce a succession of sickening, grinding bounces off of the wall after the turn's exit. When I got back to the hotel I had a good look at what I had done; the entire right side of the car was now mostly banged-up naked metal. The side view mirror was gone completely. It was a mess. I parked the car at an end space next to some shrubbery that obscured the damage kept the keys for about a week before hanging the keys up on the pegboard when no one was looking. Later that day, and with all the acting skills I could muster, I came in and breathlessly asked the front desk crew "What happened to that red Camaro? The whole side is damaged!" "You'd better take it to get serviced," One of the ladies replied (this was the reply they had for anything wrong with one of the cars). Questions were later asked but no one knew what happened and all was shortly forgotten.
Victim #2: 1983 Dodge 600
The loss of my second victim is less tragic than #1 but the repercussions were far greater. As I prepared to determine the performance specs of the K-car-based "Talking car" Dodge 600 on the way to pick up a hotel guest at the airport, Incident #2 happened. I left out the back driveway as usual and turned right. Up ahead I saw that there were a number of cars backed up at the main intersection a few blocks up so I hung a quick right at the next street (the vertical stick of that "T" intersection) so I could flip a U and go the other way. Unfortunately, I did not pause long enough to realize there was another car coming up fast the way I had been going and, as I pulled out to make the left and complete the U-turn ... BAM! It was a blur. I remember seeing the hood of the 600 taco and the car I hit fishtail back and forth as the driver tried to prevent it from plowing into the parked cars lining both sides of the narrow street. The entire "face" of the 600 was gone, right down to and including the core support. The car I hit, an early '70s Charger (don't hate me) had heavy damage to the right rear quarter. While the other driver's excessive speed contributed to the collision, the fault was mine and mine alone for failure to yield and basically being a teenaged idiot.
The 600 could still move under its own power (barely) so I was able to limp it back to the hotel. I parked under the hotel's porte cochere next to an LA Country Sheriff who had already arrived to finish the incident report. As I got out, I see Gary Fisher making a beeline for me from the office. The look on his face ... I'll never forget it ... I thought I was cooked. He strode right up to me and said in a tone I was not expecting, "Are you ok? Are you hurt anywhere?" "No, I'm fine," I replied, "I'm really sorry about the car, Mr. Fisher." "To hell with the car," he replied, "the important thing is you're not hurt. Go into my office, grab a coke and lay down for a bit. You're shaking and should get out of the heat."
Two weeks later, there was a new desk in the hotel lobby staffed by an actual Hertz employee. The driver of the Charger filed a lawsuit against me, the hotel and Hertz. Hertz decided they would run things from then out and Gary had to go buy a couple vans for the hotel to replace the free utility of the rental cars we had. So, there you have it; the story of how I destroyed two cars and one business relationship by being a stupid teenager.
At least I've gotten better since then ;)