I didn’t learn to drive until I was 25. I always figured that I’d never need to, since I moved to NYC after college and planned on living in Manhattan for the rest of my life. Having a car in New York was an impediment and extremely expensive, unless your idea of a good time was driving around the block for hours looking for a parking space that would only be good for a day or two when you’d have to repeat the process all over again. My friend Rick Cummins called this “walking the car”, like “walking the dog” only a lot more time consuming with none of the canine companionship benefits!
But then I took a vacation to California the summer of 1977 and I KNEW that I’d have to learn drive at some point, since L.A. is a car culture place even more so than the rest of our country. So I wound up at the Automobile Club of America, with supplementary driving practice from ever-patient friends. (Thank you again, Jim Suitor and Rick Cummins!) And eventually I got my license. No car, but I was street legal.
Not owning a car, I didn’t have many opportunities to exercise my new skills while living in New York. My dear friend Mara Purl let me drive her Ford Pinto to Baltimore and back – in fact, we were going to share the costs of the car until it got damaged while “safely” parked in a city lot. I rented a car for special trips on occasion and my mom let me drive her Fiat Spider when I’d visit her in New Haven, but a lot of time went by when I wasn’t behind the wheel.
Then Jim Cantin took a road tour gig and asked us to look after his car while he was out of town. He kept it parked in a lot ½ mile away and we needed to dust the snow off and turn the engine over every week, but it was SO cool to be able to escape the city!! We took Jim’s car to Connecticut to visit friends and family and for a premiere of our YOGURT VARIATIONS with the New Britain Symphony, to Long Island to see my teacher Hale Smith – the freedom to get around without using public transportation…. bliss!
Even maintenance was an adventure; since the closest Chevrolet dealership was on Staten Island, we got a ride on the ferry to get the side mirror replaced (another parking garage mishap when the attendant was moving the car around).
But the most fun was grocery shopping trips to Paterson, NJ. Our pockets bulging with coupons and a list a mile long, we’d hop in the Chevette, cross the bridge that Chris Christie made famous and before too long be at PathMark, home of huge bargains (and double coupons!) We’d fill the oversized cart with tons of non-perishables, stocking up on canned food, TP and paper towels like the end of the world was coming. It was always an adventure to be in a real, honest-to-God suburban supermarket after squeezing thru NYC bodegas and tiny grocery stores. The variety! The new products! The SPACE!!!
At the end of several hours’ shopping, the trunk and back seat of the Chevette would be so crammed full of stuff, we could barely see anything in the rearview mirror. With the double coupons and lower NJ prices, a $200 grocery bill would be slashed to $80 some times! (These are early 1980s prices I’m talking here!) Being an inveterate bargain hunter, this thrilled me no end.
Jim has always known how to live; he was the only person I knew in NY who had both a clothes washer and dryer in his apartment – he’d found them at a yard sale, fixed what was broken and… voila! Truly civilized city living! Jim is amazingly talented in many areas; in addition to his prodigious skills as a musician, vocal coach and songwriter, he’s a skilled woodworker, designer, collector, teacher, computer expert, piano rebuilder, photo restorer… there’s very little that Jim can’t do.
He’s also very generous. Thanks again, Jim, for letting us take care of the Little Gold Chevette!