Loving the Great White Limo
Something about Martha Ball’s column last week struck me, but not the way she intended. It was her comment about the white limo with Connecticut plates, which connoted a negative image of a Fairfield county hedge fund manager imperiously whisking about Block Island in an all too expensive vehicle.
The white limo passed my house the same day I read Martha’s column. It was not a new car, and inside it in the front seat were a couple of young guys who looked more like beach bums than executives, both with huge yahoo smiles on their faces. They turned into a driveway up the street, which made me think they were renting a house, and as they passed, I thought, oh, that’s the car Martha meant. But I smiled as I looked at them, because their faces radiated joy and joy is infectious.
I didn’t realize at the time that they also had jogged loose some long lost memories. It took a few days before it came to me that I, too, had experienced joyriding in a limo in what seems now like another life.
The owner was our friend John, a Vietnam Veteran who had nothing left to lose, as they say, and would do anything to convince himself he was still alive. He moved into the apartment next door and he and Ron spent hours and days in the parking lot out back tinkering with engines, putting in new brakes, and whatever else guys who are motorheads do to cars. John never kept a car, or for that matter, a girl or a wife, for long. One evening he came home with an old midnight blue Cadillac limousine, which at that time, went for not much money. We all agreed it was beautiful, and riding in it was dreamy.
We tooled around New Haven, Connecticut driving up the snaking roads of West Rock at thrilling speeds to look out over the city at night, and we even inadvertently frightened a friend when we pulled up to him as he was walking down an avenue alone. He told us afterward he thought we were the Mafia.
Mostly, we loved to take the car down to the beach along Long Island Sound in West Haven to a drive-in seafood and hotdog stand called Jimmy’s. The place had a counterman that was the envy of every other restaurant in the area. He was nicknamed, “The Machine.” The Machine could make change in his head as fast as any modern day computer for anything on the menu all the while turning hotdogs on the grill beside him and getting the lobster rolls out. He never made a mistake on an order, and if two football teams and a scout troop arrived at the same time, he’d clear the line in five minutes. Never did you wait any longer when he was manning the counter. The Machine was legendary and remembered with awe for years after the outdoor takeout closed and morphed into a formless indoor seafood restaurant just like any other.
The old Jimmy’s stand had a huge parking lot and everyone went there, especially on Saturday night. John would gather us up on Saturdays to go to what he called “the midnight show.” He’d find a front row spot and after we bought our food, we’d sit there for an hour or so watching The Machine and the steady stream of people going through for a late night snack.
There is something wonderful about seeing someone who has achieved excellence, who can carry out tasks with grace, speed, and accuracy, whether it is a ballerina or a counterman. We watched and admired, and maybe in the wide-eyedness of our youths, we unconsciously hoped we could also get to the pinnacle of something we liked to do someday.
So I hope those kids in the great white limo had a great time joyriding around the island, breathing in the salt air, and maybe even pulling into Finn’s for a lobster roll or a dog before hopping into the water to board or surf.
As I recall, joyriding really is a joy.