My First Wheels

My first vehicle was the “Fruit Mobile”. When I say that, most people imagine a sixties-era VW hippie-van finished with an extravaganza of flowers and rainbows painted with Rustoleum. No such luck. The Fruit Mobile was an old delivery van with "Fruit Mobile" professionally painted on the side in two-foot high letters.

I was an aspiring garage-band bass player, and wanted a van to haul equipment around. I saw the ad in the paper, “Van, $400”. What a deal! I got a friend to drive me down to it. It was hideous: red with white lettering, windows all around, a wooden chair for the passenger. But it had were shelves for storing all our band equipment, and it was big.

Also, there was an ancient hydraulic clutch and a generator. Not an alternator like we have in modern vehicles, but a generator.

I bought it, registered it, jump started it, and drove it a mile to a gas station. I gave the guy $50 to repair anything that didn’t pass inspection. What he did was put the sticker on. I had to spend another $50 on wipers and lights and everything else after getting it home.

The big test was yet to come. The problem was, I went to college in Syracuse, but the rest of the band lived in Buffalo. On Christmas break, I would drive the Fruit Mobile to Buffalo, get all the stuff and take it to Albany.

I tried it around town to shake down any problems. The clutch broke. It took the mechanic a few tries to get it to stop leaking. I thought I solved the dying battery problem by buying a new one. I couldn’t afford to fill the tanks, so I didn’t know what my mileage was. Planning for the big trip was risky, but that didn’t stall me.

I had surprisingly few problems getting to Buffalo and loading the van. Dave elected to sit in the Fruit Mobile’s passenger chair while everyone else took the bus to Albany. Since we didn’t have enough money for gas, food and tolls, we took NY Route Five all the way from Buffalo to Albany. The Fruit Mobile died every fifty miles: Batavia, Canandaigua, Syracuse, Utica. We’d struggle with it for a few hours, and it would start again. After taking over 24 hours to go 200 miles, we gave up in Utica on Christmas Eve. We called home and my father and girl-friend came and rescued us.

My most prized memory was Christmas Eve in a coffee shop on the west side of Syracuse. After driving all night and all day to get only half-way home, we carefully counted out our change, bought two cups of coffee and split a donut. It was the most welcome meal I’ve ever had.

© 1998, Steven F. Lott.


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