After almost a year in Italy, it was about time for me to return to the states and commence my college education. I did not want to leave, but the fact is I was deported. Something about being over 18, not enrolled in school or working (obviously being a lead singer in a rock band did not count or help for that matter). My Step-Dad received a letter from an Italian Magistrate and we dutifully showed up for the hearing. I was given 3 weeks to leave the country and that was it. I stayed until the last possible second.
I had been accepted into the UT and flew directly from Milano Italy to Austin, TX. Now many of you may know Austin to be an uber-hip city, but in 1979? Not so much. Once again, I felt like I have been put in a time warp and sent back about 10 years into the past. But now I needed to get on with the job of going to school. My Mom and Step-Dad had sent me with $2000 to start off my school career. It seemed like a lot of money. And if I had spent it wisely, it probably would have lasted me much longer.
I bought a car. You are not going to believe this but I bought a dark green ’72 Vega. It was like bad karma, it was terrible, but for $500 it ran. The folks selling it must have put some magic elixir into it because if did not shake, rattle or demand more oil during the test drive. Even after I got it home it seemed to run okay for a few days. But suddenly the potion wore off and slowly (no come to think of it …quickly), it turned into the piece of crap I remembered from ’72 when my Mom originally test drove one of its evil siblings. During the fall freshman semester it seems like I dumped a lot of oil in this thing to keep it running. And it ran worse and worse, rattling and clanking, sometimes it seemed that the engine would shake apart. I dumped in more oil to quench its thirst.
I distinctly remember one day. I had to get my wisdom teeth pulled and a family friend set me up with a dentist he knew. He said the dentist would help me out on the cost since I was not earning too much money at my new job. I went to the dentist office, they numbed my mouth (no local anesthesia for me, no…that cost extra….), pulled the teeth and propped me up afterwards. The dentist gave me two Tylenol and pat on the back, saying that should do the trick. I asked him for something stronger as I was in pretty good pain and had to work that night. He told me that he did not believe in stronger pain medicine; that was all I was going to get. Funny, when I arrived I did not see the blinking sign saying this guy was also practicing sado masochism as well. Reaching into my back pocket for my check book, it was not there. I had forgotten to bring it with me. He demanded my license and held it, making me drive all the way home and back so I could pay him (thank God I was not stopped by the police). What a great guy, so compassionate! I was in so much pain, it was awful. He actually gave me some of his cards and told me to pass them out to my friends. Oh yes, the highest recommendation - avoid him at all costs (unless you were in the Aggie Crop that is…sorry gratuitous Texas A&M dig here…). I remember thanking our family friend profusely, telling him that he could skip giving me any more recommendations on doctors, dentists, restaurants or anything else…ever. Come to think of it, he was an Aggie too.
I continued pouring oil into the Vega, it continued to devour it at an alarming rate. Finally one day I was near college campus heading home from class and it died. I had owned in only four months. I called our family friend (yes the same one that recommended the dentist) and asked him what to do. He said he liked the car and would give me $400 for it. Deal. I took the $400 and added another $200 that I had scrimped together and bought an Austrian Puch Newport Moped. Talk about your basic transportation, but hey it was cheap! It started (if you pedaled it fast enough) and got great gas mileage.
I was so smart though, my job was on the north side of Austin and my apartment was on the south side of Austin. So I figured out this convoluted route along some major but mostly back streets and it took forever to get to and from work or school. It was a bit hairy at times having many cars piled up behind me all wanting to get around the slow moving moped. Come on! I was getting along at a pretty good clip of 28mph. It is amazing I did not die riding this thing at night. The headlight was sooooo bright and it dimmed when you were off the throttle or the motor idled at stop lights. The people at work took pity on me and I remember loading it the back of one gal’s car, it just fit in the trunk of her mid-70’s Mercury. I remember one night she gave me a lift somewhere and she asked me to be careful as I got it out of the trunk as she has just had the car repainted. SCRAPE…..as I took a huge gash of paint off the quarter panel. She just stared at me and hung her head shaking it slowly back and forth. She was a good sport and continued to give me rides; her Mercury with the moped sticking out of the trunk.
We did get stopped a couple of times by the local police. But we never got a ticket, or a warning. See this gal had a thing for cops and being a pretty decent looking gal herself, I think a lot of them had a thing for her…. Anyway…I remember one time we got stopped and the officer dutifully asked for her license. She took a look as his name badge and remembered meeting some place or another. So rather than getting a ticket, she ended up with a date that Friday night. Pretty good deal all around if you think about it. I got a ride home, no ticket was issued and she got a…well she got to go out with another police officer. Like I said, everybody won.
Our Mercury –Moped combination was a common sight at a couple of the clubs we frequently after work. We never feared it would be stolen, it looked just too ridiculous. There is nothing quite as sexy as trying to pick up a hot gal when riding a moped, especially a moped with one seat, especially when it was hanging out the back of a mid-70’s Mercury. It did not get any better than that.
I did not have many dates my freshman year. As a matter of fact…I had none.
Until next time.