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The Wheel Man

January 11, 2017

Jimbo wasn’t much of a walker. So in the years before he was old enough to drive, I’d hoof it over to his place and we would mount up on this old tandem bike that the Josephsons had . I don’t know it’s history, but we gave this bike some serious new life. We went all over creation on the thing. To this day it’s the only tandem I’ve ever ridden, and I’m here to tell you we could make that thing fly. Anyhow, Jimbo was always upfront in charge of steering and navigation. I can still remember him yelling (you had to yell if you were going fast) back over his shoulder at me regarding where we were heading, whom we were going to ambush, or whatever. But he always had a good destination in mind, and he could flat out maneuver that thing. I should have known then that he was a natural born driver, a wheel man. Jimbo had a late March birthday, so he was older than most of us. He had me by just about eight months to the day. So he was among the first of us to get his license. But I’m pretty sure he had his first car even before that – when he only had his permit. It was a ’66 Malibu with a V6 that he (read Bob & Betty) had bought from the Wallach twins’ dad for a song. It was the first of a series of classics – all of which fit his Jimboism – all to arrive, serve, and expire within maybe a six year period. But the Malibu was special. Bench seats, basic. He’d fit like seven or eight of us in that thing, and we cruised all over Rye – experiencing the kind of liberation that only your first unchaperoned car action can provide. He fitted the car with a hot cassette deck that he got from a local klepto who was a grade ahead of us. BettyBo didn’t ask questions. Jimbo’s core automotive music collection consisted of some Stones cassettes (Hot Rocks and Some Girls), Who’s Next, and an old Commander Cody tape. I’m sure there were others, but I’m positive about those ones. The car was damn near indestructible and so were we. All because of the Wheel Man, and the fun that he constantly enabled and created for all of us. Now, I see kids driving around Rye in their folk’s Range Rovers or Lexuses (Lexi?) and I imagine that their biggest concern is whether they or their one friend in the vehicle will spill his caramel macchiato. Then, we were flying down Kirby Lane, laughing until we puked, unconcerned with whether something might spill because we were too focused on making sure that the fireworks were out the window before they exploded (once in Jimmy’s car we got that part wrong and blew Jimmy up a little bit – ask him – but I digress). I don’t dwell on wondering whether the 16 year olds of today could grasp how much better we had it – I’m just glad we had it, and we had Jimbo to make it all possible. Whatever, that was the Malibu. But Jimbo was only getting started. About that time, the Josephson’s decided that their brown Audi sedan wasn’t cutting it anymore. They went out and got a brand spanking new ’79 Caprice Classic coupe. Cream colored, pinstripes, pretty slick suburban parent ride. But what would become of the Audi???? Jimbo would become of the Audi. He, and we, had broken our early mobility chops on the Malibu. Key word: indestructible. So with the Wheel Man at the helm, we ported our act over the to the Audi. What could go wrong? A lot of shit could, and did, go wrong – that’s what. The Audi was pretty humble looking, but it was pretty darn quick by our neophyte standards. It could corner too, four doors and all. Compared to the Malibu this thing was a Porsche. So Jimbo kind of became Parnelli Jones overnight – and he worked that vehicle out but good. There was, or is, actually, this stretch of North St just west of where it crosses the Hutch heading into White Plains that kind of has a soft “S” turn with just a hint of bankage on the turns. I swear the guy would drive us all the way over there just to drive that stretch back and forth to see how fast the Audi could go without drifting and ending up in some guy’s front yard. Jimbo absolutely loved doing that shit, and he truly had a feel for it – but somewhere, a German automotive engineer was crying. Eventually the Audi croaked. We could see it coming. It was like that series of portraits of Lincoln as the war dragged on. Not pretty. And then came Bud. (I’m pretty sure that Bud came before the Red Rocket, but I could be mistaken. Either way the story works better in this order.) Bud was a VW fastback (you probably need to be born before 1970 to accept that there was such a thing), and it was a washed out light blue color. Jimbo named the car Bud in tribute to the King of Beers. Not sure how he came into this car, but it definitely showed up during our senior year at Rye High. My sense is that Bud didn’t have quite as long or as good a run as either the Malibu or the Audi, but nonetheless with Jimbo at the controls it was still a platform for some great times. On the not-so-great front – here’s one I definitely recall about Bud. Or about us, really, but Bud had a starring role. I don’t recall where we went or what the occasion might have been, but one time we stayed out waaaay the hell too late. Like you-need-a-parental-ass-kicking late… and we ended up ferociously bickering with each other about some inconsequential nonsense. My sense is that I was being a hardhead about something, Jimbo held is ground, and we were raging. While driving all over Rye as the sun was coming up. Geniuses. Anyhow we reached the point at which I told him to stop the damn car because I had had enough and was getting out. He told me the hell with that, he was going to stop the damn car and kick me out. So be it. Bud pulled over on Cedar st right in front of the Rye Country Day School. Seemed like that was that. But moments later, our respective fogs cleared and we both remembered that we had to report to school for frikkin graduation practice at 8:00am that morning. This wouldn’t have been that big of a problem, except that when I got the boot out of Bud it was already like 8:15. D’oh! So I basically run all the way to the RHS gym. In the same clothes I had worn the whole day before. Not surprisingly, Jimbo – and Bud – had beat me there. This was a great thing because he arrived to find members of both of our extended families – who justifiably worried and put out APB’s for our asses – looking for us. And both sides were hot. Somehow, through the combination of their relief and Jimbo’s contrition and silver tongue, he got the temperature dialed down. And when we each got home a few hours later we both caught like level-2 grief for a level-9 offense. That was some damn good work, Jimbo. Thanks again buddy. What was less good work was Jimbo’s handling of the Red Rocket. This was a Mustang, I want to say it was a ’66. Red with a black vinyl roof. That car barely had a chance. And in turn, we logged few team miles in the thing relative to its forebears. He had this car while he was working behind the bar at the American Yacht Club with the famous Walter. Black slacks, red vest, stunning. Note to young readers: once upon a time, 18 year old bartenders were actually a thing. I think he got the Red Rocket from the Murphy’s of Forest Avenue. Anyhow, he didn’t have it all that long when he totaled it. If I haven’t made it clear in this rant, the big guy really was a good, instinctive, talented driver. Not counting this one night. For one reason or another he decided that the paved part of the Boston Post Road was optional – and he put the poor Mustang onto the sidewalk and into a parked car, I think it was, it Mamaroneck. Bad scene. He was banged up good, and lucky. I think God must have looked down and said, “I’m gonna give you a pass on this one, Dummy. And spot you another 35 years or so because there’s a this girl in Pennsylvania I have lined up for you, and if you play your cards right you two will make some magnificent children and have a tremendous life.” At the time he was wearing his bartender uniform, nametag and all. And or some reason I actually still have his nametag from way back then. So whether it was the tandem, the Malibu, the Audi, or Bud – we had the wind at our back and the road in front of us. But the constant, and the magic was all Jimbo. We’ll ride with him again.

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