I lived in an apartment on Carlton street on the south side of the Berkeley campus, a few blocks from Telegraph avenue. Tytus and Susan Bowleslawski lived in the apartment next door. Tytus was a Berkeley architecture major and Susan had an office job. Susan had already earned a theater degree in New York City. They had moved to California to escape Tytus’s father’s disapproval of their relationship. They married soon after Tytus turned 18.
While Tytus and I share a common interest in cars, Tytus’s automotive pursuits were more esoteric – if not exotic – than mine. Tytus scraped together enough money to buy a partially finished Sterling; a fiberglass kit car built on a VW chassis. A Sterling is so low that it can’t have doors.
Instead it’s entire roof and windows are lifted up in a single unit by hydraulic lifts, allowing ungraceful egress and ingress. Sterlings set the standard for “All show – and no go.” Tytus loved his Sterling – and worked tirelessly on finishing touches like electrically controlled rearview mirrors and retracting headlights.
Tytus would let me borrow his Sterling from time to time – especially for dates. While my Mustang had more “go” – the Sterling was miles ahead in “show.” Comments about the Sterling’s styling, some of them rude, were common. As I recall, Tytus’s willingness to lend me the Sterling was associated with my exaggeration about my insurance coverage.
On a weekend jaunt to Sacramento in the Sterling, I took a date out with hopes that the car would make a favorable impression. Her last boyfriend had a Chevy drag car – and to her the Sterling’s lack of “go” wasn’t fully compensated for by its abundance of “show.” Thinking that our date needed less focus on the car, I decided to drive us out to the country for some romantic star gazing. I was a member of a model airplane club – and we had a flying field off of highway 16 out towards Sloughouse. The field was out in the country about 10 miles south of town – behind a locked gate.
Tytus had recently installed a “seat lowering” modification in the Sterling – providing for more headroom inside the car, and less ground clearance beneath it. The minimal clearance was no match for the dried ruts at the flying field – and in short order I had the car beached between ruts, unable to move because the wheels no longer had traction.
After a through survey of the situation I realized the only option was a walk back to the highway, hoping for a ride to somewhere less remote. A couple in a pick-up truck obliged.
My early memories of Sacramento include fields of hops on the south side of town. Hops are grown on a trellis made by stringing lines between poles 20′ tall – looking like a giant’s bean field. The hops extended east along highway 16 towards the gold rush era crossroads called Sloughouse. An old red hotel marked the landmark on the dozens of times I had passed by. The hotel had “SLOUGHOUSE” in very large white letters across the roof line. It was and familiar landmark heading to and from the foothills.
The kind couple in the pick-up dropped us off at the Sloughouse hotel to use the phone. Failing to reach my best friend Bill, I reluctantly called my dad for evacuation. I bought my date a Coke at the little hotel’s bar as we waited for the drive of shame back home. My dad was a perfect gentleman – never saying a word of chastisement. I was both afraid and amazed.
Dad dropped my date off at her home, and only then asked me what I was doing out at Sloughouse. I’m not sure exactly how I described the “car trouble” I had experienced – but no doubt I took a minimalist approach. Dad didn’t press me for details. He did pick us up from a small hotel about 10 miles out of town. I was worried about the car. He might have been worried about something else.
Arriving home after 10pm I was finally able to reach Bill, who helped me pull the Sterling off its pedestal. Parking the Sterling in my parent’s garage I went to work pounding the floor pan back into shape. About 2 AM my dad appeared. “Joe,” he said, “What are you doing? The neighbors have called the police about the noise.” They had just paid him a visit at the front door.
I managed to complete the repairs before returning the Sterling to Tytus. It was a fair enough job, and I don’t recall confessing my transgression to Tytus. I felt afraid of loosing Tytus’s friendship from my errant baja adventure in his magic car.