No Lesson Necessary

So—I had gasoline running through my veins.

You know what I didn’t have as I left Logan Airport in Ed Butler’s Rolls Royce?

Enough actual gas in the tank to get any further than back to Barrington. Or any money in my pockets, for that matter.

Which wouldn’t have been a problem, I suppose, if I’d just gone straight back to Barrington.

Which is what I would have done, if I’d had a clue as to how.

Remember, kids: this is pre-GPS, Waze, etc. I was 18 years old and had never driven much outside of my small hometown. And come on—that turnoff for Route 3 is damn sneaky. Anyone could have ended up on Cape Cod.


Cape Cod.

That’s where I stopped for directions and said the panicked prayer that must’ve been what got me home. When I say I coasted into the driveway on fumes, I mean it literally.

Having made it home, though, it was all good. I had use of a Rolls Royce until Ed Butler’s return in two weeks, and at that point, I’d start working at his brand-new Toyota dealership.

It was so brand-new that it was still under construction when I reported for work on July 5, 1973. The man I’d been told to report to, Don Marcella, was standing there in the show room waiting for me. Ed Butler arrived a few minutes after I did, and while he talked with the construction workers, Don and I walked over to the existing Butler Chevrolet building. That was a construction site, too, with the building partially torn down to make room for the new Union Chevrolet dealership.

I met the used car manager, Don Penta, and while he and I were talking, Don Marcella picked up the phone and started to have a conversation. Don Penta apparently wasn’t a patient man. He used his cigarette to set the papers on Don’s desk on fire.

“Come on, kid,” he said to me as the papers burned, and Don Marcella worked frantically at putting out the fire. “Let me show you what I expect.”

Frankly, at that point, no lesson was necessary. As I followed him out into the parking lot, I made a mental note not to tick Don Penta off.

Before I could catch my breath, a dark blue Excalibur came flying into the lot. It had a beige soft top and was driven by a heavyset guy with a wild head of blonde hair. He had two young women as his companions, and their heads whipped about as the driver stood on the brakes and came to an abrupt stop inches from where I stood. He hopped out and without preface, started talking to Don about cars he wanted to sell him.

It turned out his name was Billy Martin, a wholesaler whose exploits would ultimately render him infamous—it’s not often an independent car dealer can bankrupt an auto auction. But that’s a story for another time.

At that moment, all I could think was that enough had happened in my first hour at my new job to make me certain this was going to be an exciting line of work. Danger, adventure, and risk appealed to me pretty much since birth, and here was a place where I felt sure they were headed my way.

So when the question came — “Kid, can you drive a stick shift?” — I answered emphatically, “Yes!”

You can guess the truth, though, right?

Next week: The Learning Curve

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I hate to date myself, but...yeah. This ad came out in my first year at Union Toyota.

I hate to date myself, but...yeah. This ad came out in my first year at Union Toyota.