By Betty Slade
Not many know Doug Gould as the Big Wheel. He is definitely known as the friendliest guy in Pagosa, the one sporting a Navy ball cap.
I met him at lunch one day. He immediately struck up a conversation, telling how he had moved from Taos, N.M., to Pagosa in 2003. The hot springs brought him here.
I asked him what his greatest accomplishment was. I expected something big, dangerous and very personal, but heard something all too familiar.
“I had a 1939 Packard Woody station wagon. There were only 400 of them made and I drove mine with pride.”
What is it with guys and their cars? Doug went on to tell me how he had owned 40 different cars in his lifetime. “Not all of them were classics. As for the Packard, it was one of my favorites.” He named several others, a 1949 Ford, not chopped, but channeled and sectionaled. Then there was the VW Beetle, de-cambered (lowered in the back) and a 1958 midnight blue Porsche.
My head spun as I tried to keep up with the conversation. Then my Sweet Al piped in, “Do you still have any of them?”
“I was a fool. I sold my ’39 Woody station wagon for the same amount of money that I bought it for, $500. It’s the one that got away. The man who purchased it started a computer business with the sale of it and became very rich.”
My Sweet Al went pale when he heard about “the one that got away.” Of course, he had his own stories to tell. “I owned a 365 Porsche bathtub back in 1962. I got it up to 120 miles per hour. Consequently, I faced a few judges and paid some hefty fines. I sold it for a new Plymouth. I still kick myself. I will probably never own another Porsche.”
They both went silent. Sadness came over their faces as they licked their wounds. They were operating in the same lane feeling the same pain.
I asked Doug, “Why are guys so passionate about their cars? How does a car make a guy feel?”
He answered, “Powerful, successful, and it’s a great way to pick up girls.”
“Is that what it means for old men to dream dreams and young men to see visions?”
I remember those early Friday nights. My Sweet Al had an audience every time he pulled out of the driveway. Never mind the brakes. His fun didn’t stop until he had squealed his tires and pushed passed every other car on the street.
“Back in my day, we’d go out to the end of Eubank in Albuquerque and show off our cars. In 1957, there was a long dirt road that led to Kirtland Air Force Base. All the guys would meet up on weekends for drag racing.
“There was an old guy by the name of Mr. Miller. He was in his 60s and had a hopped up ’57 Chevy. He’d race us young guys, leaving us in his dust. The sheriff made trips out there to check up on us every once in a while. He would turn a blind eye to all our foolishness as long as no one was drinking alcohol. “
It was a different time then. Fun seemed to be anything where innocence was at play.
Back to my Sweet Al and our new friend, Doug. I sat and listened to the two swap story after story. Eventually, their tales spun down sounding like the purr of the engines they once adored. Two old souls, dreaming dreams of yesterday, bragging like two young men with visions to share.
I’ve yet to understand why every monumental story that my Sweet Al shares begins with a story about the car he had at the time. “My first car was a ’53 two-door hardtop Plymouth. I bought it with my own money while working at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store. That is when I met Betty. Remember our 1963 Falcon? A tree fell on it and I had to duct tape plastic over the back to make a new window. We had a 1970 gold Cadillac when we moved to Pagosa. Those were the days.”
When women talk, they measure time by special events, such as their daughter’s wedding or their son’s graduation. Everything is pinpointed by moments with family and friends. I can barely remember which car I drove before my current one, but I can tell you everything you could want to know about my children’s weddings and the births of my grandchildren.
Final brushstroke: Doug told my Sweet Al that he wanted to join his fan club. I told him that he was already a blue-ribbon member. All it took was giving him a listening ear while he told a car story or two. I guess that is what keeps me and my Sweet Al in the middle of the road together. We both travel in our own lanes, but always next to each other.
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“Your article on Cutting the cord brought up the thought of helicopter parents verses the lawnmower parents. Unfortunately, parents are no longer just flying overhead. Now they are mowing down the grass, clearing the path and going to whatever length necessary to remove obstacles so their kids won’t experience adversity, struggle or failure.” — EW, Grass Valley, Calif.
By Betty Slade