Anyone for a tuck’n’roll?

Coming to California from Europe, as I did in my sophomore year of high school, I never really had any idea what fads, local teen culture, or speech patterns would be like.  So, when several of the guys were sitting around in auto shop and the talk turned to our own cars I was unprepared for a statement made by one of them.

“I hear Bennie got his car tucked and rolled.”

I piped up before anyone else and solicitously asked if anyone had gotten hurt.

There was a dead silence for several seconds and then everyone, but me, broke out laughing.  I kind of chuckled along until it died out.  Ted took pity on me and told me what that meant.

“It means, Doofus, that he had the upholstery worked over so that it had little rolls in it.  Kinda like a quilt.  They do stuff like that down in Tijuana, Mexico.  Everyone piles into the car on Friday night and heads down south.”

“But, doesn’t it take a while to get down there?”

“Depends on how fast you go, doesn’t it?”

“Well, yeah.  I guess so.  What does it look like; the tuck’n’roll?”

“Where you been living?  Under a rock?”  Jibed Ding.

“He’s the new guy.  Came here from overseas.”  Explained Herm.

“I just got here last month.  I lived in Germany for three years so most of the time I don’t have a clue what everyone is talking about.”  Confessed me.

“Oh.  Come on out to parking and take a look at mine.”

I followed him out and into the student parking lot.  He led me to a glossy purple ’55 Chevrolet that looked like someone had cut the top off and glued it back on, but about six inches lower.  When he opened the door and I looked in I saw what he meant.

It looked like white leather and had little black threads along the seams.  I ran my hand across it.  Very smooth.  When I glanced around I saw that the door panels, side panels, seats, and even the headliner had been done the same way.  Very cool.

“Wow.  How much did this cost you?”

“The job was only a hundred and a half, but the whole trip cost me around two fifty; including bail.”

“Bail?  Like in jail?”

“Yeah.  We got a little rowdy and messed up a place a little.  We got stuck in the TJ drunk tank overnight.  My dad was pissed at me.”

“Well, the price certainly sounds reasonable to me.  When my car gets here I’d like to get this done to it.”

“Your car?  Whatcha got?”

“Volkswagen Karmann Cabriolet.  It’s a convertible.”

“A what?”

“A Volkswagen.  It’s a German car.  Very popular over there.  You probably won’t see one here because they aren’t exported.”

“What kind of engine does it have?”

“Four cylinder, stick shift, 4-speed plus reverse.  The engine is in the back.”

“In the back!  Where’s the trunk then?  In the front?”  He laughed.

“Yeah, with the gas tank”

He stopped laughing as I explained my strange little car.  When I got to the horsepower he started laughing again.

“Thirty-six horses?  That’s practically a two-door motorcycle.  Hoot, hoot, hoot!”

“Yeah, but I can get it up to around eighty-five or ninety though.”

He sobered again as I repeated my claim.  I’d had it wide open on the Autobahn and even though I’d been passed by lots of cars, I thought that was pretty good for such a small engine.  We talked a while about both his and my car and went back into the shop.

“Hey guys, he’s got a car coming over here from Germany that’s got the engine in the back and runs a whole thirty-six horses.”

One of the other guys piped up and said that he’d heard about them in one of his car magazines.  “Seems they get really good gas mileage.”  He said.

“I usually got around 640 kilometers on a tank of gas.  My tank holds around 45 liters of gas.”

“What the hell does that mean – in English?”

“Sorry.  That’s around 400 miles on, mmmm, about 11 gallons.”

He grabbed a piece of paper and did a fast calculation.  When he told the rest of them that my mileage was around 40 miles per gallon they began hooting.  I did my best to convince them it was true.  Eventually the subject drifted back to making a run to TJ to get a tuck’n’roll on Terry’s car.  All in favor say ‘Aye!’

“Aye!”  We all shouted.

It was several weeks later when we finally got clearance from our parents to make the road trip.  I didn’t have any trouble at all because I’d been making trips all over Germany and surrounding countries for quite a while.  Eventually, only five of us were going.  One Friday evening, after grabbing burgers to go, we piled into Terry’s car and headed south on the highway towards San Francisco.  Buzz was driving.

Navigating anywhere was never a problem for me because I seemed to have a ‘bump of direction’ that always told me which way I was heading.  When this bump began shouting at me that we were headed west and not south, I spoke up.  I was shouted down up until we crested a hill and was greeted by a magnificent view of – the Pacific Ocean.

“Uh, Buzz.  Unless Mexico has moved, we ARE headed the wrong direction.”

“Just checking to see if you guys were awake.  Heh, heh,” said Buzz as he hung a left at the next street.

Onward we went.  Down past the airport and into San Jose.  We changed drivers a few times but finally got to Ventura before we had to pull over and crash for a while.

A loud tapping on the roof of the car woke all of us.  It was a highway patrol.  He told us we’d have to move along.  No sleeping in rest stops.  Groggily, we tossed for who got to drive and drove off.  Everyone else crashed again.

I found out that it was true about seeing Los Angeles city limits signs hundreds of miles away from Los Angeles.  I saw the first one way north of Santa Barbara as we began waking up.

Luckily, it was a Saturday so travel through LA wasn’t all that bad.  The main problem was all the stop and go traffic.  Only small portions of what they called freeways were completed.

Finally, after a little over five hundred miles, we cruised through San Diego and reached the border.  A quick flash of our driver’s licenses and we entered Mexico.  Herm had the piece of paper with the address of the guy who did Ted’s car so he kept us all alert for different roads.  It seemed as if every turn we made took us into a more run down area than the last.  I expected to be rushed by a gang and killed at any moment.

We arrived at a really run down shack with a broken garage sign over the door.  When we parked, a couple of guys in ratty jeans came out and we began to dicker with them about what we wanted.  They opened all the doors, peeked into the truck, thumped, banged, and tapped every surface and named their price.  We countered with a figure around two thirds of their price.  They chattered back and forth and finally their faces lit up with smiles and we shook hands all around.

They took us inside and let us look through books with loads of pictures of cars they had done (maybe).  I tapped Ding on the shoulder and pointed silently to a couple of pictures of Ted and his car.  At least we had the right place.  Terry settled on a very nice shade of blue for everything horizontal and insisted on pure white for vertical surfaces.  I thought it would look very nice when done; so did he.

It was around ten in the morning and we hadn’t eaten as of yet.  Buzz asked the guys where we could get some food and he pointed down the street to a Cantina.

“Good food.  Good food,” he assured us, pointing emphatically at the sign.

I grabbed a couple of his business cards, and then we walked down and tried to make sense of the menu.  I knew from previous experience that ‘taco’ was a good thing and, when I saw that on the menu, I asked for it.  In fact, it turned out to be a Grande Taco; just like the one I’d had years ago.  All five of us had a beer to wash things down; then, another one to just be sociable.  We stopped before three however when I related Ted’s story of being put up in the TJ jail.

The guys had told us to come back at four.  So, what do we do now was the question.  We agreed that perhaps walking around might be not a good thing to do so we asked the buy behind the counter to call us a taxi.  Since one slid to a stop two minutes later I figured he had to be waiting around the corner for us to finish our beers.

“Hey.  You boys go see show?”  He asked through his mustache.

Now, we’d heard all about some of those ‘shows’ that we could see in Tijuana.  We’d also heard that sometimes the drivers would take you out and you’d never be heard from again.  We declined and told him to just take us downtown.

With a roar and a cloud of blue exhaust we took of for ‘downtown’; wherever that may be.  The driver had a habit of turning to talk to everyone in the back seat while he drove.  When, for the third time, he drifted over into the opposing lane we got him to pay attention to his driving.  All the while he kept trying to get us to go to a show.

“Very pretty girls.  You see.  You have fun I bet.

No thank you, kind sir, but we prefer a more genteel form of entertainment.  The humor was lost on him.

We slammed to a stop on a crowded street full of signs, mostly advertising bars.  Vehicles of all sorts were weaving in and out of double-parked traffic on both sides of the street.  Girls of all ages, and states of undress, beckoned to us with promises of virginal treasures.  Little kids either pestered us for gum, or offered to shine our shoes.  Never mind that every one of us was wearing sneakers.

I would dodge one salesman only to bump into two more selling everything from fake diamond rings, to fake treasure maps.  Loads of plastic items were piled high on tables that we passed in hopes that someone would be crazy enough to buy something.

Every bar entrance we passed had a slickly dressed guy that would try and drag us into his place.  Free this, and free that, was the cry.  I was thirsty as hell and when I mentioned this we all agreed to look for some place we could just get a soda.  We finally found what passed for a drugstore in the next block.

Even sitting at the counter sipping Cokes the kids would pester us.  There was some guy dressed as a guard that made sure that only kids that were allowed to pester us would gain entrance.  The rest he would yell and scream at until they ran away jeering at him.

Onward we walked until we reached a small park.  By the time we found a bench to sit on, we began to get very well built girls passing us and smiling with bright white teeth.  Some would simply circle the park and return with regularity.  We began a numbering system to rate each one.  One of the girls, a ten, went so far as to approach me and ask for a light to her cigarette.  When she bent over, the open neck of her scooped blouse fell away and I was able to see complete through it to the pavement beneath her feet.  Nice little puppies nestled in there also.

“Talk about jail.  There’s the bait right there,” Herm said as the girl walked away with an exaggerated sway to her hips.

We wandered aimlessly back and forth the busy streets until three thirty rolled around.  I dug out a business card and we flagged down a cruising cab.  The first one just shook his head and indicated he didn’t know where it was.  The second one nodded and opened the passenger door.  We piled in and zoomed off.

We were apparently going back by a different route than we had come.  When I saw the back of a building I was sure we had passed in front of once before I told Buzz and Ding who were sitting on either side of me.  All five of us managed to convince the cabby to get to the shop right away.

The two guys were waiting for us with smiles on their faces.  With a flourish, one of them pushed aside the garage door and waved us in.  Terry’s car was sitting in the middle of the floor with all the doors open.  Brilliant white glowed from the side panels as we approached.  We looked into the back seat and saw the blue of the seat cushion and the neat little rows of stitched white vertical ribbons running across the back.  It was a true work of art.

“Man, that is one cool set of upholstery you have there Terry,” said Ding.

“Yeah.  What the hell is it, leather?”  Chimed in Buzz.

“Is nooga hide,” said one of the garage guys.  “Nooga hide.”

“I think he means ‘naugahyde’.”

“Si, si, nooga hide,” nodded the second guy emphatically.

“Well, I like the hell out of it.  Let’s pay the guys so we can get on up the road.”  I said, reaching for my wallet.

We had split up the money just in case one or more of us got waylaid by anyone.  Now we put it all back in Terry’s hand that, in turn, got passed to the garage guys.  They smiled and chattered among themselves as we got into the car.  We backed out and went down the street towards home – a very long way away from us at the moment.

Somewhere around Paso Robles we pulled off onto a dirt track that meandered between fields of some kind of crop.  This time we hadn’t picked a rest stop so maybe the highway patrol wouldn’t bother us.  They didn’t.

We woke to a very hot and stifling sun.  Fortunately we had enough sense to stock up on sodas earlier the night before, but all the ice had melted in the cooler.  Still, even warm soda for a thirsty person seemed good.  Buzz started it with a huge belch and soon all of us were blasting each other with variations using the warm soda as an initiator.

We got back home sometime after seven that night.  We were very tired, but happy.  Terry would probably sleep in his car until the pleasant smell of fresh nooga hide faded.

T.O.M.

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