Thursday, April 9, 2015


In the early 90's I got a coveted med school rotation at a major American medical academic center.

The main reason I was selected over other applicants is that there weren't any. At the time of year I applied for, no sane person would be anywhere near that city. So I was the only medical student. Half their staff, for that matter, left town that month, too.

In fact, the only reason I went there is because my grandparents lived in the area at that time, so I could stay with them.

They also didn't have any residents rotating that month. Or fellows. So I, Ibee Grumpy, 4th year medical student... was it.

Because of this surprising circumstance, they gave me an actual pass to park in THE DOCTOR'S LOT. I mean, I do that now, all the time. But back then this was SOMETHING BIG. Like the executive bathroom. Normally, at most schools, med students aren't allowed to park anywhere that isn't at least a 30 minute walk away, going through a neighborhood where heavily armed police are afraid to patrol.

Needless to say, I was excited. I didn't have the world's best car, but it was nice and in good shape. It was a white 1988 Mercury Cougar, and I was close enough to my teen years that I washed and waxed it regularly.

Unfortunately, while driving to that city I sideswiped a guardrail, and smashed in the side. Since it was now impossible to open the driver's side door, the Cougar went to the dealer's repair shop. Where I was told it would be a few weeks because the staff was on vacation, my insurance was a bitch to work with, I didn't have the money to make it a rush job, etc.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) my grandfather had just given up his driver's license, so didn't need his car anymore. In fact, he'd been getting ready to sell it, including getting a fresh paint job. He graciously told me it was mine for the duration of the visit.

Unfortunately, it was a 1977 Chrysler LeBaron.

Now, these days I'm not a car snob. Having a job and kids can do that to you. So now I drive around in a 2000 Maxima with the passenger side smashed in.

Back then, however, I was a low-grade car snob. Part of being a teenage boy in America is going through a car-crazy phase, which I did. For a few years I read Motor Trend religiously every month, and knew obscure details about every make & model built. Today I don't even know them about my own car.

But I digress. Back to the story.

For those of you too young to remember, a feature of the era was a chain of low-cost auto body shops named "Earl Scheib." They were known for these ads (which, at the time, were everywhere).

In my grandparent's city, the franchise was known for that ad being the bait. When you showed up, you found the deal price only applied to a handful of truly hideous colors that no one in their right mind would want. If you actually desired a halfway decent paint scheme, you had to pay a lot more. The place also had a tendency to overspray paint on places it normally wasn't found, like windshields, chrome trim, tires, dashboards, seat belts, vinyl roofs, headlights, and innocent bystanders.


In trying to spruce up the car to sell it, my grandfather took it to Earl Scheib, and just picked out the cheapest color. The fact that he was color-blind likely didn't help.

So the LeBaron was yellow.

Not just plain yellow, but Earl Scheib extra-glossy electric-neon-flourescent-banana-can-be-seen-from-the-space-shuttle yellow.

It looked like an irradiated taxi on the way to a demolition derby.

"It's like, 'how much more yellow could this be?' and the answer is 'None. None more yellow.'""

The car, as I discovered, also had a tendency to backfire, quite loudly, at random intervals.

And, one morning 25 years ago, I pulled this contraption into the doctor's parking lot at a prestigious, internationally renowned, medical center. As I tried to find a space without anything on either side (I was terrified of scratching some VIP's car) it backfired twice, causing the well-dressed specialists walking into the building to drop and hide behind concrete walls (a reasonable precaution in that area).

I parked there the next morning, too.

On my second day I was told that "due to an administrative error" I'd been given a pass to the wrong lot, and had to park in the medical student's lot, 8 blocks a way, in a high-crime area, behind a dumpster, down by the river.

Not having any choice, I did so.

In an area with a high rate of car theft and vandalism, The LeBaron went untouched during my entire rotation. Except for someone writing "Yellow POS" in the dirt on the back window.


Anonymous said...

Simply fantastic!

Thanks for making me laugh this morning :)

LocalFlightEast said...

this sentence "It looked like an irradiated taxi on the way to a demolition derby."

for the win!!!!

Jennifer said...

Ah, Earl-I'll-paint-any-car-any-color-for-just-forty-nine-ninety-five!-Scheib. I remember those commercials so well. Funny, I can still hear them in my head 45 years later. The local franchise is now an upscale mini market. Thanks for the memory.

Officer Cynical said...

Packer said...

Car snobs everywhere rejoice over car leases, for as my friend once told me: "Johnnie, any schmuck can pay a lease"

bunky502 said...

One of my all time favorite Grumpy stories but of course, I have said that before! Thanks, I needed a giggle.

Anonymous said...

Awesome story! How many "lemon" jokes did you have to endure?

lbparker said...

"The LeBaron went untouched during my entire rotation." That's wonderful, but I'm surprised YOU went untouched for that period, considering you had to walk 8 blocks back and forth every day!

Anonymous said...

OMG. sorry dear Lord, I didn't really take your name in vain too badly here, but in case you're wondering why I talk out loud to YOU who know everything in my heart, this is the reason for the inadvertent choking sound that was nearly my last gasp on this earth, and why I suddenly left the pharmacy to not return until I was wearing dry underwear. It was too much coffee this morning, or maybe I should have used the facility before sitting down to the computer while on lunch break, but when I came to part about 'tendency to backfire, quite loudly', well I had the vision of ... .

peace said...

24 hour later and I'm still smiling.

Anonymous said...

So funny. I remember those commercials - no ups, no extras. My dad used them once (we were going to sell the car), and taped off the whole car himself in their parking lot so they didn't overspray everything.

clairesmum said...

Well, when Craig complains about all the defects of his first car, this story should take the wind out of his sails!

bobbie said...

I'm with HillBillyGirl ~ I can still hear those screechingly loud commercials too!

Mage said...

What a delightful story. Thanks. I'm still grinning as I remember my grandfather's last car....which I inherited. It was a turquoise blue 57 Chevy. I've become a car and truck nerd since that time. LOL

Anonymous said...

A neurologist driving a 15 year old car...WTF do you spend your money on besides Diet Coke? Good god man, you don't need a neurologist in the aftermath of a car accident in a vehicle that does not provide all of the occupant protection a modern automobile can offer. As much as doctors work, I don't begrudge them a Mercedes.

Anonymous said...

My guess: Yale (New Haven, CT). Place was scary in the 90s.

martina said...

omg so yelow funny XD

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