Me at nine years old:
“Look! It’s a brand new 1975 AMC Pacer! Isn’t it groovy? I got the keys. Wanna take it for a ride?”
“Who are you? Did you steal those keys? You’re just a kid.”
Me at nine years old:
“I live here! And I’m the World’s Youngest Car Salesman!”
Instead of growing up in a typical suburban neighborhood with white picket fences, lush green lawns, and tree-lined sidewalks, my neighborhood consisted of barbed-wire fences, endless blacktop, and dozens of parked cars. Yes, my tender and impressionable formative years were influenced by living in an upstairs apartment above my grandfather’s American Motors dealership – Auto Trade Town, USA. The luster of brand-new cars, the allure of the stage-like showroom, and the compelling personalities of three charismatic salesmen easily became my steadfast, reliable rock during my chaotic childhood.
In fact, Auto Trade Town, USA filled nearly every emotional void and convinced me that I wasn’t a disadvantaged kid, but a rising star.
Growing up poor, it was exciting to loiter among the new cars in the parking lot. Often, car doors would be unlocked. I’d scrutinize the sticker prices to find the most expensive vehicle, sneak inside, lean the seat back, and breath in the new-car smell. Ah, my safe place, I thought.
“I don’t need a tree house. I’m sitting in a brand-new car!”
I was especially excited when the AMC Pacer was introduced in 1975. Due to its cutting-edge styling and unique look, the Pacer immediately gained much attention. Today, it’s still a head-turner. When the very first Pacer arrived at Trade Town, the Sales Manager picked me up from school in the new-fangled ride.
“Look everyone! It’s a Pacer! Isn’t it cool?”
My classmates didn’t care. But in my mind, I was the star of a one-car parade.
As I grew up, the parking lot of new cars became my playground of adventure. Among browsing customers, I rode my bike between the cars, played cops and robbers with my friends, and drew chalk-colored bicycle roads directly on the blacktop.
When I was ten, I “founded” Trade Town Fire Department and promoted my red Schwinn Stingray to the chief firefighting vehicle – complete with a garden hose wrapped around the banana seat. The outside boiler room became my firehouse, and I ornamented it with banners and flags to the attention of all. In the case of an emergency, a button was installed near the showroom door that led directly to a buzzer inside my room – my idea of a fire alarm.
Surprisingly, I never got in trouble for my mischievous antics. Instead, I was an untouchable superstar.
By the time I was in fifth grade, I had spent countless hours hanging out in the showroom with the sales guys. The showroom was a magical place – complete with shiny, hardwood floors, bright spotlights, and a stage-like feel. The salesmen – Joe, Rich, and Rick – grew to be my step-dads, mentors, and cronies. Because I was regularly bullied at school, the guys were my army of allies. When customer traffic was slow, we would pass the time by playing games – card games, board games, and hide and seek – in the middle of the showroom.
When I told the guys about my interest in girls, they wasted no time to learn every detail. It was no secret that I was madly-in-like with Cindy Spengler, a pretty girl who lived down the hill from my friend’s house. The neighbors often heard me singing at the top of my lungs down to Cindy’s backyard:
“Whoa, tie a yellow ribbon ’round the ole oak tree……
It’s been three long [hours, days, weeks], do you still want me?”
When they guys learned of my wanna-be-rock-star ambitions, they organized an after-school concert right away.
“We want to hear you sing, Davey! The showroom is your stage!”
Under the showroom lights, they celebrated my courage while I entertained them with my best renditions of Tony Orlando and Glen Campbell.
You’re the star of Trade Town, Davey!
The new girl in town, Barbara Hook, also had my attention. As an after-school date, the guys encouraged me to ask her out for ice cream.
“It’s polite to ask her mother first, Davey,” they said encouragingly.
After much reassurance, I finally agreed. I can do this, I thought. After all, I’m a rock star! There I was on the business phone, in the showroom of new cars, standing in front of random customers as the guys applauded and cheered me on.
When I was 13, my grandfather dissolved the business and sold the property. Trade Town was gone.
Today, the sanctity of nostalgia runs deep. If I’m in a moment of crisis, it only takes a minute to go back to the tranquility of my brand-new car. It only takes a minute to relive my showroom concert with legions of cheering fans. It only takes an instant to recall the shelter of Joe, Rich, and Rick while they venerated me to stardom.
I don’t hesitate to say that Trade Town saved my childhood.
Today, while I continue to grasp at my youth, my wife is befuddled as to why I want a 1975 AMC Pacer in the garage.
“That fugly POS will never be in the garage!” she claims.
Baby, you can ride shotgun while we parade around town with the windows down. Heads will turn while I blast “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole’ Oak Tree” from the 8-track. You’re welcome to sing along too.
As we cruise down the highway, I’m confident I’ll hear those reassuring words from the back of my mind:
“You’re the star of Trade Town, Davey!”
Photo Credit: © Dave Pacailler All Rights Reserved