By T.W. Burger
Fat Albert was the best.
I wish he still stood at the wait in the graveled parking area next to my garage.
If it weren’t for a certain fancy jezebel, he might still be.
Understand, I was still in my teens, energetic, afloat in hormones, inconstant, and a wee bit obsessed with being cool.
I bought Fat Albert from a friend. He came with the name, and I left it alone.
FA was a 1953 Chevy Bel Air that had once belonged to a friend’s grandmother. John and I used to cruise around the college town we grew up in and I fell in love with his car. So, when he felt the need for something newer, he walked away with $150 and I drove away with Albert.
Albert was not a small car. He weighed a tad over 3200 pounds, just about as much as my Honda Element. He had a 3-speed manual transmission mounted on the steering column (It’s true. You could look it up.) and damned-near eternal 235-cubic-inch in-line six-cylinder engine that, because of its bank of mechanical valve lifters, sounded like a clerk on too much coffee tearing along on a manual typewriter.
Some of you younger readers may have to Google some of those terms. Sorry.
He also had bench seats, not buckets. Bench seats were sort of like mobile sofas. They were great for dating, especially for trips to the drive-in movie theaters. You may have to Google those, too.
A side note about the birthrate in the USA. Back in Fat Albert’s time in my life, most cars had bench seats, played a big role in making the drive-in theater experience more, um, relaxed.
In recent years, the nation’s birthrate has been on a steady decline, according to the government. I attribute that largely to the sharp decline in the number of drive-in theaters; there were 441 in the U.S. in 2000. Currently, there are only a little more than 300.
But I digress.
One day I drove into a car dealer glittering on the side of the road that headed to the state capital.
I did this often, being a teenaged boy and obsessed with cars.
There she was.
Low. Slinky. Lots of chrome. Unlike Albert, she had paint on all her parts, something I had never experienced in any of my various automobiles. Her engine purred, and decidedly did not sound like a typing pool on crack.
It was love at first sight, especially after the salesman let me drive her, whipping her through the four-on-the-floor out on the Georgia back roads.
Sweet Jesus: I was in love.
Well, it was more like lust, but let’s not be fussy; I drove her home, wind in my hair, tachometer bouncing up near the redline.
Fat Albert took his place on a line of battered old “fishing cars” in the rear of the lot. I never saw him again.
I still miss that reassuring clackety-clack from under the hood, and that familiar, homey, old-car smell.
Jezebel, who seduced me away from Albert, lasted about 18 months before that cheap, imitation VW engine gave out, leaving me with a gleaming burgundy beater at the curb in front of my house.
One last note: It’s been almost 65 years since, eyes shining, I roared away at Jezebel’s siren song. I don’t have many positive memories of her, though she was, I admit, fun to drive, like a go-kart with perpetual oil leaks.
I still perk up when I see a 53 Chevy trundling down the back roads and farm lanes near my home. You never know.
T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.
He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a contributing writer for Classic City News, and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.