Friday, December 31, 2010

Grand Theft Auto - By Lee Y. Greene, Jr.

An installment story about my hometown in North Alabama.

Hartselle, Alabama is like most other places of 12,000 or fewer souls in the South. Most everyone is moderate to middle class, as the area prospered only when the Tennessee Valley Authority came in the 1930’s to change our area from an agrarian economy to a service economy. With the advent of the aerospace and defense industries in a nearby county, our hometown evolved into a bedroom community.

Folks live here, but work and spend their day elsewhere. Because of this suburban evolution, we have lost the days of porch sitting and story telling, now that we commute and no longer really know our next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that funny things don’t happen here, but that fewer connections are available to tell them. This is a story from my hometown:

In the late 1970’s, my parents drove a ridiculously large, very blue, Pontiac Bonneville that would seem to take up the whole road when we went anywhere. Well, it was vary large to me as a nine-year-old at the time. As a family car it was great, because the rear “dash” was large enough to stretch out on. During these times, the Federal Highway Safety Administration was run by men and women of common sense who apparently saw no need to put warnings on cars to prevent children from riding in anything but the designated seats or on truck tailgates. The Pontiac had a metal dashboard and you learned very quickly to avoid hitting it with your head. The car had more steel in it than a battleship. You could mount a .55 caliber weapon on it and drive through Fallujah, Iraq safer than a humvee.

During these years, one of my parents’ friends lived up the street from us and had kids close to our age. The patriarch of the family, named Bob, is where this story begins.

Bob’s family also had a large Pontiac much like ours, but he used it to drive to work everyday, and they used another car for the “family car”. Bob drove his car only to work, as it was of considerable age and wear. It wasn’t terribly dependable, but it wasn’t dead yet. Saturdays were spent fixing and adjusting the parts and engine to squeeze just one more month out of it. No one that we knew bought a new car every year as they were very expensive.
One morning, Bob went out to the driveway to go to work and found that someone had stolen his car right out of his yard. This was a big deal in Hartselle, as there were very few car thefts, as in none. It was obviously someone from out-of-town, because everyone knew what everyone drove in town and no one was incognito in someone else’s car. Occasionally cars would turn up missing as kids went joyriding and didn’t return in time to get the car back in the garage before Mom and Dad noticed. Other times, a car would go missing as a neighbor needed to borrow it to go to the store or the hospital. You just waited and it would turn up later with a perfectly logical explanation and a full tank of gas for the trouble.

Bob’s car did not turn up and he had to get Dad to take him to work that day. He filed a police report as a precaution because he could not recall giving anyone permission to borrow it. A week went by, and finally Bob got a long distance call from the Madison, AL police department. Indeed, they had found his Pontiac abandoned on the side of Highway 72 and he could come to the impound yard and pick it up. The police sergeant reported “Bob, you need to be prepared for this, the perpetrators really wrecked the interior. There is trash and debris all over the inside. They really messed it up”. Bob called Dad and they went off to Madison County to get Bob’s car back.
As they arrived, the police gave the appropriate paperwork to Bob for an insurance claim and took him to the impound yard. As they went, the officer on duty at the yard again warned Bob that there was a grisly sight in the automobile and that he was sorry to see thugs do that to nice folks’ property. This seemed to be the mood of all the officers in the Madison police precinct.

As my Dad swears is the truth, Bob got to the car, thanked the officer and muttered something about filthy S.O.B.’s that stole his Pontiac. What he didn’t say, and what he was really embarrassed to say, was that it was exactly as he had left it! Bob wasn’t the neatest guy around, but from that day forward he made sure he cleaned his car every Saturday. I guess the rare criminal that visited our town had enough of the filthy car and found a more pleasant automobile to heist. Only in Hartselle.