Noe Valley Voice September 2006

Florence's Family Album: Requiem for a Mustang

By Florence Holub

In this essay, written for the Voice's December 1992 issue, Florence Holub tells how painful it was to give up the one and only car she ever owned.

Up into my early 50s, I had breezed along through life without a thought of owning an automobile. One reason was that I didn't need to--because my man Leo provided me with transportation for the weekly shopping. But in 1974, at the age of 55, I realized how helpful a driving daughter would be for my 85-year-old father, who had lost his driver's license and was having trouble getting around on arthritic knees.

This led me to enroll in a driving school, which gave me the confidence to buy my first car.

That car was a used 1968 Ford Mustang, with deep red upholstery and a handsome off-white exterior--and it was love at first sight. The owner of the car was asking $750 "as is," and although the vehicle had already traveled 100,000 miles, I snapped it up and happily drove home.

In the following months, as numerous young men chased after me yelling that they wished to buy it, I realized that my car was somewhat of a collector's item. But it was not for sale...ever! I would just as soon have sold my children.

Of course, I did put a few dents in it before I learned to judge the proximity of a slab of cement, but that didn't discourage me. Whenever it boiled over or refused to budge, I drove it or had it towed to the nearest gas station, usually Dan's on 24th Street, where my Mustang received tender loving care. I was there so often that we were on a first-name basis. They also got to know me at S & C Ford, where the parts man got replacements for whatever went on the blink. He sent all the way to Los Angeles just to obtain the matching red armrest because, as he put it, "You take good care of your car."

That was true. I didn't even allow anyone else to wash it.

But I did have a maintenance problem: Because we have no garage and must park on the street, people kept running into my fenders...honestly.

The first time, a delivery truck lost its brakes on our steep hill, slid backwards, and smashed into the rear end of my car, which was parked in front of our house. I heard the crash while sitting in the kitchen drinking my morning coffee. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the driver was insured.

The second time, a man who had just put air in his tires backed his van into my left front fender. He apologized profusely and paid for the repairs, though.

The third time, just a few years ago, a young woman making a right turn from the left lane rammed into my rear left fender, resulting in more body work and a paint job. While I was at it, I ordered a new bumper to replace the old one, which was beginning to show a trace of rust.

Automobiles lacking a garage are also vulnerable to thieves. The first time my car was broken into, they stole only the battery. I noticed it was missing when the ignition failed to respond. We bought a new one, along with a link chain that we used to lock the hood to the steel frame below, so no one could get inside.

The next episode occurred several years later. I looked out one morning to admire my beautiful Mustang, and it was gone! We called the police station, and they sent out an officer with papers to be filled out. The officer was not reassuring, however, so Leo (trying to think like a car thief) went out the front door, down the hill, and turned the corner. There he found my car, unharmed, at Hill and Church streets.

Leo surmised that the culprits had used a coat hanger to open the door, then coasted down the hill, planning to hot-wire the car, but were foiled by the chain and lock, and so abandoned their attempt. When Leo got back, the policeman had not yet finished making his report.

We immediately removed the plungers on the doors, which had allowed those pilferers to break into the car with a coat hanger. And to discourage further break-ins, we installed a J-bar that locked the steering wheel to the brake pedal and was clearly visible to anyone with ulterior motives.

We were uncomfortably aware that this particular Ford model was popular among car thieves, but since we lacked a garage, we could only make sure that it was always parked in front under a bright light, and hope for the best.

But on Sept. 13 of this year [1992], when at daybreak I looked out to make sure my classic car was still there, I found only an empty space. After trembling for 30 minutes, I decided to accept my loss gracefully. I reminded myself that I no longer used it much and that automobile emissions were damaging the ozone layer and the air we breathe--so why own a second car? Besides, it had served its original purpose for as long as my father lived.

We reported the theft to Mission Police Station, and the next day were informed that my Mustang had been found abandoned on Ellert Street--after suffering a major "strip."

And that wasn't the only bad news. To add insult to injury, the city was charging us for towing and storage! Fortunately, we were given a waiver of the fee at the Hall of Justice, where we also got a release form. That enabled us to claim or dispose of the car, which was being stored at Pier 70 at the end of 22nd Street. There we waited until it was brought out from the huge metal building by a forklift and set down for us to examine.

The hood was slightly askew, so we could peer into the vast chasm beneath it. Every part--the engine, radiator, transmission, and every piece of metal, hose, or wire--had been removed. The door locks and the J-bar lock had been reamed out with some kind of power tool, and the chrome trim on the outside (except, oddly enough, for the new chrome front bumper) had been completely stripped off.

We imagined that during the wee hours of that fateful night, the car was hoisted onto a flatbed truck, taken to a place where there was ample light and electrical power, and quickly disassembled. Then, with wheels and front bumper still intact, it was towed to a lonely street before daybreak.

As we stood at Pier 70 assessing the damage, a young man in a white jumpsuit expressed interest. He told us that his girlfriend had the same model Ford but with a battered body, and that she would be willing either to sell us the inner workings of her car or to buy what was left of our car, which was in excellent condition.

At that moment, however, we were unable to make a decision, so we walked up the incline, then looked back at the sea of battered jalopies (battered, all with the exception of one beautiful white Mustang). My car, in fact, with its shiny new bumper and the hood only slightly out of kilter, looked very much like a jewel in a junkyard.

I decided, finally, to part with my pride and joy. With no garage to guard against the same thing happening again, I just couldn't justify taking the risk. Early the next morning, I tearfully signed over the pink slip to the towing company, so that my Mustang could be auctioned off.

I would like to think that the man in the white jumpsuit has acquired the well-preserved body of my car, with which to replace the banged-up frame of his girlfriend's car, and also that somewhere a pampered, ailing Mustang is receiving a recycled transplant of vital parts, just as mine did so often during the previous 18 years.

To my beautiful, dutiful classic car of yesteryear I bid a fond farewell. Adieu, old friend, and R.I.P. (rest in pieces).