Life Sketches by Terry Berskon: Remembering a Corvette summer, lifestyle

Five decades after buying it, columnist Terry Berkson still has his dream car. (contributed)

Life Sketches by Terry Berskon
Remembering a Corvette summer, lifestyle

Back around 1960, I religiously watched the television show “Route 66.” A fine formula: two guys traveling across the country, meeting all kinds of people, trying to leave things in better shape than they found them before moving on. Martin Milner was the collegiate type; George Maharis was streetwise and a little crusty. Their Corvette, not the most practical car to go cross-country in, was a symbol of freedom and mobility with little room for emotional-type baggage or for that matter Samsonite-type either.

These days, such heroes would travel down the road in a Jeep or a four-wheel-drive pickup. That way they’d be able to take on hitchhikers or lost dogs or whatever any particular episode’s script threw at them. But not Milner and Maharis. During one show, they found themselves in an Oklahoma oil field.

For lack of an alternative, they used their Corvette to power a drilling rig. They removed a rear tire from its rim and then used the mounted rim to drive a belt that was attached to the oilrig. Simple, here was the Corvette, justifying itself, serving mankind as well as an imaginative story line.

Years later, I lived out my own “Route 66” fantasy when I got my ’63 roadster. Friends and relatives criticized the car for being so impractical, which pressured me to prove the car could be as useful as a four-door sedan. One time I drove home from the lumberyard with a couple of bags of cement on the front fenders. Another time I put the top down and loaded three ten-foot Lombardy poplars onto the jack storage cover behind the seats. Each burlap ball around the trees’ roots weighed over forty pounds.
This evidence notwithstanding, my cousin Charlie said when I got married, “Well, I guess you’ll get rid of the Corvette.”

That was more than five decades ago. One time, when my elderly but high-spirited Aunt Ruta came to Brooklyn from Richfield Springs for one of her week-long visits, I took her for a ride in the roadster.

“It’s a snazzy car,” she said, “but this seat is like sitting in a hole. My aunt liked to read Star magazine and always had her eyes peeled for Burt Reynolds. She had read an article in Star telling how Doris Day managed to look so young.

“She put Vaseline all over her face before she went to sleep,” my aunt explained.

Aunt Ruta tried the Vaseline treatment for several months. The pores of her skin eventually clogged, leaving unsightly, oily blemishes her old eyes couldn’t see. Alice and I told Aunt Ruta what she was doing to her complexion and urged her to discontinue Doris Day’s magic formula.

“Maybe I’ll switch to Jergen’s lotion,” she replied.

“Let’s give you a facial first,” Alice suggested.

Aunt Ruta’s pride kicked in, “I don’t need …”

“Would you want Burt Reynolds to see you now?” That won her over.

My aunt sat on a stool as my wife began steaming and scrubbing her face. “We need some sort of suction,” Alice said, discouraged. She was about to give up when I thought of the t-junction on the vacuum advance line feeding the distributor on the Corvette. It would surely do the job.

“Let’s go out to the garage,” I said with my aunt in tow.

“What for?” she said holding back. “Is this going to hurt?”

“Trust me,” I said as I seated her in a chair next to my car. I cleaned a long piece of rubber vacuum hose with alcohol and throttled the Corvette’s engine up to a fast idle. At about 800-rpm the manifold produced about 22 inches of vacuum which created a suction that could be regulated.

“Are you crazy?” Alice whispered when she came out to the garage and saw my set-up.

“I know what I’m doing,” I said pressing the hose into her hand.

Alice, in a huff, grabbed it and reluctantly went to work on Aunt Ruta who seemed to shrink in the chair. The contraption worked like a charm.

I took in the scene: Garage doors wide open. My frail aunt leaning far back in the chair as the Corvette’s engine cooked. My wife busily vacuuming Aunt Ruta’s deeply wrinkled face. A dream come true. Just like “Route 66.” My car had become one of life’s essential daily tools. Now, Milner and Maharis weren’t the only guys to have used a Corvette in an oil field.

“What do you think Charlie would say about the Corvette now?” I asked my wife.

Aunt Ruta’s leg kicked as though she were having a tooth pulled.

Then Alice declared, “He’d say you can get just as much suction from a station wagon!”


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