This story is by Mort Kantor and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
For my seventy-fifth birthday, I bought myself something special, a sleek yellow 1949 Buick Roadmaster. It was my favorite vintage car and it was delivered to my home in Mill Valley, California on May 22, 2021, the morning of my birthday. Of course, it wasn’t a real Buick Roadmaster. It was a 1/24th scale model manufactured by the Franklin Mint Company in Ohio. It cost me $200 and back in 1949, that would have been enough to cover a deposit on the real car. Looking it over, I marveled at the model’s extraordinary detail and exquisite workmanship. I was able to open any of the four doors to reveal the red seats, pop the trunk to see the black spare tire with its treads and lift the hood to check out the different engine parts. And how about those cool whitewall tires!
I loved to look at vintage cars. These relics from the past were like dinosaurs from an innocent age, frozen in time and now reappearing as elegant art deco shapes having four wheels and an engine. I placed the model at the back of my big brown wooden desk so that I could see it and touch it while I was working. In the days that followed, I imagined myself taking it for a spin and going off for a ride into the distant past.
One day, I decided to do exactly that. I opened the car’s front door on the driver’s side, hopped in and started up the engine. Its eight cylinders roared to life and I drove down a narrow area at the rear of my desk. I came to the edge and then entered a long dark tunnel that eventually opened onto a sunny landscape with houses. There were cars in front of me and cars behind me and they all looked to be from the 1940’s. Somehow, magically, I had been transported back to 1949, the year of my car.
I recognized this part of Brooklyn, New York because my father used to take us down this very road, Cross Bay Boulevard whenever we visited relatives. I drove along, appreciating the luscious creamy yellow, curvy contours of my Roadmaster with its bright red interior when I suddenly realized that there were no seat belts. Seat belts would not be required in cars for another fifteen years and this made me nervous. But I sank into the long soft living room-like sofa that stretched from door to door and enjoyed its nice balance of comfort and support. It could take three people up front and the soft sofa seats gave the interior a look and feel of luxury. I ran my fingers along the shiny brown mahogany dashboard and admired the speedometer with its ornate numbers. A large old-fashioned clock had elegant gold hands that pointed to 11:10.
I thought as long as I was here, I would visit the old neighborhood where I grew up. So I headed toward the Cross Bay Bridge that connected Brooklyn to Rockaway. My parents would take us across this bridge when I was a little kid and I remember watching my father pay the toll. Right now, I needed some toll money and luckily found some coins in the ashtray on the dashboard. Four small toll booths came into view and I drove over to the one on the far right.
“Five cents, please” said the gray-haired toll-taker in a blue bridge uniform.
I handed him an old nickel and he thanked me with a broad smile. After twenty minutes, I arrived at my old neighborhood and reached Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
On the way, I passed by the Post Office where my mother clerked for thirty years and also the synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah. Then I saw the barber shop that was the site of my dreaded childhood haircuts. The German barber wore thick glasses and would accidentally cut me whenever he shaved my sideburns. His styptic pencil would stop the bleeding and his lollipops would lessen the pain. I continued on to PS-42, my public school for seven years. My twin sister Toby and I were in the very same class for all those years and we just couldn’t seem to get away from each other to have our own space. I drove by the two-story gray house that we moved into when I was six years old. It seemed so big and imposing as a little kid but now appeared shrunken, a shadow of its former self. I then headed to the beach with its boardwalk, where I spent many happy summers. There was Jerry’s knish stand and I could smell those wonderful knishes heating on his grill. And down a bit further was the penny arcade with its many lively, noisy games. Next door was the parking lot where I flew my twenty-five cent paper kites in the mild summer breezes.
But now it was time to head back to California. I was having a craving for ice cream and decided to make one last stop at Mary’s, a favorite candy store of my childhood and the source for much of the ice cream and candy that I bought as a kid. Dropping in on Mary could be a high point to this visit to my old neighborhood. I parked, walked through the door and there she was with her husband, Larry. Affable Mary with her curly brown hair and sweet friendly face was always so kind to me. She and Larry were busy helping some people with kids and then it was my turn. I spent so much time here as a kid and was thinking that she might recognize me. But I had last seen her some sixty years earlier and of course, she would no longer know the face of this old man.
“I’d like a vanilla fudge sugar cone with color sprinkles, please” I said, after introducing myself.
“Yes!” she responded with a smile and pulled off a brown cone from the tall stack behind her. I watched her lift the cover of the silver metal freezer built into her counter and dip her gray metal scoop into a huge bin of vanilla fudge ice cream. I felt an excited buzz as I watched her scoop it up for me.
“One scoop or two?” she asked.
She added the second scoop, turned the cone upside down to dip it into a flat dish of colored sprinkles, pulled it out and handed it over to me.
“That’ll be ten cents for the cone and its scoop, a penny for the second scoop and a penny for the sprinkles, twelve cents total” she said.
I didn’t have my coins with me so I pulled out my wallet and handed her a ten dollar bill.
“Gee” she said. “I don’t know if I can change such a large bill. Let me see.”
She walked over to her register and inspected my bill as she opened the drawer. My bill was different from the 1940’s currency in that it didn’t display the words “silver certificate” and I hoped she wouldn’t notice that. She lifted her coin drawer, pulled several bills from below, came back and handed me bills and change.
“Funny-looking bill you gave me” she said.
“It’s some new-styled money that’s going to replace the old” I responded.
She thanked me and as I walked out the door, I took a bite from my cone and stopped in my tracks. It was delicious! The crunchy cone with its thick smooth vanilla ice cream and sweet, rich dark chocolate fudge topped with colorful sprinkles felt like a prize from some childhood fairyland. I finished it off in my car, savoring every bite and resisted the urge to go back for more. I started the engine, turned the car around and headed back home to California, feeling nostalgic for the simplicity and innocence of the childhood I had left behind.
The next few weeks were stressful at home and work in California and I had a deep longing to go back to the 1940’s. I was so tired of the pandemic-stricken 2020’s with the lock-downs, restrictions, climate change worries, terrible violence, dissension and inflation. One afternoon, I went to my local Goodwill store, bought an old brown suitcase from the 1940’s, came home and packed up everything that I would need for an extended trip. Having decided to head back to more peaceful and innocent times, I threw the suitcase in the trunk of my Roadmaster, jumped into the front seat and started up the engine. I drove down the narrow area of my desk, came to the edge and passed through that long dark tunnel again. It was the end of the day when I emerged from the tunnel and the sun was just going down. I drove into the glorious sunset of quieter and more welcoming times, destined to live happily ever after.