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Asleep at the wheel

Bernie Grauer

At 5:30 this morning, I drove through wisps of fog en route to the ferry landing to catch the 7 a.m. ferry. In the early morning darkness, I could see approximately 3,942,839,417,642 stars twinkling on a mid-April morning that felt like a crisp winter morning. I have to get to the ferry at least an hour before it leaves if I want to be sure to get a space on it. Once in the ferry line, I usually fall asleep, as I did this morning.This dawn felt like the hundreds of times I got up at 4:30 a.m. when I was in high school in the 1940s to deliver 200 copies of the Downtown Weekly Shopping News. It was published twice a week (unless there was a special, and then it would be published three or more times a week), and I was paid $1 every morning that I made deliveries.That $2-4 a week was enough to meet my simple needs. Sometimes I needed money to buy gas for my sister’s car for a date on a Friday night and for the 25-cent admission to a dance and two hamburgers and two milkshakes at the drive-in after the dance, which cost about 60 cents. Other times, I used the money to buy the occasional pair of blue jeans at a dollar a pair at Sears, paraffin for my surfboard or to restock my secret stash of peanut butter and loaf of bread that I kept hidden in a 5-gallon bucket in the garage to eat on my weekend surfing trips.When I got to use my sister’s car for my surfing or ski trips, I would furnish the car and the pals I would haul along would buy the gas. It was a good deal for me because I had a few extra gas rationing coupons. I had gone to the gas-rationing board and told them I needed some special non-leaded white gas to use in my Coleman camp stove. When they asked how much it used, I told them I needed about a gallon a week because I cooked on the stove every day. (Not true, but since I did cook on it every weekend while surfing at San Onofre, I didn’t think I was stretching the truth too far to hinder the war effort that’s the World War II effort.)The volunteer working the numbers at the gas-rationing board messed up in his calculations and he wound up giving me enough coupons for eight gallons of gasoline a week. Those were enough coupons to get from Hollywood to San Onofre, so I always needed a passenger or two with a couple of extra coupons to buy gas for the ride back home.Finding passengers was not a problem because not very many people I knew had tires on their cars that still had tread on them. The tires on my sister’s Buick were bald when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but the casings were still very good. A friend of mine, Gard Chapin, figured out a way to put a tire with good tread and not very good sidewalls on outside of the tire with the good casing, so I could drive forever as long as I could find replacement tires of a slightly larger size for the outside tire that hit the asphalt.It was a real chore to manhandle one tire on over the other and it also reduced the top speed to 41 mph. If I drove any faster than that, the centrifugal force would make the outside tire expand enough to eventually fly off and make an awful lot of noise as it was leaving the wheel and somehow exiting the fender. Then that tire would roll down the highway at a launching speed of somewhat over 41 mph. With any luck, it would veer off to the side of the street and not hit any pedestrians after it bounced up over the curb.Only once when I was driving with the eight-tire configuration did a tire fly off of the car, bounce over the curb and break through a plate glass window. Fortunately, the accident occurred in the dim-out on the coast highway at 2:30 on a January morning. (During the dim out, you had to drive without turning on your headlights.) No one ever found out how a tire ended up in the center of a liquor store in Laguna Beach, except the two other guys in my car who were awakened instantly by the loud noise.The noise was deafening as the ferryboat attendant woke me up so that I could drive onto the 7a.m. ferry. The memory bank from 60 years ago is a dangerous place to withdraw memories from when you’ve fallen asleep at the wheel. qWarren Miller has been a ski filmmaker for more than half a century. He lived in the Vail Valley for 10 years, and is now director of skiing for the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky, Mont.


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