My father was a workaholic. Most school days he was out the door before I came down for breakfast. He would return home in the late afternoon right before dinner then often go right back to work while we cleared the dishes. Saturday mornings, he would go back to the office. He claimed he got more done on Saturdays because “nobody was there to bug him.” So, in short, I learned early that if I wanted to spend time with my dad, I had to go to work with him. It quickly became our most common father son activity in my childhood years.
My earliest memory of doing this was when I was 2 or 3 and living in West Lafayette, Indiana. Dad worked at the time as the business manager for Bill DeFouw Chevrolet while earning his Master’s degree at Purdue University.
After dinner, he and I would get into his two door purple 1965 Chevrolet Impala provided by the dealer. It had bucket seats in the front. Even though it was the “dangerous” 1960s, my father refused to let me ride in the front seat. Instead, I stood on the hump in the back seat with my arms resting on the two front seats. I loved it! It allowed me to peer over the dashboard and see the world coming at us. This lasted until the day the entire family was out for a ride. Dad slammed on the brakes and I went flying forward between the seats. Only my mother’s adroit arms saved me from flying into the gearshift. I wasn’t allowed to stand on the hump after that.
Once Dad and I arrived at DeFouw”s, he would disappear into his office in the back. And three year old me would have the run of the place. Specifically, I could run around the showroom floor, crawl into any car I liked, and sit there pretending to drive. I remember enjoying the imaginary handling of the Chevy Corvair and feeling pretty darn special behind the wheel of the Chevy Chevelle.
But, by far, my favorite car of choice was the red 1965 Corvette Sting Ray. Even sitting still it looked fast. No keys in the ignition (this was prior to the introduction of the steering column lock) but I could still operate the gearshift and put it into gear. Don’t worry, it didn’t go anywhere. Even though it was an automatic, I liked to pretend it was a stick. With my hands on the wheel I would saw my arms back and forth and imagine tearing down a fast highway out west like Elvis Presley in VIVA LAS VEGAS (1964). I did not pretend that ultra-sexy Ann-Margret was sitting on the bucket seat beside me. For now, my three year old self was content to just be behind the wheel of a fast car. The fast women would come MUCH later.
Amazingly in that pre-video game, pre-cell phone, pre-computer era, hours would pass in blissful imagination. When Dad was done, he walked out of his office and yelled, “Rich, let’s go home.” And I would crawl out of whatever car I was in and home we would go.
Dad said he would chuckle the next day at work when the maintenance workers would be washing down the car seats in the showroom and wondering how all those child-sized footprints got onto the seats.