Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lawrence - My Hometown

The Banana Boat

By Richard E. Noble
We dubbed my 1946 fluid drive Desoto, the Banana Boat. It was very big and very yellow. It was a beauty. It looked like something out of an old Mafia Prohibition movie.
The backseat doors opened from the wrong side. It had a clutch but you didn’t have to use it if you didn’t want to. It had tiny round windows. It was heavy duty and weighed as much as a military tank.
Trying to navigate through Methuen Square was perilous – not for me but for everybody else. The windows were like tiny ship portholes. Peripheral vision was not good.
I would sneak across Broadway then barrel up that hill leading into Methuen Square. It was a full stop at the top of the hill. But stopping did me no good. I could never see anything. I would simply hit the horn about halfway up the hill, hold my breath and floor it right on through that five way intersection. On occasion I would hear the screeching of breaks and horns blasting. But after a year or so I think everybody recognized the Banana Boat and took appropriate action.
I hit a telephone pole with it and did considerable damage to the pole. I couldn’t find anything damaged on the car.
The Banana Boat was my first car and my Uncle Ray helped me get it. My Uncle Ray was a very precautionary and meticulous fellow. He had a method for doing everything. He even had a system for shoveling snow. I won’t get into it today. It is a little too complicated for my average reader. It involves some calculus and a good deal of analytic geometry.
Uncle Ray instructed me on the multiple and many hazards and responsibilities of car ownership. That the seller only wanted $10 and a ride to the airport for the classic was of minor importance compared to the expenses of proper tire rotation, inspection fees and regular servicing, my Uncle Ray advised. Car ownership was a grave responsibility and Uncle Ray explained it all to me in great detail.
As it turned out I drove the Banana Boat for a number of years and never spent a nickel on anything. I tried to get it tuned up once but the mechanic couldn’t get the spark plugs out of it. He said, “I think the plugs are welded to the head. Drive it until it dies, save your money and go buy a real car.”
The Banana Boat served us well for a few seasons at both Hampton and Salisbury Beach. It provided many an enjoyable evening at the Den Rock Drive-in Theater. It also got me, Jack Sheehy, Gerry Gurtin and Dick Kansella through our first year at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill.
After the spark plug incident the radiator sprung a leak. We carried gallon jugs of water in the trunk. Then the starter developed a bad spot. Wherever we went, the Banana Boat had to be parked on a hill. When the tubes (remember tire tubes?) started popping through the treads, I found a new old tire and threw it on.
I got to NECC early every day and parked the Banana Boat at the top of the grade around the corner. When we left each evening we had a cheering section. With the doors all held open, my three passengers would push. When we rounded the corner and started rolling down the hill, I’d pop the clutch and broom we were off. Everybody would run and jump in (like on an Olympic bobsled run) and we would all wave out the windows to our fans as we jerked and stuttered off.
I suppose the onlookers found this amusing. I never thought about it and I don’t ever remember any of my passengers bringing it up. We all considered it usual and customary – after all, we were from Lawrence. We considered all the other students waving and laughing as an impromptu fan club of sorts. They obviously admired us for our ingenuity. And why not!
When we got back to Lawrence, I would drop Gerry and Rick off at their homes. Me and Jack would park the Banana Boat at the Howard on the hill on Birchwood Road. It would stay parked there all night and every night waiting for its “students” to return in the morning.
Each morning, all the way from Lawrence to Haverhill, Gerry Gurtin would keep us entertained relating conversations he had with his mother the previous evening. Gerry had a way with words. He spoke rather coarsely back then. Every third word was the “F” word. I am sure that Gerry is a CFO somewhere today and his speech is much more sophisticated.
“So what did your mother say last night Gerry?”
“Oh man was she ever F’in pissed! She said, ‘Gerry Gurtin, you little F’in snot, if you waste all my F’in money on this F’in college crap and you don’t become the F’in president of something when you F’in grow up, I’m gonna kick your F’in butt all over this F’in kitchen. You better learn F’in something. I never see you studying any F’in books or writing any F’in crap in any of your F’in notebooks. I looked in one of them F’in notebooks last night and there ain’t one F’in note in the whole F’in thing. Are you doing anything at that F’in college or are you doin’ the same F’in thing you always do … F’in nothing’.’ God was she ever pissed. I’ve got to start F’in studying and get something beside an F’in D or she is going to F’in disown me. It was bad last night man – really F’in bad.”
I learned 20, 30 or maybe 40 years later that Butchy Mall and some of his little buddies from the Howard Ass Junior Associates used to jumpstart the Banana Boat parked up at the Howard some nights and go joyriding. I really didn’t mind that but the little buggers could have put a gallon of gas in it every now and then. I thought the gas tank was leaking. I put a pan underneath it each night to catch the gas but there was never a puddle anywhere. I couldn’t figure where to move the damn pan. Those little squirts!

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on He can be contacted at 1-850-670-8076 or for bookstore discounts and volume sales.