The first few months of 1988 were rough. For the most part, my hair had grown back after the boot camp buzz cut from the previous September. It had been a whirlwind from Air Force basic training to tech school to being stationed in Miami, Florida. For an 18-year old kid that had barely left his home state of Pennsylvania, it was a frenetic time.
I went straight into the military after high school. The primary reason was so my Dad did not have to pay for my college. At the time, I had a sister in college already and my Dad was pushing 62-years old. With no burning desire to study anything, four years in the military offered travel and life experience.
For most, an assignment to Homestead Air Force base in southern Miami, Florida would be a dream come true. Being from the northeast, fond of cold weather and alpine skiing, Miami seemed like a sentencing. After a few weeks, the warm weather grew on me. The biggest problem stopping me from enjoying it more was not having a my own wheels.
I was fortunate that the walk from the barracks to the flight line was short. The walk to the chow hall was even shorter. Work days were long and I spent many nights practicing tennis against a training wall. I kept up weekly calls home that started in basic training. After a few weeks on station in Florida, my Dad got the sense that my world had shrunk. I was the kid always on the go. Now, I was like a fish flopping around just outside his fish tank.
On one of the calls home in February of 1988, my Dad asked if life would be better if I had a car. Although it hurt to admit such, I did agree that it would. His next words to me were, “Since I won’t be paying for college for you, I’m sending you a check for $7,000 to buy a car.”
A few times in the ensuing week I borrowed a buddies Pontiac, Merkur and shot up Route 1 looking for a car. A few days before the check arrived I spotted a white, 1986 Volkswagen Scirocco on a small used car lot. The test drive through the Cutler Ridge area confirmed that this would be my first car. I gave the dealer a $500 deposit to hold the car for a week. A week later, with a check in hand, I forked over $6,595. I even had money left over to cover some of the extraordinary insurance for an 18 year old in south Florida. The 5-speed snow white car had tiered racing stripes along the bottom of the doors and was in pristine condition. The only thing it lacked was a nice sound system which I rectified. I saved money for a few months and replaced the factory stereo with a self-installed aftermarket Panasonic system.
At the time of purchasing this car I was 5’9″ and weighed in at a slight 120 pounds soaking wet. Now keep in mind, I grew up roaming the streets of Pittsburgh, PA swallowed up in a maroon Buick Regal. This little hot hatch VW was the perfect car for me.
The Scirocco opened the world to me. There were many nights I would get off work, eat, and drive to Key Biscayne and back. In no hurry, the windows were down, tunes up and humid night air ran through the car. It made for lazy days on the beaches of Miami, freedom to explore, new friends and road trips to Key West.
The Rocc (my nick name for the car) was well cared for. Besides doing all the maintenance on the car, I even made sure to park it next to another black, 86 Scirocco in the barracks parking lot. You will forgive me when I tell you that I was nervous to ship it across the North Atlantic to Germany. In late 1989, I accepted an assignment to Hahn, Air Base in Germany. Since I was single and living in the barracks, the government picked up the tab to ship the Rocc back to its homeland.
The adventures continued on a whole new continent. In February of 1990 my car arrived in Kaiserslautern and was ready for pickup. The car did not pass inspection for the German roads because of a frozen windshield sprayer. I was allowed to take the car but had to bring it back the following week for re-inspection.
On the way back to Hahn I opened the Rocc up on the autobahn. I thought the hood was bouncing but dismissed it as speed induced bumping. Later that night, once back at Hahn, I took the car out for a ride. We were experiencing viciously high winds around central Germany. When I turned off the base and accelerated away everything went white. It was like a sheet was dropped over my field of vision. The sheet was my hood which slammed back so hard that it bent over the roof. The inspection station did not ensure the hood was latched and in my excitement, I never noticed. The unlatched hood coupled with the car speed and high winds ripped the hood back.
With the hood setback aside the good times continued with the Rocc. One of the first trips in the car was to Bernkastle along the Mosel river. Although not far from base, the drives down to the many towns dotting the Mosel were winding, downhill and too much fun.
In 1989 and 1990 there were still official border crossings between countries. The Rocc made many passes into Luxembourg, France, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. On the way back from Brussels, Belgium in the spring of 1991 the clutch cable snapped as I exited the motorway. Thankfully, my roommate Brian was in the car. Brian pushed when we had to actually stop for drift starts. The rest of the 280 km was speed shifting through two border crossings and the city of Luxemburg. I thought for sure the transmission was toast. The diagnosis from the VW repair shop was a new clutch cable. So, $60 later the Rocc was back on the road with a new clutch cable and a surviving transmission. Love that German engineering.
When I was set to leave Germany in the end of 1992, I had a hard decision to make. I could keep the Rocc and ship it home or pass it on. I decided to sell it to a very good friend, Orlando Gates. Orlando was a refrigerator-sized, African American. He was also a teddy bear of a man who I had immense respect for. I cannot tell you how sad I was to hand the keys over to Orlando. But, I know he loved that car like I did.
The Rocc and I registered more good times than any man and his car should. The Rocc and youthful good times are one and the same. That car was the catalyst of almost every good time and fond memory of my young adulthood.
Oh, make no mistake I’m forever thankful for having such a perceptive and generous father. Thanks Dad! You made some great memories possible.