I didn’’t know a lot about Richard Holdaway’s adult life because all we two ever talked about whenever we got together was our hometown and what life was like when we were teenagers back in the late Fifties and early Sixties—behind the steering wheels of cars. His was a yellow 1951 Mercury and mine was a green 1950. Our chum Frank Mathis drove a black Mercury similar to the one James Dean drove in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, except that Frank’s Merc had four doors instead of just two. The rear doors were hinged at the back and were known as suicide doors—I suspect because if you decided to participate in a chickie run with Buzz Gunderson, your chances of jumping clear of the vehicle before it sailed off the cliff weren’t very good. Your best bet would be to deploy the suicide doors like air brakes, which just might slow your descent to the ragged rocks below. Knowing Frank, I’m kinda surprised he never tried it!
We had quite a few cliffs around Price, but mostly our off-road adventures were confined to the so-called Tickle Hills north of town. There you could see just how far a Mercury could lean sideways until finally it lost its footing and rolled over onto its back like a turtle, which it somewhat resembled.
Occasionally we would drive our cars to the “library”—in other words, the ersatz drag strip out on Airport Road. The county airport was also a popular make-out spot, or so I’ve been told by people like my big brother Chuck, who ran with a faster crowd and who used to roll in very late on Saturday nights with a drive-in speaker dangling from one door handle and a bloody hook from the other.
How I wished I could run with a faster crowd! How I wished I could afford a set of authentic aftermarket glasspack cherry bombs so I wouldn’t have to punch holes in my stock muffler in order to produce the burbling exhaust sound that supposedly would cause teenaged girls to instantly go into heat. How I wished I could afford spinner hubcaps and real white walls instead of imitation porta-walls. How I wished I could afford a tucked and rolled custom interior. Instead, I painted the baize door panels with latex paint. Imitation naugahyde!
Thus equipped, I would cruise up and down Main Street, from one end to the other and back again, burbling seductively past the young girls assembled at Cook’s Velvet Freeze, my shirt sleeves rolled up, left arm mashed against the door panel in order to simulate biceps. At the far end of the strip I’d “flipayooey” and make another pass—and so on and so forth. I’d keep an eye out for someone I knew, and by someone I knew, I mean a car that I recognized. If I saw a white ’58 Chevy approaching, I’d think, “Here comes Artie Nicholson!” If I spotted a raked ’54 Ford convertible, I’d think, “Hey, it’s Robert Downard!” If I spotted a chopped and channeled Mercury with frenched headlights and lake pipes, I’d think, “Ohmygod, it’s the Pharoahs! I’d better high tail it outta here!”
When the film AMERICAN GRAFFITI came out, all of us recognized the players, and some of us thought we recognized ourselves. Every little town across America had its John Milner, its Pharoahs Car Club, its Steve Bolander, Debbie Dunham and Laurie Henderson. Myself, I strongly identified with Curt Henderson, the character played by Richard Dreyfuss, although my associates all tell me I remind them more of Terry the Toad.
When Richard Holdaway wasn’t dragging main, he was drawing. He was far and away the best artist in our school. His idol was Von Dutch, his favorite subject matter hot rods. Once I hired him to paint the words “Project Mercury” on the rear quarter panel of my car. The process took him weeks, added several hundred miles to the odometer, and involved a girl I was formerly fond of—but what the hey? He did a heckuva job!
Foolishly, I sold that car in 1963 in order to finance a college education. Richard Holdaway wasn’t that stupid. Founder and “manager” of the so-called 50’s Showcase, his yard was adorned with vintage Mercuries in various stages of restoration, and eventually he ended up with one that was absolutely perfect.
Which he foolishly sold. Then two months ago Richard died, which broke a lot of hearts. According to his obituary, he left behind a wife, five children, eleven grandkids and “his pristine 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT.” It’s comforting to know that throughout his 65 years my old friend never lost sight of what truly matters. Or, as the poet John Keats once put it:
“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness, but still we keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth…”