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The Return of the Pink Rambler

Someone Stole Her Beloved Car, so She Set Off on a Quest to Track the Distinctive V ehicle Down. Woe Unto Those Who Stood in Her Way.

May 02, 1999|AMY ALKON | Amy Alkon's column, "Ask the Advice Goddess," appears in 60 newspapers

The case you are about to read is true. The Editors have changed the name of the alleged perpetrator, his alleged girlfriend and one police officer. This made the author very mad.

*

Unless you're a down-and-out drag queen with a talent for hot-wiring, your first choice of car to steal probably wouldn't be my powder-pink 1960 Nash Rambler, with its white top, a big pink-and-white covered tire on its trunk, and enough chrome to solar-power Encino for several days. Any relatively recent Japan-mobile would chop up into bigger coin. If you're just an exhibitionist, why not hijack an elephant and march it down Wilshire Boulevard at rush hour, with the Pasadena Marching Band and a bunch of majorettes on Dexatrim? (I can't imagine a judge imposing a long prison term for Grand Theft Elephant).

Nevertheless, on the day I was having 45 people over for a party, I stumbled from my house to get a coffee and into one of those surreal moments when the sound drops out and the world grinds to a halt: My Rambler was gone.

I waited a week for it to turn up abandoned. When it didn't, my insurance company gave me temporary use of a rental Taurus. I was embarrassed to be seen driving a car with all the personality of bar code, but I secretly savored its modern mechanical charms, especially its automatic windshield wipers, which gave me a near-sexual thrill. (My Rambler's wipers were vacuum-driven and powered by the engine, which meant that you could either see out the windows during a rainstorm or go forward; take your pick.) I'd bought my Rambler soon after arriving from New York, before I understood the beauty of getting from point A to point B without dropping an axle. I learned fast. But losing a vehicle has a lot in common with breaking up with a problem boyfriend; one is inclined to develop convenient amnesia. A close friend and frequent ride-provider helpfully reminded me of the time my car stopped turning left and I had to get directions from my house in Venice to Sunset Boulevard and Kings Road and make only right turns the whole way. Still, I missed my temperamental pink thing.

Late one Sunday evening, a week and a half after my car disappeared, I was buzzing home in my temporary Taurus when I spotted a Rambler station wagon getting a "jump" from a tow truck two blocks from my house. Rambler people are essentially culties, but in place of toxic Kool-Aid and boysenberry Nikes, we're bound together by our devotion to these quirky cars. If this guy in the stalled Rambler had seen my Rambler he'd remember it. I screeched to a double-parked halt and ran on over.

He was a twenty-something hipster with a face out of those black velvet paintings of big-eyed puppy dogs and a pompadour like John Travolta's in "Grease." He told me his name was Fred; he was a mural painter, and he was crazy for Ramblers. He said he hadn't seen my stolen car, but he'd be on the lookout. He suggested I call Michael Kozicki, president of Scramblers, the Southern California Rambler club, and Bob Pendleton, another Scrambler, to see if they'd have any leads. As I turned to leave, Fred mentioned that he had a line on an "almost cherry" '60 Nash Metropolitan in South Gate for $1,000. A Nash Metropolitan is what my car would look like if I left it out in the rain and it shrank to about a third of its size. I begged for the owner's number. Fred said he didn't have it; he just knew where they lived. He offered to take me there on the weekend. He took my number and said he'd call on Friday. I wrote down his number and repeated it back to him twice. I was so excited, I nearly tap-danced home.

I couldn't wait until the weekend to call Fred. In fact, waiting 12 hours was too much for me. I called him at 9:01 the next morning. An old man answered, who said that no Fred was to be found at his number. I called back a couple more times, praying I'd just dialed wrong. The man politely but sternly reinformed me that his home is, and always has been, Fred-free.

I was heartbroken. Fred was just another L.A. flake. I taped his wrong number on my wall and willed him to call. He didn't. But the following Wednesday afternoon, my pal Nina did. She was out of breath. "I just saw your car going south on Orange off Beverly!"

I hung up and dialed 911. "My stolen car, license number 3SXY412, is going south on Orange off Beverly!" The 911 operator did not share my enthusiasm. "If officers run the plate, they'll pull it over."

"You don't understand," I protested. "It's going south on Orange right now! This isn't some gray Nissan! It's a powder-pink Rambler! Like a birthday cake on whitewalls! . . ."

"If the officers run the plate . . . . "

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