• Luck Strikes Again in Cambridge, Mass

    • Posted on Aug 03, 1979

    I rode my wobbly and rickety old Royce-Union three-speed down Memorial Drive to Cambridge to River Street and turned into Elbery Ford, off the Charles River.

    As I rattled into the driveway, I said my usual silent “Thanks, Big Guy” for His help in surviving four lanes of madpersons in cars and the sidewalks full of roller skaters, pigeons, and all the other critters in motion.

     The Ford parts department was not overly crowded, and soon the man said “’N I help yah?” I handed him a grocery bag full of parts and said “Yeah, I need replacement parts for all the wrecked ones in this bag.” I expected him to pull them out, look each one over, and write down the numbers, then send a runner after each one. Probably take a half hour.

     Instead, the Parts man glanced in my bag and said, “Yeah—what year?” I gasped and said “’73 Galaxie. Why, do you keep all the parts together for times like this?” He looked surprised. “You kiddin’? I gave out four sets like that already this morning. I’ll give out maybe six more this afternoon. Every Monday we give out about a dozen sets of parts just like that.”

     I WAS speechless. He went back into his parts stacks and returned in less than a minute with all my parts – 36 bucks worth.

     Let me explain. That Sunday I stepped out for a run around the sidewalks of Cambridge, with all the other pigeons, walkers, etc., and saw that my car door was ajar.

    I knew that I had locked it, so something was wrong. Opening the door, I found the front seat strewn with glove compartment stuff—maps, little gifts, rocks, a notebook or two. And then, to my welling-up teeth-gnashing anger, I saw that someone seemed to have taken a big bite out of my steering column.

     I mean, that’s exactly how it looked. The chrome U-shaped key-turner was completely gone, and instead was a jagged hole. Either that steel toothed Alien critter had gotten out of the movie and lunched on my steering column, or some kids had almost stolen my car, I thought. Unlucky.

     And I was and still am furious about it. Here I am, just a middle-class nobody trying to get along in a world where just the gas for a car is out of my price range, having to pay for a whole new ignition collar, switch, springs, keys. Not to mention a towing charge and labor charges. I called the Cambridge Police, and an officer came, wrote it all out, and told me a sad story.

     “Kids do this here just to joyride. You were lucky, since your lock broke off at a place that jammed the switch so they couldn’t start it. Maybe with those out-of-state plates they would have tried to sell it, and it would have been harder to trace. Out here, attempted car theft is only a misdemeanor, and they get off with just a warning and a small fine. They do it all the time.”

     “So what I can I do to keep my car mine until I leave?” I asked.

     “I don’t know. I wish I could help you, but I just don’t know. It depends on how lucky you are, since you can’t stop them.”

     So every Monday here in Cambridge a dozen or so Ford owners go buy 36 bucks worth of ignition parts. Probably even more go out and make insurance claims against their vanished cars. And probably others have their cars towed in for the repair job.

     And that’s where luck struck again, only this time it was good.

    Right across the street a man named Charlie Jacobi lives. Charlie is one of those neighbors who make the Golden Rule easier to live by. He’s also a mechanic, and when he saw what happened, he offered to fix my car right where it sat, battered and bitten on the street.

     So I bought the parts, as I said, and good neighbor Charlie put them in with his own tools and time, saving me a small fortune. So my story has a good-luck happy ending, thanks to Charlie Jacobi. 

     But since the car-thief punks outnumber the Charlie Jacobis, I’m waiting for my old Ford to get bitten again.

    Depending on my luck.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
    • Travel
  • The Wizard of Rs Needed in Boston

    • Posted on Jul 20, 1979


    Bostonians are different from Cedar Fallsians. Not in any shocking or scandalous ways, but they're different. Of course Boston has MacDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Howard Johnson's, Holiday Inns and Amoco gas stations just like Cedar Falls. And the Bostonians who work in these corporate factories do look mostly like Cedar Fallsians, and they do the same jobs. But they're different.

    For one thing, they don't talk right. A Bostonian's mouth, it seems, has a built-in R-catcher somewhere, because no Rs get through.  Recently a Bostonian called to me, "Ah you pahking yah cah ovah thah?" I naturally had no idea what he asked, so I said politely, "What?" He repeated, semi-politely, "Ovah thah? Yah cah?" And I said "My cah? Oh, do you mean my carrr?" He said, "Yeah, yah cahhh." I replied, sub-semi-politely, "You do mean my cahhh. I thought you meant my carrr." He shook his head acted puzzled, and I walked away mumbling about his R-catchers.

    What Bostonians desperately need is someone from Cedar Falls—or anywhere in the Midwest, really, to come out here as act as a Wizard of Rs and show them how to get their Rs out of their mouths and into the air. And they would have to be someone who wouldn't mind having broken ahrns.

    STILL ANOTHER difference: walk anywhere in downtown Cedar Falls and look in any of thepasserby's faces and you get a look, and sometimes even a smile, back. Unless they're from Boston. The only people who look at you in Boston are the bums, drunks and assorted love-freaks and hustlers. That has one advantage, of course—you know who the bums and hustlers are in Boston, whereas in Cedar Falls you can't be sure, since everyone looks at you, bum or no.

    But it's disconcerting to pass so many thousands of Bostonians and not get any friendly looks from otherwise regular folks.

     It gets lonely on the streets of Boston. 

    But the main, and somewhat shocking difference between Bostonians and Cedar Fallsians was illustrated the other day when a friend was visiting and we wanted to blow up an old inner tube for a swim in Walden Pond. So we took the tube to an Amoco station—since you expect more from Standard and you get it, according to Johnny Cash, anyway.

    This Bostonian kid came out and I asked him to please blow up the tube, in my best "how about a little free service" tone. He looked at me and the tube as if calculating how much he could make from the transaction, then said, "sahhy sah, I can't do that fah yah." I was stunned, and blurted out, "Well, why not? Can't you spare the air? Hey, who owns this dump anyway? Let me talk to the owner." Then I began muttering and gnashing my teeth, wishing I was in Iowa where the idiots tend to concentrate in one or two places rather than all around the state.

    The owner came around, hearing my raised and foreign accent, and I said, "listen, please put a little air in this tube—I've been working hard all week and I want to go sit in the water, . . . (babble babble babble) And he looked put off and put out, but he filled it with a grumble. And one of his helpers shouted at me with a grin, "hey, he charges three bucks fah that usually." And I shouted back—well, never mind.

    Now can you imagine a scene like that taking place anywhere in Iowa? I mean, no gas station owner or attendant has any obligation to give out air, but in Iowa they do it as a service, and they know that a little goodwill service brings people back.

    I've watched my brother Jim—an Iowan for some 39 years and owner of Jim's Standard in Cedar Falls—hand out air by the blimpful, even giving it to people at the self-service pumps. Jim, of course, is extra nice, being my brother and all, but his attitude is common in Iowa.

    Not around Boston, alas.

    Maybe I can get brother Jim to import some of his service out here. In fact, since he talks right, maybe he could serve as the Wizard of Rs for awhile.

    If he wouldn't mind a broken ahm or two, that is.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Travel
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.


Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo