With all the free time as of late, I was thinking back to my days working at Foreign Motors on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. I wasn’t a mechanic so much as a lot boy who did new-car prep and deliveries. I got hired just by walking in and saying, “I’m the new guy,” and the mechanics put me to work. After three days, they figured it out, but they kept me on. We sold mainly Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Rolls-Royce, but it was a funny era when you could sell a foreign brand just by parking one in your showroom with a few brochures.
I enjoyed it, and it was great fun, partly because selling those kinds of cars meant you were always meeting all kinds of weird people. Remember Arthur Fiedler, the famous conductor of the Boston Pops? He owned a Mercedes 220, and he wasn’t exactly a pyromaniac, but he loved fires. Whenever there was a big fire, he would call me and say, “Jay, there’s a fire, come pick me up and take me down to South Boston!” He had his fire hat on, and he thought it was the coolest thing to watch firemen do their work.
We used to deliver new Rolls-Royces to a family that owned a big alcohol distillery. One time I had to go out and pick up the wife of one of the family members, and in the car with her was this real, live lion cub. I remember sitting there with the lion looking at me. It was about the size of a terrier but weighed maybe 70 pounds, and it had these huge paws. When we got to the house, I gave it a tennis ball to play with, and it could flatten the thing with each bite. It was a mound of muscle with a head and teeth on top. I asked how long you can keep a lion, and the wife said, “Oh, we get new ones every six months.” I don’t know what happened to the old lions, but the cubs would just shred the upholstery in the cars.
Whenever we bought a new Rolls, my job was to fly down to Elizabeth, New Jersey, take it off the boat, and drive it back. When customers asked why their cars had 200 miles on them, the salesmen would say they were test miles the factory technicians put on to make sure the car was perfect, but it was just me driving back from New Jersey. I remember once I had to deliver a Rolls all the way to Houston. I pulled out onto Commonwealth and saw a guy hitchhiking. I said, “Where ya going?” He said he was trying to get to Texas, so I told him to hop in, and we drove nonstop 28 hours to Houston. Only in America can a guy go from having his thumb out to cruising in a Rolls.
Another time, I was following my boss, who was driving a beautiful new Mercedes 450SEL out to a customer. We were on the freeway behind a Trailways bus with a flapping panel. All of a sudden, this giant polyurethane bag rolled out of the back, the septic bag for the bus toilet, and my boss hit it dead on. Human waste exploded into every seam of this poor Mercedes, and he had to pull over because he was choking from the stench. Even though the damage from the impact wasn’t that bad, we had to total the car because the smell wouldn’t wash out.
It could have been worse. A guy bought a new, $34,000 Rolls Corniche convertible from us. I drove the car down to the customer near New York City and he gave me cash in a paper bag. I then took the bag with me to the docks in Jersey to pick up another Rolls. Then, as I was driving back, I thought it would be a good idea to stop in at the original Improv in Manhattan and see if I could do a set. In the worst part of Hell’s Kitchen. In a Rolls-Royce. With 34 grand in a paper bag. Like an idiot.
I placed “my lunch,” the bag, on the piano and did my set, and it went great. On the drive home, I was listening to the set on a recorder and all the people laughing, and it was when I got to the first tollbooth in Connecticut that I realized I had left the bag on the piano. I wheeled around and beat it the hour back to New York. By the time I got there, it was 1:30 in the morning, another comedian was on stage and maybe 16 people were in the audience. The bag was still on the piano, so I grabbed it, checked that the money was there, and took off. If the bag had been gone, I would just be getting out of jail now.