Of my various bits of amateur acting, I guess I had the most fun playing "The Eccentric Woman in the Cadillac." This totally ad lib act never made it to a stage and had a severely limited audience. Come to think of it, the audience never really enjoyed the act at all. But I did.
Leaving the West to live in the South, I parted from my blue Dodge Caravan, the fourth in a series of Caravans I'd owned. I had had other cars, of course, from a hand-me-down Chev that had brought our family across the continent in 1947 to a brand-new 1967 Dodge Dart that lasted more than 12 years and then was reincarnated by a teen-ager. (He put a husky Fury engine in the body of the much-dented Dart.) I have never known much about cars, and I had no great passion for any particular brand or style. A friend once was about to lend me her stick-shift Toyota truck, but when I asked her, as I climbed behind the wheel, "Now which is the clutch again, and which the brake?" she grabbed the keys back and said, "Get out!"
As to my first Dodge Caravan, I enjoyed its view, a little higher than other cars, and especially its roominess. I haven't bought another make or model since then. Moving to the South, I had sold the blue van and was without any car. In Dixie, my friend Nancy let me drive her new Cadillac STS, in a color fancifully called "moonstone," while I shopped for new transportation. It was years before I understood what a sacrifice it had been for Nancy to let me behind the wheel of her beloved Vanessa.
I'd never driven a Cadillac; I was so unchic in my tastes that if I had been able to afford it, my choice of car--price no object--would have been the Checker Marathon,a huge tank of a vehicle most often used for--you're right: Checker Cabs. But Checker made a few passenger cars each year, and having ridden in one--you could put a couple of large steamer trunks between the back seat and the front--I thought it ideal. You might call it the Percheron of cars.
So I first took the wheel of Nancy's Cadillac with no expectations one way or the other. I needed all of twelve minutes to get an education. Cadillac is to Dodge Caravan as cream is to skimmed milk. Or fine chocolate is to carob. Talk about an "AHA!" moment!
So I set off in shiny, sexy Vanessa to visit the area's many car dealers. I explained very clearly what I wanted: a Dodge Caravan, about 10 years old, with around 50,000 miles on her. I might as well have been speaking Swahili.
The car dealers were deafened and blinded by Vanessa. Seeing her, they were unable to hear me ask for an used Dodge Caravan. It made no sense. Why would this crackpot want a ten-year-old Soccer Mom special when she already had a gorgeous, sporty Cadillac STS? And they would proceed to show me new upscale vans like the Town and Country with every bell and whistle ever dreamed up. (Escalades and Navigators weren't available then.)
After visiting the third carlot, I realized I had a choice: explain in detail that I was driving a friend's car (a very successful lawyer-friend) but that I was a fixed-income retired academic who just needed basic transportation. OR, go along with their interpretation: The Crackpot in the Cadillac.
From then on, I played Bea Arthur out of Marian Lorne. I'd sail into a car lot, sporting a bizarre hat and driving with reckless panache. (As opposed to my usual style: driving with panic.) Show-room windows, look out! "A-ha-ha-HA! Sorry about that!"
Once I had their attention, I'd spin a story about needing an old van to get around to all the dog shows.
"Can't take the three Irish Wolfhounds in this!" I'd say, waving a dismissive hand at Vanessa. Outraged, she peed a gallon of condensation from the air conditioner.
Sometimes my storied dogs were a brace of Greyhounds ("rescued just in time, you know!"), sometimes three Tibetan Mastiffs ("Don't understand a word of English!")or eight Chihuahuas competing fiercely in agility trials. The salesmen readily believed it all, since my clothes were covered in three shades of animal hair and I smelled faintly of OFF! I thought about getting a long cigarette holder to wave around, but sometimes less is more. Or so they say.
Playing the eccentric was a lot of fun but totally unsuccessful. Not a single dealer could locate a middle-aged Caravan, "even for ready cash." In the end, we sought help from a friend of Nancy's, the owner of several dealerships throughout the state. From deep in the back-country, Shirley produced a white 10-year old with less than 20,000 miles to her name. Must have belonged to someone with progressive agoraphobia. I christened her VanGo.