In college at Syracuse University, I was lucky enough to have a vehicle on campus. It wasn’t a car. It wasn’t a truck. It was a vehicle in a class all its own. I was driving this behemoth, the 1978 Chevrolet Suburban.

Photo credit: productioncars.com

suburban

And while I knew I was lucky to have it, I didn’t always think that way at the time. The beast had a 40 gallon gas tank and got around 8 miles to the gallon around campus. Mine was turd brown and had a standard transmission. The S.U. Burban as my friends and I dubbed it, was gifted to me by my grandmother and parents after my grandfather’s passing. For a kid who had previously owned a sedan with an automatic transmission, it’s fair to say the transition was less than seamless.

Trying to park the Burban on campus was traumatic. There were two choices. Either park the car at the far end of every lot or street where there was ample room to navigate, or spend ridiculous amounts of time trying to wrangle it into convenient spaces while under public scrutiny. Every try to park a battleship? For a guy with a vehicle on campus, I still did a lot of walking.

Still, the SU Burban had its perks. If I was willing to be the designated driver, I could take all of my friends, hell I could take my entire dorm floor, out bar hopping. The fare for the evening was a couple bucks in gas money from each rider. Generally when an evening was over I would have enough cash to keep the Burban fueled and have drinking money for next Friday when I wasn’t driving.

Plus, while college campuses are more pedestrian-centric places I can promise you that NO ONE ever jay-walked in front of me. Early on, I had a tendency to down shift from second back to first when my actual intent was to shift up to third. The engine roar and spastic lurching of 4850 pounds (Google it!) of steel made pedestrians VERY cautious and respectful.

The demise of the S.U. Burban was a night I will never forget.  It was a Friday night. How do I know? Because the following day was Saturday. Not any Saturday, mind you, it was Home Coming. My parents and some family friends were making the 3 hour trek early that morning to campus for the afternoon football game, spending Saturday night at an off campus hotel.

I lived in the dorm next to the Carrier Dome where the game would be played. More importantly, I had a student parking pass to the lot adjacent to the Dome. So it was agreed, my folks would travel up, check into their hotel and call me. I would then come down, shuttle them to and from campus and we would enjoy the weekend.

So here I am on a Friday night on an American college campus not wanting to get sloppy with my regular drinking buddies, so what’s a fella to do? Well, when those buddies came calling I turned them away. “Sorry, guys. Not tonight. My folks are coming into town tomorrow. I don’t want to be out all night getting goofy. Go on with out me.” I had other plans.

It had taken some weeks, but I had finally convinced a particular young woman to spend an evening alone in my company. Yes! I had a date! We had tickets to an off campus play. See? Rather than run off, be rowdy and get into intoxicated shenanigans, I was off to an evening of culture and refinement. I literally could not have been more responsible.

Given the aforementioned maneuverability and parking challenges, my date and I left the SU Burban parked on the main thoroughfare a number of blocks from the theater and walked back for the show. After the show as we’re walking back to our vehicle, I notice police cruisers with lights flashing up the street. But I only sort of notice.

See, my date enjoyed the show. REALLY enjoyed the show! As we’re walking up the street arms entwined, her head resting on my shoulder,  she’s talking to me making all manner of suggestive overtures about how she’s going to show her appreciation for the evening when we get back to the dorms.

A block further and I interrupt my date. “I’m sorry, but if I didn’t know any better I’d think those police were all surrounding….MY TRUCK!” I sprint up the street abandoning my date. The S. U. Burban, all 2. 4 + tons of it is no longer parked in the street at the curbside. It has been driven up over the curb, across the sidewalk and the grill is wrapped around a now fractured utility pole! On the other end, there is a Cadillac so far up under the Burban that the truck’s rear bumper is against, but not through the windshield of the Cadillac.

I wander up to a police officer and confirm, “yes, that’s my truck,” and then ask, “is the driver of the Cadillac ok?”

The cop tells me, “Yeah, he’s over there in the ambulance getting checked out, but he seems ok. Seems he just finished working second shift at the hospital and was headed home. He leaned over to adjust the heat or the radio and lost control and hit your car.”

I said, “Great. Can I meet him? ‘Cause I’m gonna kill him!”

My date caught up with me and after all the requisite paperwork was completed and  the suburban was towed away the police were gracious enough to give us a ride back to our dorm. As we rode back I asked, “So. How many other dates have you had that ended in the back of a police car?” I thought it was moderately funny. My date did not. In fact she apparently decided that that the conclusion to the evening was so decidedly unfunny that all those earlier promises evaporated. Of course all of that is conjecture because she refused to speak to me all the way back to the dorms! There were no demonstrations of appreciation suggestive or otherwise. There wasn’t even a smooch!  Never got a second date either. Go figure.

I finally get back to my dorm and get some very frustrated sleep and awake the next morning to a ringing phone. It’s my mother.

“Hi. We’re here. Come pick us up.”

“I can’t. The truck was in an accident last night. It had to be towed away.”

“WHAT?!? You were in an accident? What happened? What did you do? Was anyone hurt”? Were you drinking? You were drinking weren’t you?” (To be completely fair, this was during my sophomore year and it was a more than logical conclusion. By this time, I’d given my folks ample reason to be concerned about my behavior.)

“No, I wasn’t drinking. I wasn’t in an accident. The truck was in an accident. I wasn’t even with it.”

“Don’t lie to me, Paul. What happened?”

“The truck got hit. It was legally parked on the street. Another car ran into it. It got driven into a utility pole and towed away.”

Awkward pause….”So you were drinking and you drove off the street and hit a utility pole? God, Paul! Some one could have been killed!”

“Take a cab up here if you still want to see the game. We’re not talking about this anymore until you can read the police report.”

My parents and their friends found their way to my dorm and we went on to the game. We headed off to the stadium for the football game. My  mother and I sat as far from each other as our seats would allow. At half time I volunteered to head to the concession stand for food. My father volunteered to come with me.

As we’re standing in line he leans in close to me and says softly, “you know this is only going to get worse, if you don’t tell her the truth right?”

God as my witness this is the only time in my life where I have yelled and swore at my father in anger. I lost my shit right there in the concession line. “Dad! I TOLD you we’re not fucking talking about this until you can read the police report!” (As an aside, if you ever find yourself cramped up in crowded spaces and need some breathing room. Make vague angry references to a police report. The line in front of us pretty much vanished. )

Later that day we were able to finally get to the police station and acquire the police report.  My parents apologized and it has to be noted that shortly after it was established that the S.U. Burban was no longer fit to drive and would never again prowl the Syracuse campus I did find myself the owner of another car courtesy of my parents’ enormous generosity. This time it was a mid-eighties Ford Taurus, an automatic. It was easy, clean, efficient and I enjoyed it. But I confess, there were days when I missed the roar of that turd brown S.

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