1970 Dodge Dart Swinger Coupe— So…I join the Marines and go to boot camp in San Diego, California. It was fun, and one of the proudest moments of my life when I successfully completed Recruit Training!
I am ordered to additional training at 29 Palms, CA…an armpit of a place we affectionately called Moonbase Alpha or The Stumps…out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.
Me leaning on a buddy's Shelby after a rare rain shower at "The Stumps." The Shelby was way more cooler than "The Banana Mobile" could ever hope to be.
It wasn’t there long before I decided I needed some wheels in order that I might easily escape the base and blow the stink off.
Out in the town of 29 Palms, there were several used car lots that catered to desperate Marines with money to spend.
At one of these lots is where I found the Dodge Dart Swinger, aka The Banana Mobile. It had a 318 CID V-8 that ran well (once it started), manual steering, manual brakes, automatic transmission, no air conditioning, bad tires, electrical problems, a part-time speedometer, was over-priced, and had apparently been wrecked and rebuilt.
Jumper cables were standard equipment.
None of this mattered to, nor was noticed by, me. I was blinded by the fact that this car didn’t have a speck of rust on it…an extremely rare thing back in Indiana…but normal for the high desert conditions of California.
Due to military regulations and safety requirements, I wasn’t allowed to bring the car on base until I had new tires on it…and insurance.
I bought a new cheap set of bias-ply meats, and found an insurance agency in town that was more than willing to insure my vehicle at exorbitant rates.
Around military installations, there is never a shortage of civilian folks who will fleece service members for every dime they can get.
Anyhoo…I got me a car now, and surprisingly, some new fast friends too! The opportunities for debauchery had increased exponentially! Road trips to Palms Springs, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Lake Havasu, Joshua Tree National Monument…with no breakdowns. Good times. I think…
After one particular night of local carousing, my buddies and I returned to base, and the Dart just quit running a few blocks from the barracks. I steered the coasting, stalled car towards a roadside ditch, but I couldn’t get her stopped soon enough because of the manual brakes, and she nose-dived into the ditch.
I had been experiencing some electrical issues, and figured it was the battery or alternator that were acting funky. We were all kinda tired at that point of our evening, and the car was out of the way and wasn’t blocking traffic, so we all bailed and left the car where it sat…figuring I could deal with it the next morning.
The next morning came sooner than I planned. I was awakened from a sound slumber by surly Military Police, demanding to know where Pfc. Zoomie was, and why he was defiling sacred US Government and US Marine Corps property by abandoning his vehicle in a roadside ditch.
I explained that the car was immovable, and that I had aspirations of getting it running and out of the ditch very soon that morning.
Very soon, I was informed by the MPs, was right then and now, or they would have it yanked out of the ditch with a tank retriever and towed to a suitable location for use as a gunnery target.
I wake up a buddy who has a Jeep, and he helps me get the Dart started and out of the ditch.
I discover I need a new alternator, but I don’t have the cash at the time to pay for it. I borrow the money, with the promise to repay, from one of my new fast friends who has joined me on many of my off-base excursions.
Unfortunately, it is about this time that the Marine Corps decides I would be better suited at Camp Pendleton, on the coast between Los Angeles and San Diego, and I am to ship out at once.
I never got the chance to repay my buddy for the alternator.
Raitt…if you’re out there, I still owe you $50.
I haven’t forgotten.
I ain’t no welcher…
At Pendleton, I run into a boot camp buddy, fellow Hoosier and Naptown Kid…Sanders.
Sanders is a mellow guy…laid back and soft-spoken, but he takes no shit and enjoys his booze too.
One night, after a successful E-Club Formation (Enlisted Club), we return to our darkened open squad bay-style barracks.
The barracks asshole, I’ll call him Guyton, says something unsavory about Sanders’ mother.
Sanders dares Guyton to repeat the comment.
Guyton repeats the comment.
Sanders runs over and commences to wail on Guyton’s face as if it were a piñata, while I hold a flashlight on the melee and keep others from joining in the fracas.
I believe in a fair fight, after all!
It’s not long before the fire watch (Barracks Guard) and MPs are crawling all over the place, breaking up the little tiff.
Sanders and Guyton are charged with dueling! Later, I have to give a written and oral statement regarding the evening’s events. (At the time, I must have been the most senior Private First Class in the barracks, and the most mature and responsible-acting! Imagine that!) Sanders is cleared of any wrongdoing, and all charges are dropped.
Our platoon sergeant said Guyton had it coming, and nothing more came of the incident.
Barracks justice is a beautiful thing.
Another time, Sanders and I were at the Oceanside beach, sitting parked in The Banana Mobile, and slurping down some frosty Budweisers.
Little did I know that we were in violation of an open container law.
Local civilian law enforcement was aware, though, and ignorance of the law is no defense, apparently, so we both received a citation for our egregious error from the Bermuda shorts-wearing flatfoot.
Dude even made us pour out our open cans!
I felt like a third grader.
At Camp Pendleton, I experience military life at its finest. I am allowed to shovel horseshit and gravel. They let me fill gopher holes with topsoil. I am able to sweep, rake, and pull guard duty.
I am a lucky guy.
Having The Banana Mobile helps ease the pain, as do many trips to the enlisted club for copious amounts of cheap, government-subsidized draft beer!
But, I can’t help feeling that I am going nowhere fast.
Apparently, the Marine Corps felt the same way, because I get orders to attend training at Camp Lejeune, NC, and I must have my happy ass in North Carolina in just 4 days time.
Now…if one is conversant with US geography, one knows that it is a long way from California to North Carolina, but one also knows it is no problem to get to North Carolina from California in that amount of time if one is traveling by airplane.
I will not be leisurely traveling by airplane, however, as I am the proud owner of The Banana Mobile.
The Marine Corps refuses to load my Dodge Dart on to a C-130 and deliver it to my destination, and they don’t care how I get to North Carolina, nor do they care about what happens to my car.
They just care about me getting my narrow ass to Camp Lejeune on time.
It is up to me to figure out how I’m gonna do it, and what to do with the Dart.
I can’t sell it, because I’m still making (intermittent) payments on it.
I won’t abandon it…well…maybe for a short time, but not permanently.
I can’t afford to store it in California, as I may never be back that way again.
I am informed that I will not be allowed to have a personal vehicle at Lejeune, so the car goes no further than Indianapolis.
I decide on a 2-day solo banzai run from California to Indiana, where I’ll park the car at my folk’s house, and board a plane to North Carolina.
I’ve always wanted to take a cross-country road trip and leisurely explore this great country.
Unfortunately, I would not have time to sight see this trip.
Right before I leave California, I have a Marine electronics technician solder a broken connection in my car stereo so that I will have tunes for the trip...your tax dollars at work and spent wisely.
I depart Pendleton after a full day of work, and point the old Dodge east on I-40. I get as far as Albuquerque, and I’ve had about all I can stand for one day. I find a hotel, get a room, and crash out for the night.
I get up early the next morning and hit the road. At every gasoline stop, I must add motor oil and transmission fluid.
The exhaust got so hot that it melted some plastic items in the trunk.
I stay on I-40 through New Mexico, Texas, and part of Oklahoma.
At Oklahoma City, I pick up I-44 all the way to Missouri.
Somewhere in Missouri, I stopped for a short nap at a rest area, and then continued on to St. Louis, where I picked up I-70 to Indianapolis.
It was the roadie from hell.
I had white line fever for days, and I kept seeing the dotted lines...even with my eyes closed.
A few days later, I boarded a plane for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
There, I would be car-less, so there is no point in rehashing any details about those experiences.
Once my Lejeune training was complete, I shipped back home to my reserve unit.
I drove The Banana Mobile for maybe another year, and then got rid of it.
It was not a suitable midwestern car.
The heater did not work, and the front suspension needed a total rebuild.
I was not going to put another cent into this turd.
My dad wholesaled it, and the Dart was no more.
There was another vehicle waiting in the wings, and it would damned near be the end of me.