Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 16 (Sinclair Lewis)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lewis, Sinclair

I think I may have bought this at an old junk store on Main St. in Buffalo that used to sell books for a dollar. That's my best guess, anyhow. I think it's a Budget Rent-a-Car office now.

Which just stirred a memory.

My father worked in the leasing division of Ford Motor Company when I was growing up. It was kind of a horrible corporate job that required him to move fairly often in order to get promoted. He started in Detroit, where I was born, then got transferred to Los Gatos, CA when I was about two. He got transferred again to the DC area when I was seven-and-a-half. I think he worked there two more years before realizing that his rise up the corporate ladder had come to an end.

Around this time, he met a guy named Jules Lederer (I think that is the correct name and spelling, but I was only ten, so it could be off), who had founded Budget Rent-a-Car, which he'd sold off for a ton of money. In the early eighties, in the midst of the gas crisis, he decided to start another rental company that would appeal to cost-minded and, hopefully, also to the environmentally-minded among us. It would be called MPG Car Rental, and what made it unique was the requirement that the entire fleet get 25 MPG or better.

My father bought the DC franchise of the new company and opened his first location at 1522 "K" St. in Washington. He also rented an underground parking garage in the rear of the building, which he operated as fleet storage and also as a parking business. I am not sure the parking business, which was cash only, was ever a legal business. If it was, I don't think the government ever saw much of the cash.

Once the gas crisis had ended and prices had gone down, Americans decided they no longer cared as much about the environment as they did about driving large, comfortable, and increasingly luxurious cars. MPG Car Rental folded as a corporate entity, but my father kept the name. He eventually opened a location at National Airport and another at Dulles. Over time, he also bought franchise rights to USA Car Rental. I think he almost became a Dollar Car Rental.

Toward the end of the eighties, the rental business started to tank and my father sold his company -- actually, now that I think of it, he may have sold it to Dollar. I am not really sure. After that, he used his connections in the auto industry to do consulting work. He got paid nicely for this, but soon all of his friends in the industry began to retire and the consulting dried up along with their departures. He was basically unemployed for the last three years of his life.

I think this really depressed him. He began thinking about a second, retirement career. He looked into getting a degree in substance abuse counseling, which he'd already been doing on an unpaid basis for twenty-five years through AA. I remember several people I'd never seen before approaching me at his funeral to tell me my father had saved their lives.

I remember he met a guy in one of his classes at the local community college who was a gay, Argentinian dance instructor. Now, the fact that my father would even talk to this guy, given his many prejudices, was remarkable. The fact that they became friends even more so.

It turned out he was the dance instructor to Robert Duvall, who owned a big horse farm an hour or so outside DC. My father was a huge fan of Robert Duvall because of the film "The Great Santini," which he loved. He let this be known and lo and behold he found himself invited to a dance party in Robert Duvall's barn. Turned out he and Duvall even had a mutual friend, an actor my father had gone to high school with and who had minor roles in a lot of the great films of Duvall's generation.

I think that was one of the high points of his life.

from Arrowsmith

THE driver of the wagon swaying through forest and swamp of the Ohio wilderness was a ragged girl of fourteen. Her mother they had buried near the Monongahela - the girl herself had heaped with torn sods the grave beside the river of the beauti ful name. Her father lay shrinking with fever on the floor of the wagon-box, and about him played her brothers and sisters, dirty brats, tattered brats, hilarious brats. She halted at the fork in the grassy road, and the sick man quavered, Emmy, ye better turn down towards Cincinnati. If we could find your Uncle Ed, I guess hed take us in. Nobody aint going to take us in she said. Were going on jus long as we can. Going West Theys a whole lot of new things I aim to be seeing She cooked the supper, she put the children to bed, and sat by the fire, alone. That was the great-grandmother of Martin Arrowsmith


Kate said...

I just discovered your blog (and it appears I'm one of hundreds). I love it. Specifically, I love the small glimpses into your past, like the poetry conference in Cuba or that you're from Detroit (please remember (and forgive that) I've only read a few entries, so maybe your entire biography is spelled out elsewhere). Where, I wondered to myself, did he go to graduate school? What has he chosen to do with all his education? How do I implement a schedule which allows (and demands) I read more? Do others view the cure to headaches the same way I do? Anyway, thanks for writing, I will be one of your devoted fangirls.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Hi Kate,

Glad you are enjoying the blog. I think of this project as something of an autobiography, so the various fragments of my life are spread out across the many entries previously written. I studied in the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo -- I received an MA and got as far as the first chapter of a dissertation before I left -- so a good chunk of my reading came during those years of no work, all study. But I read a lot before that and read a lot still -- I guess it is just a habit at this point. Sadly, I can't help you with the headaches. Happy to have a new "fangirl" on board!

All best,


Kate said...

Hi again, Michael,

First thing's first: thanks and I will continue enjoying. Now, I realize I may have come across as perhaps trite or dull-witted. Let me rephrase my dull wits (oh, they love to do the speaking for me): though I am a graduate student, of literature no less, I wish often I had a second set of eyes. While I don't mind reading John Donne, say, or Grierson's critiques, what about the the alphabetically arranged list of have-yet-to's? Will enough days exist? Had I two more eyes, the problem would resolve itself immediately, or thereto begin the process. Regardless, as stated, I enjoy what I've read so far here on your blog. Thanks for responding, thanks for writing in the first place.


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Hi Kate,

I see you have a blog, also, so I've plopped it into my google reader list.