How I almost became a Canadian and learned a valuable life’s lesson

November 22, 2019

What is it with guys and cars? What is it with guys and their grandpas? More often than not, our grandpas rank ahead of our fathers. They’re our buddies, our pals, our go-to best friends.

Back in the day, Burt Reynolds had it made. He lived large. He was the Bandit of Smokey and the Bandit. Was Burt a grandpa? No idea. Bear with me here. I’m trying to tie this all together.

Growing up in the late seventies and early eighties in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I too had it made. My grandpa was a car salesman. Tony Betten Ford, where he worked, had a 1978 Trans Am, the exact car from the first Smokey and the Bandit. The exact car every living male under the age of 100 wanted.

Gramps called me right after it was put out on the lot, so I jumped in my parents’ 1971 Cutlass Supreme and high tailed it to the dealership to check it out.

You cannot imagine my excitement when Grandpa asked “Do you want it?”

Hell yes, I want it! Gramps told me to come back tomorrow and it was mine.

On the drive home, I set my sites on convincing our Homecoming Queen to be my own Sally Field. I could already see us drinking pop and eating popcorn while we watched movie after movie from the comfort of my Trans Am at the Beltline Drive-In Theater.

Back then, I wasn’t one to wait until things were final / final so I went to school the next day all amped up. By 2:30 people were coming up to me, talking about my Trans Am. I was, in that moment, the biggest man on campus. My future was so bright I had to wear shades. The girl was almost assuredly mine.

So, here’s something I learned in my 55 years on earth. Never trust a car salesman, even if it’s your grandpa. And, perhaps more importantly, never get ahead of yourself.

Here’s why:

When I got to the dealership, I noticed the Trans Am was not in its spot. No worries, likely my new ride was being detailed. That’s dealer lingo for getting her ready for me, Burt Jr., to drive home and get the girl.

Only it wasn’t being detailed. Seems the Trans Am was already gone. Crap. The entire school, including the girl, was waiting for my triumphant return.

Now I was really in a panic. But then my grandpa, all 6’ 5” of him saunters out of the showroom, passing a group of new Ford Pintos, wearing his plaid sport coat, smoking his pipe with a grin on his face. Then, he stops in front of one of the Pintos.

What was he up to, I wondered.

“Jackson,” My name is Jack, but grandpa called me Jackson. We had a bond.

“Jackson, your old man got you a brand-new car,” gramps says to me. “You didn’t want that Trans Am. It was a mess. Let it be someone else’s problem.”

Uh, yes. Yes, I do want the Trans Am. My Trans Am.

My plan was pretty much just to sit on it in the school parking lot all day, every day. Forever. Just me, the Trans Am and the girl. I mean, come on. I had a Trans Am. I had the girl. My life was complete.

“Jackie,” uh oh, I thought I was Jackson? No worries. He’s my grandpa. He had my back.

“Jackie, I got you this Pinto station wagon. Brand new.” New or not I thought to myself, driving a Pinto was going to be a problem. Not only were they not cool, the Ford Pinto was notorious for blowing up! It was all over the news.

Caught up in my personal, fear-based reverie, I hear Gramps say, “Jackie, the station wagon model doesn’t have those issues blowing up.”

Well, neither does the Trans Am. Where’s my Trans Am? Gone. Gone Baby Gone.

The Pinto was lime green! And, for the love of God, it was a station wagon! I’m suddenly religious. Will He help me? Doubtful. Crap. I had no choice. Right then and there I decided to make a run for the border.

Suddenly I’m singing “O Canada! Our home and native land!”

I’m outta here…

I’ve told that story many times over the years. I talk about the lesson I learned to never get ahead of myself. I talk about how business, if you really break it down, is really pretty simple; you build stuff, you sell stuff. And, if for whatever reason, you get that out of order, you run the risk of driving a lime green Ford Pinto station wagon home.