Memories of Big Red

In my early 20s, I purchased a used car from a friend for $300, a red ’59 Chevrolet Impala with faded paint and many dents that he had named “Big Red”. Big Red ran well, and gas was cheap back then.

Big Red served me well, but one day it wouldn’t start, and instead of paying for a repair, I bought another cheap car. Big Red sat unnoticed on a Stanford parking lot while I moved a couple of times, traveled some, and got a job at a Pizza Parlor in Palo Alto.

It was part of a chain, “Straw Hat Pizza” — we wore styrofoam versions of a traditional boater straw hat as part of our uniform. As of this moment, Straw Hat is still in business, with, according to Google, 23 outlets. I haven’t been in one for maybe 35 years.

The kitchen was in the northwest corner, with large windows on either face. During the day, we could watch the parking lot and the street while we made pizzas. At night the glare from the interior lights blocked the view, and only passing headlights were discernible from inside.

Some nights we played old silent movies with a jangly piano soundtrack — mainly Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. We saw them a thousand times, and the soundtrack became a low-grade annoyance of the job.

One evening the parlor was quiet; everything was clean, there were no to-go orders, the dining area was empty. The movies were off.

Through the window, I watched a pair of car headlights circle the parking lot and come to a stop. The entrance door flew open. Two young men rushed to the counter, where my co-worker leaned on the cash register.

But they were, as it turned out, looking for ME.

Brief introductions, then one of the young men asks:

“Do you own a red ’59 Chevrolet Impala”?

Images of unpaid parking tickets, towing charges, and other potential liabilities flooded my brain. But it’s public record; I couldn’t lie.


The Stanford Police, it seems, caught him late at night removing parts from Big Red. Taking parts from a parked car is illegal unless you own the vehicle. Hence, if he didn’t want to go to jail, he had to produce evidence of ownership, even though it was currently registered to me. A bill of sale would do.

He pulled out a bill of sale form and placed it on the counter.

“You want to buy my car??”

“Yes. How much do you want for it?”

He was at my mercy. But also, he was relieving me of a tedious burden. I thought for a minute.


Relief flooded his face. “Deal!”

I never saw Big Red again.

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