DLZ 230 was the license plate number on my Mother’s 1968 Chevy station wagon – the mom mobile of the 60’s and 70’s. All self-respecting middle class mothers of the day drove one. Mom’s was white, bought used, and never ran right. The car was beat up and in constant need of repair. That car is the reason I know how to change a tire, check the oil, and why you don’t open the radiator cap when the engine is hot. It’s also where I learned how to change a fan belt, and replace a radiator hose – all before I had a driver’s license.
I remember the license number because of the memory aid my brother Rick came up with, “Dan Lupin’s Zoo opens at 2:30”. Dan was Rick’s best friend and a character you never forget – a kind, gentle kid who was also mischievous and a troublemaker. Why we needed to memorize the plate number is lost to me now, but at the time it was very important.
Actually, one day it did come in handy when Mother and I left a store and couldn’t find the car. It had been stolen and I was the one who gave the police officer a full description and license number. That was a crisis in the household, one car stolen and a mother and son stranded in the grocery store parking lot. A friend came to drive us and our groceries home while Mother and I talked about how we were going to tell dad about this.
The story ended as well as it could – a couple of days later a police officer stopped by the house with the news that the Chevy had been found in San Francisco and was in the police impound lot. The officer speculated that someone hot wired the car, took it for a joy ride, and when it ran out of gas just abandoned it in a red zone. I went with mother to get the car back. We drove up in Dad’s car with Rick, who had his driver’s license. I recall Mother’s frustration at all the paper work she had to do at the police station, and the final insult when we were informed that she had to pay the impound and towing fees.
It was in that station wagon that Mother drove me all around the western United States. Every state west of the Mississippi (and one or two in the east) has seen a white Chevy with a mother and son cruising the back roads looking for a campsite. We had adventures in that car.
Eventually my parent’s marriage failed and one summer Mother decided to hit the road and take a long solo car trip. I was 17 when she left. She called me from Salt Lake City to tell me she was on the road. She drove up to Canada, across the map and into New England and down the eastern seaboard and turned right at Florida – coming home two months later through the south and her favorites – the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona.
She never had enough money to maintain the car properly and I spent a lot of time learning auto mechanics by repairing that station wagon. I even bought the Chilton’s repair manual for the car and had a nice set of tools. By the time I was fifteen I could change the oil, gap the plugs, adjust the points, and replace a water pump. By sixteen, I’d replaced the battery, carburetor, radiator, and alternator.
I’d also seen Yosemite, Kings Canyon, The Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Carlsbad Caverns, The Great Salt Lake, Mount Rushmore, rain on the Great Plains, wind in the desert, aspen trees in the Rockies, and so much more.
The other day my brothers and I were having lunch and were reminiscing about cars we’ve had when DLZ 230 rushed back into my mind. Such a complicated memory. Good times seeing the world. Bad times as relationships failed and families tore apart.
And strange times when a 13 year-old boy popped open the hood of a White Chevy station wagon in a campground, checking the oil, and the radiator just to make sure we could get just a little further down the highway.