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Dreams Come True

Charles Thibaudeau

One summer night in 1963, I lived out a teenage boy's fantasy. I spent the entire evening cruising Manhattan Beach, California in a brand new tuxedo black Stingray convertible. I drove all night long and into the dawn, because much like Cinderella, my fairytale had a time limit. I knew I had to return the car in the morning and reclaim my pumpkin of a 1959 Chevy Biscayne.

Let me explain: When I was seventeen, my father owned a Richfield gas station. When I was not hitting the waves with my surfboard, I was working the pumps. One Friday afternoon, a regular named Charlie drove up in a vision of loveliness. In that moment, I understood what it meant to drool over something. I salivated at the sight of that crimson interior and the way the leather shone like a new penny complimenting the Corvette’s glistening black exterior. I opened the chrome logo cap on the rear deck and started to fill her up with Boron, then took extra care to clean the windshield and asked Charlie if he wanted me to check the water and oil. He did not, but he did open the hood to show me the gleaming small block 327. As he walked me around the car, he offered to let me take her for a spin. "Yes!" erupted from my lips, but I told him I would need to get my dad's permission for this much needed "break." Charlie offered to talk to him while I took care of the next customer.

Ten minutes later Charlie and my dad approached the pump wearing Cheshire cat smiles. "Your father said it is okay for me to leave you the car tonight to take your girlfriend out," he said. "If you want."

Of course I wanted! "I'll be back in the morning around 9 o'clock to pick it up. Take good care of her," he said.

And that is what started my wild ride. I could not believe it. I was seventeen and driving a shiny new Corvette. I was in heaven. I went home to clean up before picking up my girlfriend, who was amazed. We cruised the South Bay area until her midnight curfew. My dad was still awake when I reached home and so was my desire to keep driving. Dad was up talking to my nineteen-year-old cousin, Bill, who was home on leave from Vietnam. They saw my excitement and that is when dad said, "It is okay if you and Bill want to go out and ride around some more tonight, just be careful."

Bill and I cruised until 3 a.m. when he was too exhausted to continue. I dropped him off at his folks' and kept driving until 6 a.m. I could not part with the car so I rode around until day break when it was time to open the station again. I filled the tank when I arrived, washed the windows and parked Corvette on the corner. We had shared a special night. I left the top down and just watched her until Charlie came back.

I'll never understand why Charlie let a seventeen-year-old kid spend the night with his brand new convertible. To this day it is still hard to believe, but it really happened. It is one of the most memorable nights of my youth. Wherever Charlie ended up, I am forever grateful for his generosity and my first experience behind the wheel of a Corvette.

I bought my first one on my twenty-first birthday. It was a 1968 427 convertible, Corvette Bronze with Tobacco interior. I have owned four more since then and now have a 1998 Torch Red with black leather interior that I bought when I retired in 1998. She has little more than 67,000 miles on her. The stickers on the side are "Viper Kills". I put them on after I sold my Viper and caught a lot of flak from the Viper Club guys for selling it instead of the Corvette.

Every time I put the top down, I remember that warm summer night in Charlie's Stingray. What a night!

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