During the car-show and -auction¬†weekend little went according to¬†expectations, it was good so…


The car was jinxed and he got to meet more tow-truck-drivers than datable women, just the way I used to before I sold him the clunker.

During the Concourse d’elegance, an annual local event, expensive automobiles become a common sight on all the roads in and around Monterey. Exotic car auctions are being held in several locations. One of these auctions is next door to Triples. That is the restaurant, where I work at the time. Elegant styled Italian sports cars, handmade comfortable English carriages, German precision automobiles and a small number of American muscle cars are on display. They exhibit them in the open space of the custom-house-plaza between the Doubletree hotel and the open bay. Adjacent to the hotel is the conference center where this weekends three days of auctions take place.
Triples is sold out for the duration of the concourse weekend. Coming to work, I have a glimpse at the cars shown. I overhear car buffs talking about the appreciation of Italian-made cars and their place in every serious car collection. My own experiences with Italian cars are limited to rented SEATS, Spanish FIATS. And yes, I also had once an Alfa Romeo convertible, which had more electrical problems than any English sports-car could ever have. My friends say these are notorious for electrical hassles. The Alfa Romeo which I once owned, for a long six months, had its battery recharged twice a week. Every so often I had to push-start it. I drove miles to find parking spots on hills so I could get the car to a rolling start. Car thieves broke into my car twice. To my disappointment they were unable to get it started. Each time they left it behind. They left it up to me to replace the broken windows and the removed radio. I got lucky the day I sold my Alfa. I sold it cheap, for cash, to a competitor who used to pick up ladies, I planned to date. He was always a step ahead of me and used to be successful dating my favorites until he acquired my good-looking red painted Alfa with the white top. His success rate dropped considerably after he tried to show off his nicely waxed clean looking Alfa Romeo. I know, he thought I was stupid to sell such a beautiful sports car for so little money to him. We both knew that nothing was wrong with the car’s design, or its stylish and Italian appearances. Yet he did not know what I knew, until he found himself stuck in the most unusual uncomfortable spots. One day he had to jump-start his sports car at a major street-crossing. The next day he explained how to push-start his car to a date in some hidden valley miles away from the next phone. He spent big money replacing batteries, alternator, belts, regulators, starters and wiring. The car was jinxed and he got to meet more tow-truck-drivers than datable women, just the way I used to before I sold him the clunker. While I took dates for a ride in my newly purchased, used, air cushioned Citroen, he, who used to be my competitor, found himself spending much money for cabs. He had to call taxis more often than he would have wanted to, just to get to work. One day, I saw him wearing a cast on his right foot. Someone told me this was from kicking his stubbornly non starting car, what was once his pride and joy.
I have had my share of experience with British Jaguars too, as well as the French Citroen, German Opel, Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW automobiles. The best car I ever had was a Hudson, a 1951 Superwasp, it was thirty years old, comfortable with its step down chassis, powerful, fast but quiet running with its six-in-line engine. Its pistons were huge. I tried to compare my Hudson to a variety of older Mercedes automobiles, which I had driven, but there was no comparison, neither in comfort nor in craftsmanship. After selling the Hudson, I kept on buying only the best used automobiles, for my taste these were and are the big American cars: Older Lincolns and Cadillacs. On and off I had a handful of four-wheel-drives too, which proofed to be very expensive toys. After getting used to the American top-of-the-line cars I have never had the urge yet to drive anything less comfortable than those fine automobiles. These days I expect nothing less than power steering, power brakes, power switches for windows and antenna and comfortable big leather-seats, which recline. I like a relaxed ride in town or cross country on the highways. The used American luxury cars are, as far as I can say it, badly underrated and under priced. A twenty-year old Biarritz Eldorado in perfect condition always garaged and power everything can be bought, these days (1995) for a couple of thousand dollars. Which is far less than the price of rims and tires for a twenty-year old Rolls Royce. The same is true for all the top of the line FORD cars, the Lincolns. So that shows you what kind of car collector I am.
At work, this night, six out of ten tables are reserved for hotel guests who have cars on the auction block. The names in the reservation book look and sound German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese. For me as a waiter, in what people call an upscale restaurant, the smell of spendable cash fills the air. I rightfully expect to get more than a little of the scent. I know I am going to make good money in tips tonight. I have only two tables in my station, a ten-top for members of the Rolls Royce Club and a four-top of Portuguese businessmen. I get busy this night but never too busy so I couldn’t give every one of my guest proper service. Every time I step near the Rolls Royce owner’s table they have only one subject to talk about: “Prices!”
“…hotel rooms, not even suites . . . for hundred fifty dollars and up, that’s certainly expensive!”
“…these display fees for cars at the international car-shows are outrageous!”
“…ten percent goes to the auctioneer . . . there are some who take ten percent from both buyer and seller?”
“…now that’s a rip-off if I know one!”
“…their menu here . . . a la carte!”
“…order appetizer, soup, salad, entree and dessert you are at fifty dollars.”
“…say you want a cocktail and a glass of wine and an after dinner drink then your check is a hundred dollars flat.”
These price conscientious customers turn out to have only one course each, some have salads, some have pasta. Few of these men order one single drink. Water that is all they order, tap water. When they ask me for separate checks at the end of their dinner, I nearly say “No way! No Sir! No! Can’t do!” Nevertheless, I do it anyhow. From these frugal guests I get an average of eleven percent in tips from their table. Lucky enough the other table, a Brazilian car collector with his mechanics-team, spends a lot of money. His thirty percent tip makes up for the cheap Rolls Royce collector’s circle.
The next day I stop at the Hotel Pacific where they garage some of the Rolls Royce club’s cars. Some of these cars are from the twenties and thirties. More than a dozen of these beautiful collectibles, all sporting shining black lacquer, except two, one is silver and one a white automobile. I admire their looks knowing their price tag is far in excess of what I can afford. I have to wait to cross the road. The traffic is heavy. I dash across once there is a gap. On the other side, peripatetic I head for work. I realize that my five-way-power-leatherseats are definitely more comfortable than the ones in the older Royce Royce cars. I know I could carry a trunk full of cash in my Cadillac and nobody would think about robbing me, other than maybe taking my hubcaps. On second thought “I don’t have hubcaps. I lost them in a parking lot up in the city.” On third thought: If my car gets tired of me and stops running I could just walk away from it. I would just find me another one. I smile comparing the qualities between the top-of-the-line British Car and the best built American Car. The Rolls Royce gets the label “fine old lady, who needs constantly being taken care off and looked after, guarded against abuse and sheltered from undesirable elements.” I call Biarritz, my two door Cadillac, a “loving tramp” who goes through everything with me, reliable comfortable, trustworthy for her strength. She doesn’t cry if neglected. She is big. All 78 Eldorado Biarritz Cadis are large. She is thirsty at times, at the gas pump. Yet she is offering an unexcelled comfortable ride on dirt roads, highways and the city. She is at home parked in dark alleys of mayor cities, the dirty backyards of any farm, in front of churches and funeral parlors. She, my gleaming Cadillac is right at home in the slums or mingling with any exotic car in Pebble Beach or Carmel. She is not too good for anything, may it be hauling trash, boxes or up to six friends. There is little she could not handle. She is however a non-swimmer and she does not fly, except sometimes on the hills in San Francisco. She is beautifully affordable and she is mine.
At work, I end up with the same group of Rolls Royce owners in my section. I try to trade stations. Nobody wants a ten-top of complaining older gentlemen with separate checks who had proven to be extremely lousy tippers on a busy concourse d’elegance weekend. I am stuck with them. I do have three additional tables and hope these will make up for expected low tips from the unwanted return guests. The ten arrive. They bring another guest. And I add a chair and a table-setting before asking “Gentlemen will it be separate checks like last night?” To my surprise the one who complained most about the prices, last night, answers, “No! It’s going to be my treat!”
They even astonish me further when they all order cocktails and ask me to get them hors d’ oeuvres with their drinks. They put my sales ability to a test. The perspiring, trying to please these eleven and taking care of my other tables, pays off. The eleven’s check is above hundred-fifty-dollars per person. My tip is an unexpected twenty percent.
Tonight’s talks at the table were “The two bidders, both Japanese car collectors, who drove some prices far beyond anyone’s expectations!” and “The excellent prices realized by the host, for two right-hand drive Rolls Royces, which he had successfully unloaded.”
My other three tables are bidders at the auction next door. They have no time to dine. They are in a great hurry to finish their pasta, steak or salad and to return to tonight’s auction.
Just before closing time the main auctioneer comes in for a glass of wine, to soothe his dry throat. He orders a bite to eat too. I ask the auctioneer “Why are there no Cadillacs or Lincolns being auctioned? Why not?”
“People drive them!” he says “They build them to be reliable transportation!”
“They are not yet collectibles.”
I understand what he says namely: We all know that collectible cars are unreliable transportation. They are not to be driven. They are just to be stored as showpieces. Little went according to my own expectations this weekend. Still, it was a great weekend. The following Monday and Tuesday are my days off. I take Biarritz out for a spin. She purrs softly and takes me safely up into the mountains. It is a very comfortable five hour trip. At Lake Tahoe, I hand her keys to a valet while I invest some of my weekend tips at Harrah*s Hotel and Casino.

by helmut schonwalder