“King of the Fin” is what they called me the day I arrived at the dealership. They rolled me on to a rotating stage in the center of the showroom. I watched as a crowd of people huddled around to admire me. My bright red paint and a white convertible top were hints that I was a special machine. If that didn’t give it away then stepping inside my red interior would tip off even the most dimwitted of customers. But if even that wasn’t enough to convince them that I was interstate royalty all the salesman had to say was my name, “Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz.” Top of the line – that’s me.
I know it’s wrong to be boastful but I was built with ego in mind. I saw everything with confidence through my double headlights as I watched people walk into the showroom every day to gasp at my $7,400 sticker price before choosing a cheaper sibling. I didn’t mind. I knew I wasn’t just a car. I was a commodity. The owner of the dealership felt the same way.
The owner was the friendliest person I’ve ever seen. He would greet everyone as if they were dear friends who hadn’t seen each other in a long time. A giant at over 6 foot 3 with a belly that paired his horizontal with his vertical, and he walked with a faint limp. His smoke colored hair was always neatly combed to the side and always wore identical white button up shirts. His wardrobe focused on ties and pants as he wore a different pair every day. It was rare to see him wear the same thing twice in a month.
He always had a colorful neck tie and pants that make him look like the most professional clown in the world. I remember by second month at the dealership overhearing a car salesman explain to the new receptionist that he wore colorful clothes to brighten people’s day, and it worked. Women would admire him, men would feel superior towards him, and children loved him. He was whatever customers needed him to be to get them in the right mood to buy cars. His name was Donald, but everyone called him Duck.
Winter of 1959
I had been at the dealership for nearly 3 months now and although I had met hundreds of people who wanted to buy me none of them could afford my price. Duck decided to use me as his personal car to stretch my wheels and stir up attention on the streets. When I heard the news I was excited about finally being able to turn my odometer. It only read 7 miles up until then.
It was December when I first rolled out of the showroom and felt the cold pavement on my white wall tires. The sky was gray and the previous snow storm have left the city in a slush, but I stood out like a satellite in space. A bright red convertible cutting through a landscape of gray. I loved catching pedestrians turning their heads when I rolled by at 15 mph through downtown traffic. Duck liked it too and always turned up the radio whenever a rock n roller song came on.
Duck lived in a two story house in the suburbs of town. In a neighborhood of cookie cutter houses with Chevy Nomad’s and Ford Customs parked in their driveways. I felt like royalty living among commoners cruising through these streets. Duck’s house did not match his personality. It was the biggest one at the end of the street and was built out of stone with brown shutters that made it stand out from the other yellow and white houses on the block. Duck would always park me in the garage before going inside.
At home is where I rarely heard Duck say anything, just the sound of ice circling in a glass and a TV muttering whatever happened to be on. I remember hearing that Duck’s favorite show was The Rifleman, a western series of some kind. I almost never heard his voice. As if he only reserved his good moments for work and the public eye. He didn’t even have a Christmas tree or lights.
I wasn’t aware at the time but Duck has been organizing a toy drive since October and had collected a vast amount of toys to donate. The staff at the dealership thought it would be fun if Duck dressed up in a costume and used me to drop off the toys. “Santa’s Cadillac” is what they called it. Duck beamed with delight at the idea.
On the day we planned to leave the mechanics spent the entire morning hand waxing all my chrome and red paint while three salesmen loaded my trunk with toys. There were so many that they had to place the remaining ones in my back seat. The rear window was half full with brightly gift-wrapped boxes and bags of toys. We were going to drop them off at an orphanage that was one town over – 100 miles away. I was looking forward to a highway journey. Finally, a chance to experience the open road and really stretch my wheel bearings.
Duck wore a big white beard with a plush red suit and matching hat. His feet were covered in black leather hiking boots that sang when he walked due to the jingle bells tied to his shoe laces. If it wasn’t for his green eyes Duck would probably vanish in the camouflage of my red interior. He was grinning ear to ear when he turned the key and pulled out of the dealership, just as snowflakes started resting on my hood.
The snow started to fall in greater frequently once we were on the interstate but I wasn’t worried. A couple of snowflakes weren’t enough to make all 5,000 pounds of me skid off the road. Duck laid back in the seat and used this moment to test out a new feature I was chosen to debut. He reached to the left of the steering wheel to pull on a knob labeled “Cruise Control.” I was now in control of maintaining speed. It felt awkward at first but I quickly got used to being part of the driving experience instead of just following orders.
All Duck had to do was steer while I worried about keeping us at a steady 65 mph on this empty stretch of highway.
December 24, 1959
The sun had set by the time we pulled up to the orphanage. As we circled the drive I saw a crowd of children standing out by the steps of the house. Their eyes as big as bowling balls at the sight of me rolling up, cutting through the snow, with Duck sitting pretty behind the wheel. We stopped right in front of the orphanage. Duck gave the horn a few pumps to announce my presence and the children cheered with joy as they surrounded me. Duck stepped out of the driver side letting out a booming laugh while jiggling his belly. There must have been 30 children, at least. The joy in their hearts keeping them warm as snowflakes melted on their beaming faces. Duck wasted no time in announcing he was Santa Clause and had come here specifically for them. Opening the trunk to reveal a stack of gifts. The nuns helped distribute the gifts all around while Duck sat on the steps and talked to each one. I couldn’t hear what they were talking about but each one said goodbye by wrapping their arms around Duck. I’ve never seen him so happy. Even with a cloudy white beard you could see he was smiling.
It was nearing midnight when Duck told the children he needed to go in order to start his run around the world. One little boy raised his hand and said, “Are you going to use this car?” Duck paused and answered him, “Of course son, this car can fly. That’s why it has such long fins in the back. Much faster than reindeer.” And gave the little boy a wink before letting out another belly laugh and saying goodbye while sliding into the driver seat. The drive was covered in blanket of snow. Duck decided to leave in style by giving me a boot full of throttle causing me to spin in a low speed 360 before straightening me out to leave out through the gate. The children were cheered us on until we vanished into the night.
The snow was starting to pile up as we made our way home on the dark interstate. My headlights illuminated nothing but darkness and white flakes as I sailed through each mile. Duck turned the chrome knob on the radio when Chuck Berry’s guitar riffs started playing Run Run Rodolph. Tapping this thumb on the steering wheel as we went along. Duck removed his beard and hat as he settled in for the long drive. We were still 80 miles from home. Suddenly something caught our attention.
There was a man frantically waving us down in the middle of the road! Duck pumped the brakes to slow me down and avoid a slide. I managed to ease to a stop a couple dozen yards past the man. I rumbled in a steady hum as Duck waited for the man to get to the driver side window. He was young with desperation in his eyes. “Thank you for stopping! My truck broke down and my wife is pregnant can you please give us a ride to the nearest hospital?” He said while trying not to shiver. “Yeah, let me back the car up.” Said Duck as he reached for the shifter to pull it up into reverse. I lurched backwards as I shifted into gear and began to crawl in reverse.
The truck appeared to be a Chevy from the 1930’s. It looked very tired. It told me it had a crack in the rear axle. It was unsafe to drive so it overheated to prevent them from driving off the road. The couple had no idea. The dark haired woman was in the passenger side covering herself in a blanket while holding on to her stomach. Duck and the man helped her slowly get into the front seat and the man sat next to her. All three were able to fit perfectly in my front bench seat. Soon we were back on the road.
“I’m heading into town, but I will drop you off at the hospital first.” Said Duck while brushing snow off his shoulder. “Thank you so much for stopping. I was afraid we were going to have to spend the night in the truck.” Said the woman, who was beginning to sweat and hesitate her speech. “Yes. Thank you sir. We can’t thank you enough.” Said the man as he wrapped his arm around the woman to keep her warm. Duck raised his hand as if to cut them off. “Please. It’s no trouble. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t help a fellow neighbor on Christmas? Especially dressed the way I am.” The glow from the dash was bright enough to illuminate his white teeth as he smiled. The couple chuckled with exhausted relief.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree was humming through the speakers as snow whipped around my chrome. Suddenly the woman began to groan and cry out in pain. “What’s wrong?” Duck exclaimed. “The baby. It’s coming!” The woman signed in pain. Duck looked forward. “Hang on. We’re just 60 miles from the hospital.” His foot behind to weigh down on the throttle. I responded by roaring forward gaining speed as I passed 70 mph. Then 80. 90. 95. 98. I felt Duck’s hands grip the wheel tight.
“Take it easy mister. We want a hospital not an ambulance.” Said the man as his knees locked to sustain himself and the woman carrying his soon to be born child. “Don’t worry. This sucker is planted.”whispered Duck just before the gas pedal reached the floor. I was now running wide open at nearly 110 mph hovering over the white interstate. Duck’s hands working the steering wheel like a captain on an old pirate ship.
The wind was strong enough to push me into the left lane. Duck decided it be safer to just drive in the middle of both lanes on the center line until we reached the exit to the hospital. The woman was now panting and gasping for air. Droplets of sweat ran down her cheeks, gritting her teeth in pain. The man’s eyes read nothing but fear for he was helpless in this situation. Unable to help his woman, and unable to slow down the seemingly crazed man in a Santa costume behind the wheel of a speeding convertible. All I had to do was keep my weight centered and not make any sudden movements. Straight as an arrow.
Half an hour later we were coming up on our exit. The exit ramp was curved at the end. Duck pumped the brakes hard while being careful not to lock my wheels up. I felt the rim starting to ride on the road as my weight shifted to the left into the turn. My tires were in agony from such abuse. Suddenly, my left rear wheel lost grip and started to slide out. Duck reacted by countered steering to the left and throwing his right foot on the gas while pumping the brakes with his left. Must have looked like quite the sight for anyone nearby seeing a two ton Cadillac slide sideways out of a right turn and being whipped lashed into a left turn to keep from falling off the road. I thought I was going to tip over as my weight shifted from one side to another. Duck just kept his foot down and sawed at the wheel to keep me pointed in the right direction. Tire squeals echoed as the winter air carried them. We were off the interstate, now we just needed to get to the hospital that was only a few blocks away. “We’re almost there! Hang on!” Duck shouted as the woman cried out in fear and pain.
The hospital was dead quiet when we showed up in a cloud of tire smoke and screams as Duck pulled into the emergency entrance. Nurses dressed in white came rushing out with a wheelchair to help the woman into the hospital within moments of arriving. My brakes were still hissing stream by the time they were gone. Duck signed as he dropped his head to rest on my wheel. “…Thank you God…” He whispered to himself before getting out of the driver side.
Before he could walk inside the man came out to meet him. “She’s fine. The doctors are with her now.” His face glistening with cold sweat but he looked relieved. Duck rested his hand on the man’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for scaring you folks. But I wanted her to be safe here and not on the side of the road giving birth.” The man grabbed Duck’s hand off his shoulder and shook it firmly. “I know. Everything is fine now, so thank you. You probably saved my child’s life. Who knows what would have happened if we stayed out there in the cold. I owe you everything.” Tears were beginning to fill the insides of the eyes. Duck pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his coat and offered one to the man while reaching for his gold zippo lighter.
The two men shared a moment of reflection while they stared in my direction on a bench.
“It really is a beautiful car mister.” Said the man.
“Yeah. Hellva of machine. Can’t think of another car that could have done what we just did tonight. Not like that.”
“Where did you learn to drive like that?”
“When I was in the service, overseas, there was a lake near the base I was stationed that completely froze over. Me and a couple of G.I’s drove a Jeep on to the lake and tried to see who could maintain a slide the longest before spinning out.”
The man laughed softly. “Sounds dangerous.”
“Oh, incredibility. Dumb too, but we were at war so a dip in icy water was the least of our concerns.”
“You got a point there…”
Duck inhaled a lung sized amount of tobacco. “I never got your name.”
“My name is Jose. My wife is named Maria.”
Duck chuckled. “Awfully close to Joseph and Mary. What are the odds?…” Jose turned to Duck.
“Are you a religious man, sir?”
“Please. My friends call me Duck.”
“Okay. Mr. Duck, are you religious?”
Duck stayed silent for what seemed like minutes.
“I used to be. Before the war. I’m Jewish, well, I used to be…”
“Oh… Well, forgive me for asking but why the Santa suit then?”
Duck laughed. “Just a costume. I was coming home from a charity event when I ran into you guys.”
“Ah, that makes more sense.”
Jose stayed silent. Thinking. Debating on whether or not he should satisfy his curiosity. His foot was tapping on the snow covered ground. He was anxious. Presumably about the status of his wife.
“…So Mr. Duck. Forgive me for being nosy, but what made you lose your faith?”
Duck took out a fresh cigarette from the pack and lite it before addressing Jose’s question.
“The war taught me that evil doesn’t care what religion you are. It doesn’t see color either. It just takes hold over anyone, anything, and turns them into the unspeakable. The things I saw overseas. The things I see here in my country. The hate, unnecessary injustice, the violence. It got me thinking. ‘What god, father, would allow his children to behave like this?’ There used to be a time when God would strike down evil, now it seems like he doesn’t care anymore.” He took a long drag from his cigarette. “Maybe because we killed his only true son…. I still believe, I just walked away from anything that labels my beliefs.”
“I understand how one could end up at that conclusion Mr. Duck. But, as long as there are people like you in this world. People that would stop in the middle of a snow storm to help a stranger. Then there is still light left in this dark world.”
Duck nodded in agreement but quickly turned his head down to the ground.
“True. But I’m not a good man. Just another tainted soul trying to outrun the regret of their past.” Duck started to flick the top on his zippo lighter and igniting it before slapping it shut with his other hand.
“What do you mean?”
“… I came home in ’44 from France with a shattered leg, three broken ribs, and a fractured hip. I spent months in the hospital recovering. The whole time I kept thinking that I should have been back overseas with my men, you know? Fighting. Watching their back. Not laying in an air conditioned room drinking Coke-a-cola. I was angry. A burning coal of rage sat in the pit of my heart. When I was finally out of the hospital I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t care about the wife who had waited for me while I was overseas. The father who kept a car dealership opened through the war by searching all over the country for unsold cars to fill his lot. Who sold everything he had to keep the family business a float. I was there physically but in my head I was still overseas.” Duck closed his fists tightly.
“It’s okay Mr. Duck.” Jose reached and rested his hand on the back of Duck. Duck took of deep breathe to regain composure.
“I became another burden they didn’t need. When my wife found out she couldn’t bear children it robbed her of the last bit of hope she had. She passed away in ’49 in her sleep. Of a broken heart I suspected. My father passed away the following year of a heart attack while at work. It took the deaths of the only two people I’ve every loved to make me see the errors of my ways. The selfishness of taking my life for granted. I swore I would never let that happen again. I try to help anyone I can to make up for ignoring those that needed me most.”
Jose didn’t know how to respond, but I could see the Duck was merely venting. I doubt anyone short of a life long family friend knew what he had gone through. The two men stayed quiet after that. Finishing the half empty pack of cigarettes as they waited for news on Maria while watching snow collect on my hood.
Back on the Lot
A week later I was parked inside the service shop when Duck came up to me with one of the mechanics.
“Listen Rob. I’m heading to New Year’s party tonight so tell your boys to get the caddy cleaned up. Nothing fancy just get it clean.” Said Duck while padding the side of my door.
“Yes Sir. Mr. Coleman. I’ll get Sam and Livingston on it.” Said the mechanic as he scribbled on his clipboard.
“Also, make sure you get a locker ready for a new hire. He starts on the 2nd.”
“New hire? Another mechanic?”
“Yes. A paint and body man. I met him last week. He’s young and good with his hands. Figure he can help us polish some of the turds we have on the used car lot.”
“Sounds Good Mr. Coleman I’ll make the arrangements. By the way, Lucy at reception told me that a man called asking about the Caddy. Wanted to make an offer.”
Duck stopped. “Tell Lucy the Caddy isn’t for sale. I decided to buy it myself.” Rob stopped to look up from his clipboard.
“You’re buying the Biarritz?”
“Yes sir. You can say I’ve gotten attached to the car. Considering it a holiday gift from me to me.”
Rob chuckled. “Whatever you say Mr. Coleman. It’ll be ready in front of the service department before you leave this afternoon.”
“Perfect. Thanks Rob.” Duck walked away to his office. He looked more cheerful than usual. An extra spring in his step that made his limp almost unnoticeable.
I finally had an owner, and I was glad it was Duck. I too had gotten attached to this complicated man. I wanted to help him just as he wanted to help everyone.
I was in good spirits the rest of the day while being cleaned. I was parked under the service department when Duck walked over carrying a huge box wrapped in gold wrapping paper. He carefully placed it in the rear seat where I noticed a tag taped to the box that read:
From: Your God Father, Uncle Duck
I wondered if Jose and Maria were attending the party.
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