By Dave Renner
I met my friend Chuck when we were in US Coast Guard enlisted basic training in Alameda, CA in the summer of 1969. We had no idea that we would stay in touch once we finished those intense 10 weeks of our lives.
After graduation, Chuck left the base to train as a marine science technician while I stayed there working in the Public Information Office, waiting for an opening in the Defense Information School to become a photojournalist. Neither of us expected to be stationed anywhere near each other again during the remainder of our tours of duty. But, one thing you learn in the military is, never say never.
About five months later, Chuck got in touch with me to let me know he had finished his training and was being assigned to duty in the Bay Area. He was renting a place in Oakland, just a few miles from the base. He asked if I wanted to be his roommate. Seemed like a good idea to me, so I did.
Soon after I moved in, Chuck decided he needed a fun car to mess around with on weekends. Somewhere he found a decent and inexpensive Austin Healey Bugeye (aka Frogeye) Sprite to play with. For several weekends just bombing around in it was plenty of fun. But one Friday afternoon, Chuck announced his next great idea. He was going to turn that little car into a mini command car. And I was going to help.
Chuck bought an assortment of cans of brown, tan and green paint, a few brushes and a couple of six packs of Olympia beer (Chuck was from Oregon, next door to Washington State, home of Olympia beer) and creativity broke out almost immediately. As the resident artist, I had the important job of designing a camouflage pattern. We sat down on the curb in front of the house and slathered on the paints. After a few beers the Sprite command car began to look really good to us. Watching paint dry, we finished off the afternoon and the remaining cans of Oly.
Not satisfied that the newly painted Bug looked enough like a desert rat mobile, Chuck decided the next day that the poor thing needed a machine gun to complete the effect. So he fashioned a simulated weapon out of an old wooden box and a piece of broom handle properly painted to look sinister. We duct taped the gun to the trunk rack and called it good. All that remained was for us to go on a strafing run through the neighborhood. Two big boys with a little toy went out to play.
What a great idea that was, considering those were the days of the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapping and robbing banks in the Bay Area, native American protesters invading Alcatraz, angry students occupying the administration building at Berkley, and Charles Manson and his crowd of crazies running amok who-knows-where in the rest of California. Maybe not the smartest thing to do, but an Oly haze made it seem like a good idea at the time. We completed our daring mission without being grounded and called it a job well done.
Once the novelty wore off after a few weeks, Chuck tired of his painted lady and sold it on to some other demented young fool (not me). I have no idea what became of it. After all, it was nothing but a cheap used car at the time. I sometimes wonder if it might still be stashed away somewhere in a dusty garage, patiently waiting to be restored or maybe just taken out for one more strafing run on a sunny Spring day by a couple of lads with a belly full of Olympia. I would certainly rather remember it that way.