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Akron flashback: Cruising around in a Chevy Nova

Akron Beacon Journal logo Akron Beacon Journal 6/1/2021 Mark J. Price, Akron Beacon Journal
a man smiling for the camera: Mark J. Price, Beacon Journal reporter. © Beacon Journal, Beacon Journal Mark J. Price, Beacon Journal reporter.

It’s funny the things you remember …

Research

I swear to God that the marijuana wasn’t mine.

Sure, technically, it was in my possession. I just didn’t know it was there.

It was my freshman year of college and I needed a car to commute to Kent State from Akron. Buying a new vehicle was out of the question: Tuition was expensive enough. So we found a used one in the Beacon Journal classified ads.

It was a light blue 1974 Chevy Nova, a little rough around the edges with a dented front fender and cracked dashboard, but it was good enough for a first car.

My grandmother had owned a dark green 1968 Nova with a vinyl top while my mother drove a 1972 Nova hardtop with a black-and-gold finish that Chevrolet called Midnight Bronze. The third generation had arrived.

I fell in love with the car when I first saw it, or more accurately, I fell in love when I first heard it. The stereo had an AM/FM radio, 8-track player and a power booster that could make a Juice Newton song sound like the “1812 Overture.” Sonic waves hammered my ear drums and pounded my chest. It was glorious.

The seller told us that the Nova had belonged to his 18-year-old son who had died unexpectedly a few weeks earlier. With red-rimmed eyes, the man obviously was still grieving, but he seemed pleased that another boy his son’s age would appreciate the vehicle. I don’t recall exactly how much we paid — $600 sounds about right — but we signed the paperwork and I had my first car.

You could hear that stereo blasting across Northeast Ohio in the 1980s as I celebrated the freedom to drive wherever I pleased. I took that Nova to grab a Galley Boy at Swensons, see Billy Joel at the Coliseum, catch a movie at the Ascot Drive-in, jump in fright at the Haunted Schoolhouse, enjoy a mint sundae at Mary Coyle or go cruising on State Road.

Unfortunately, I also took it to Amer’s West Hill Marathon a lot, occasionally with the aid of a tow truck, because the Nova kept breaking down. I had problems with the engine, problems with the brakes, problems with the tires, problems with the radiator. Sometimes when the car wouldn’t start, I had to use a screwdriver to jump the solenoid.

But that stereo was awesome. Whenever I heard the car making a funny sound, my first inclination was to turn up WMMS to drown out the noise.

Apparently still influenced by the disco era, I decided that the one thing that the Nova lacked was a shag carpet to decorate the cracked dashboard. I noticed a rolled-up rug in my friend Tim Ricks’ garage and his mother gave it to me.

It had a black, white and brown pattern and smelled pretty bad, so I shampooed it repeatedly and then carefully trimmed it with scissors to make it fit. 

I had the shaggiest dashboard in Akron! After the rug was installed, Tim laughingly confessed that the carpet had been stored in the garage because his dog, imaginatively named Dog, had happily (and repeatedly) used it to relieve himself.

Um, yuck. It was too late to remove it, though. Tim joked that whenever I drove around town, jealous dogs would howl for miles around.

After owning the Nova for two or three years, I decided that it needed a thorough cleaning. I shined it up at a car wash and then used a coin-operated vacuum to sweep the inside. When I removed the floor mat on the driver’s side, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There was a sealed bag of marijuana on the floor!

The Nova’s previous owner had used the mat to conceal his stash. Unwittingly, I had been driving around with it for years.

My mind raced. Had I ever been pulled over by police? Yes, I think so. And a state trooper once assisted me when my car broke down on the Ohio Turnpike. It’s no wonder that the car wasn’t immediately searched after the officer saw the shag dashboard.

In case you’re wondering, I threw the bag away. And its contents, too.

Sometimes you’ll hear about a driver’s arrest following a traffic stop. Police will find drugs hidden in the car after a routine search. The driver will protest: “I’ve never seen that before in my life!”

I’m here to tell you that it’s entirely possible.

The stereo was blasting when my Nova blew a head gasket as I drove up Memorial Parkway. One last time, I took it to Amer’s West Hill Marathon, where the mechanics grieved the loss of their cash cow. There was no repairing it this time.

Gosh, I missed that car. Especially the stereo.

We went to Thompson Pontiac in Cuyahoga Falls and bought a brand-new Pontiac 1000. The stereo wasn’t nearly as good, but at least I didn’t have to check under the floor mat.

Do you have fond memories of your first car? Feel free to share at mprice@thebeaconjournal.com or Mark J. Price, Akron Beacon Journal, 388 S. Main St., Suite 720, Akron, OH 44311.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Akron flashback: Cruising around in a Chevy Nova

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