Jacked-Up Cars and All That Jazz

Source: google.com via Sara on Pinterest


I’m not so old to have any first hand knowledge of bootleggers and gangsters in America. My parents aren’t even that old. But my teenaged daughter, well, that’s a different story.

For several months now, she’s been a part of a world of prohibition and prostitution, murder and mayhem. A typical high school experience? Why, yes. The culmination? This weekend’s production of CHICAGO, THE MUSICAL

It was an amazing show with a cast of talented singers, dancers and actors, but it was the cast party that motivated me to write this post. Parents of cast and crew were invited to join their children to celebrate this evening, after the final show. While the kids gathered in one part of the house, the parents mingled in another.

My husband and I were standing with another couple, whom we know but only as acquaintances. As we chatted, we covered all the basic questions: do you have other kids? where do you live? where did you grow up? I don’t know about you, but when I ask these questions in a social setting, I’m interested in hearing the answers but I don’t expect to learn anything too exciting. Two kids, live in Massachusetts, grew up outside Baltimore. That’s MY fascinating story.

But we lucked out tonight. The man beside me not only grew up in Chicago but came from a family of serious bootleggers. He talked about how they brought the liquor down from Canada and how the longest street in Chicago bears his family’s name (hope I got that right. I admit to having a glass or two of wine by the time he told this story.)

As I let my thoughts  drift away from the conversation at hand and I found myself lost in my imaginings of the life of this man’s relatives, dramatized by my mind’s ability to take all that I’ve heard from others or seen on stage and screen or read in books or school and mix them all up and elevate them to the level of high melodrama, I heard something that brought me back to reality: my husband’s voice.

The surprise wasn’t that my husband was speaking; he’s a pretty conversational guy. The surprise was that he was telling these people a story about his grandfather that I had never heard. I obviously don’t know everything that he has ever heard or seen or done, but after almost 30 years together (we were 18 on our first date), I figured I was privy to most of the juicy stuff.

He spoke of his grandfather who grew up in the American South. My husband has always been into cars, so when he was still a teen, his grandfather thought he’d be interested to know about how bootleggers in the South found that by changing the suspension on their cars, they were able to put a whole lot of liquor in their trunks without causing the cars to drag down in the back, which would have made it obvious to the police that something, most likely contraband booze, was being smuggled over state lines to be distributed illegally. He also told of how they had a way of setting up a valve that bypassed the muffler, allowing the car to move faster, which they could activate if they found themselves being chased by the authorities.

In the case of the altered suspension, once the booze was delivered, the cars returned home, tail ends raised high because there was no longer anything in the trunk to hold it down. And those cars with the bypass valve open made a loud engine noise.

Hmmm. Jacked-up tail ends and engine noise that can make you go deaf. Does that make you think of anything?

From what I gather from what my husband remembers from his long dead grandfather’s stories, the bootlegger’s car was the inspiration for the hot-rod cars of past and present day. There is an element of danger driving a car that could have been used to smuggle contraband liquor during Prohibition. Who better to have others compare to you than those crazy bastards who dared to break the law in a huge way to stockpile a load of extra cash?

As a teenager, I was never interested in those guys who showed off, driving around in noisy cars with their back ends jacked up in the air. At least, I pretended not to be interested. Like most men often can’t help but turn and watch a long-legged, long-haired blond woman swish by, I can’t help but turn and stare when a man revs his car engine and zooms away, car tail up in the air.

Before, I thought it was the volume of the noise that made me look, but now I wonder if some deep-seated cultural memory boils up at the vroom-vroom sound and a small part of me that I’m not even sure I know very well is seduced by the animal magnetism of the he-man who spends his days putting himself at risk of peril.

Or maybe it’s just that it’s too loud. And all that jazz.

Source: google.com via Sara on Pinterest


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12 thoughts on “Jacked-Up Cars and All That Jazz

  1. Sara, that is a jazzy story. I wish I’d picked my grandfather’s brain more when I had the chance. What a cool memory for your husband.
    You never know where a cool tidbit will come from. Recently, at a small town inn, speaking with the owner I learned there were, once upon a time, tunnels that led to the brewery, and other places in town. the tunnels are sealed now, but the wine cellar at the inn still had the door. And, the owner was kind enough to show me.

    1. I love learning those kinds of tidbits. Where I went to college had tunnels underground which were once used regularly. =By the time I got there many were blocked off but kids still knew how to break through the locks and get through much of the underground maze. Wish I understood why they existed beyond keeping warm on cold days.

  2. Oh, man, coolest blog I’ve read today! What a cool story! I never knew any of that. I’ve always been fascinated with that time period, though. I should really read more about it than I have. I can’t imagine a world without alcohol, lol. I so would have been one of those hot little flappers hanging out at the speakeasies, drinking wine brought in by one of those Jacked-up cars.

    PS – I hated those guys that thought they were so cool with their jacked-up cars. Still do! LOL But I guess back in the 20’s, I would have hooked up with one of them instead of turning up my nose!

    1. Thanks, April. The 20s are a fascinating time period. I should also read up more on that time. If I can ever find the time. 🙂

  3. Fascinating story! How cool to learn a new anecdote from your husband. The 20’s are intriguing to me, too. Must read more on it.

    1. It is cool to learn something new from somebody you know so well. My husband is a repository of stories that are so different from the stories I know. Maybe that is part of why we work well together. Hmmm.

  4. I’d love to hear the continuing story after you got home. There must have been a lot more questions from you, and interesting answers that he shared. Great story.

    1. Thanks Cora. We’re very good at leaving a subject and then returning to it days or weeks later. That night when we got home, he worked and I wrote a blog post and then we went to bed. One day soon, I’m sure I’ll come at him with some more in-depth questions.

So what do you think?