Local icon Tim Rumsey walked to work most days from 1987 to 2000. He began as a form of exercise but kept at it for his love of local lore harvested through his interactions with people on the street. He began documenting his musings and eventually filled 53 pocketbooks with his observations. He continues writing about his observations to this day. Here is just one tale.
By Tim Rumsey, MD
May 4, 1999 Carl “Mr. Positive” Bentson has a new, silver three-wheeler bicycle with a beige awning. He was putting lights on it when I passed by this morning.
I asked him, “How many lights?”
“One-hundred twenty,” Carl said.
“How many batteries a month?”
“Two hundred, twenty-five.”
Carl isn’t the lightning bug of West 7th for nothing.
Carl is surrounded by light. Father John Clay and Pastor Walt Witzke say he is all light. All goodness.
The outside of Carl’s house is a 24-hour smorgasbord of holiday lights at any one time. Changing colors, like changing seasons – Christmas, sure. Halloween, Thanksgiving. Easter. Armistice Day. Joan of Arc’s birthday.
He has big-beam lights on his lawnmowers and blowers. We know about his bicycle. It’s a movable shrine. He even has red and orange reflectors sewn into his green highway work vest. Then there’s the crowning touch of the searchlight on his helmet. Carl is light.
May 8, 1999
On the way home tonight, Carl was sweeping his front steps. He called out to me asking how my Ford Bronco was.
“OK,” I said. “It’s getting old.”
“1974,” Carl said. “V-6.”
“How can you tell the year? They all look the same to me.”
“I know,” said Carl. “Automatic or shift?”
“Shift,” I responded.
“Better gas mileage.”
Carl has never driven a car. He’s a bike rider. And in West 7th he could walk wherever he wanted to go, anyway. Coopers. St. Stans. Mancini’s. The clinic.
But Carl lived, breathed and dreamed cars. He knew everything about every car ever built. Everything. Model years, costs, colors, engine sizes. That was a given. He knew wheel-base lengths, gas mileage, tire sizes, discontinued models and models on the way. He hung out at car shows and dealerships, rallies, and parking lots. He could smell the make of a car, and not just when it was new.
“Media” Mike Hazard believes that in a previous life, Carl could have been a car.
May 12, 1999
At 3 a.m., a purple 1976 Plymouth Duster with shiny, baby moon hubcaps traveling down St. Clair at 80 miles per hour jumped the curb at Carl’s, blew through his wood-rail fence and climbed the front stairs of his house before partially lodging itself in Carl’s living room. Perhaps the driver’s alcohol anesthetized state saved his life. Although Carl later said it was the 409 cc engine and reinforced steel frame.
The driver was ambulanced to United Hospital.
Police photos were taken.
You could almost make out a cartoon-like imprint of the Duster into the front, right wall of his house.
At 3:15 a.m., Carl was outside in his pajamas and green highway vest inspecting. His conclusion: “The car is no good anymore.”
Carl was fired up. He talked to the police and the wrecking crew, and any rubber-neckers who stopped for a look.
I do believe Carl was disappointed when they braced up his house and extracted the Duster.
West 7th All-Star cab driver William “Texan” Dubois was not impressed when he heard the story. Just another testosterone, alcohol and petrol tale. He did allow that Carl’s automotive magnetism probably drew the vehicle in.
May 14, 1999
Up ahead, coming downhill on my side of St Clair near 35E, I see Carl on his three-wheeler. Even though it was only early evening, he was all lit up and twinkling. He slowed down to talk.
Just then, a rusted-out, big green old Buick burped and listed down St. Clair toward Carl and me. Its right front headlight was blinking on and off. You could smell it as it slowly passed.
“Now there’s a piece of crap car,” I said to Carl.
“Not bad,” Carl replied. “A little.”