Parking is the hassle in Manhattan, finding a legal space then fighting for it, recalling street-sweeping hours or dodging meter cops and delivery vans that buzzcut side mirrors. So if your doorman knows someone at a public garage, as Lauren Reilly’s does, and he lands you a $235-a-month deal in a town where rates approach $900, half the battle is won. It helps to pay your bill, however, a fact the cashier at this midtown garage is reminding Reilly, who’s determined to spring her car, tonight, gratis.
“C’mon,” she pleads, “I’ll pay tomorrow, please, it’s important.”
Finally he relents, and we stand with a dozen other New Yorkers awaiting their vehicles. Reilly paces in cargo-pocketed Capris, knee-high black boots with three- inch heels, and a long-sleeve T she’s designed with a prototype DeLorean silk-screened across her chest and GULLWING DOORS STAINLESS STEEL FLUX CAPACITOR ON THE FLOOR MODELS across her back. She’s a zaftig, Irish/Italian 29-year-old, with shoulder-length brown hair and a rakish smile.
“That clerk is the crankiest of all,” she sighs, “the one person who’d say, ‘No you can’t have the car.'” She pouts. “I was worried I wouldn’t get to see her.”
“Her” is Belinda, the 1981 DeLorean she bought in 2004 on eBay, for $13,000 (“I’ve put about $10,000 into her”), and who just this minute is rolling off the garage’s elevator, to the customary oohs and ahs. “Having a DeLorean is like being five percent a rock star,” Reilly says, popping the gulls. “That part gets me every time.” Except for an abrasion on its front bumper, the car looks pristine. Its plates read “New York, DELAUREN.”
“I reserved that before I bought the car,” she says, then frowns. “Belinda’s a little dirty, which is why we’re taking her to the car wash.” Reilly slides in and we slip past theater traffic toward Broadway.
“I named her Belinda after the singer, Belinda Carlisle,” she explains. “I wanted to give her an ’80s pop star name. I liked DeLoreans, from Back to the Future, and I’m into ’80s nostalgia. Part of that, of course, is my childhood.” She smiles. “Like, last night was my roommate’s 30th birthday, so we ate all this ’80s candy, like Nerds and Pop Rocks, we played all the music, like Blondie, the Go-Gos and Duran Duran, and we whipped out the Atari for Pac-Man and Pitfall. Afterward we went to Times Square for laser tag. The entire other team was 12-year-olds, who actually won. We decided we were too old to be chasing people around in the dark. We stayed there until about two, then we went to a bar until about four, then we went out for pizza. If I don’t see the sun come up, I don’t think it’s been a good night.” She swears at a taxi that’s cut her off, then adds, “That’s my philosophy on life.”
New York born, having grown up on Long Island but residing in Manhattan for the past eight years, she does quality assurance/business analysis for a Soho marketing firm. Before 9/11, she worked at The World
Financial Center in a complex that was partially destroyed. “My roommate’s building was destroyed. It was her fourth day in New York. She’d moved from Kansas. Her parents said, ‘Don’t move to New York, it’s dangerous there.’ And the fourth day, 9/11 happens.”
Here in Times Square, with million-kilowatt signs flashing and the sidewalks jammed, all that seems decades removed. “There’s nowhere I love as much as New York,” Reilly says. “I’m a night person. I like the excitement and I like that there’s always something to do.” She veers toward the Hudson. “Cruising through Times Square is one of my favorite things. It feels like you’re somewhere.”
The first day she drove Belinda, she broke down in the Square. “A cop was really nice about it. I didn’t even know how to jump her. I pulled the doors up, I had the trunk up… and people kept coming by. They thought it was a display. They’d say, ‘What are you here for?’
She exercises Belinda most weekends – on trips to Mohegan Sun, Atlantic City, Long Island, or just around Manhattan-in part to keep her battery charged. “In garages, batteries go dead. Once it took them 45 minutes to jump it, because they wouldn’t give me access. I’ve even had it die in the car wash. Which is why we’re circling now.”
At West Street, hard by the river, a sign for West Side Parkway Car Wash looms. “If I leave her for more than a week in the garage, she’s filthy-it’s the dust, the soot. Let’s check this place.” She gets out, speaks with attendants, returns. “That sounded sketchy. The office was closed, but I could pay them. I’d rather just avoid it. If something happens to the car, they might say, ‘Oh, we weren’t open.'” She accelerates up 46t-h Street. “Here’s another one. Hey,” she calls, “is your office open?’
A Middle Eastern guy answers ‘It’s close.'” Then he bargains, but Reilly shakes her head. “I’m not really that insured,” she explains. “If anything happens to the car, I pay for it.” She backs into 11th Avenue, against oncoming traffic. “That’s one reason I’m a very careful driver.”
We head toward Harlem and, we hope, car washes. Belinda runs smoothly. “Everything in this car is practically new,” Reilly says. “When I bought it, it was an absolute wreck. The windows wouldn’t roll down, the windshield was cracked, the radiator, water pump and tie rods were broken, the hoses had like molded. And every time 1 hit 55, the doors would fly open. I got really lucky driving it home. Now it’s in perfect mechanical condition.”
We dodge an enormous, accordion-waist bus. Reilly snickers. “I’ve had quite a few times when I’ve had my battery die, though. One time I drove it in the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, with all my friends dressed as characters from the ’80s or from Back to the Future. I wore a pink dress and blond wig, like Madonna from ‘Material Girl.’ We had Marty McFly on a skateboard and another guy dressed as Doc. We were the hit of the parade. But in order to play loud music, I hooked up my apartment stereo to the cigarette lighter. Bad idea. You’re in a parade, you’re not generating any power… halfway through, the whole car died. I said, ‘Everybody get out and subtly push. Pretend we’re just petting her. I’ve actually been in two parades since. My dad bought me a jumper pack for Christmas.”
Reilly’s father, a Queens Irish-American, worked organized crime for the FBI until his retirement. “He worked a lot with Mafia informants,” Reilly says. “Very freaky. He’d bring them to the house and I’d say, ‘Daddy, this guy’s a murderer!”‘ Reilly’s mother, a school teacher, is Brooklyn Sicilian. “My grandma would say, ‘There’s no such thing as a Mafia, it’s made up of lying Italians!’ She was very protective. Meanwhile, her own grandfather, in Italy, was shot in the back of the head, landing face first in his spaghetti.”
The car’s suspension is tight, and there are loud whumps with each pothole. But the sky is clear, the moon is full, and Reilly’s ebullient.
“My dad, I think I take after him. He had a convertible Mustang when he was younger. He understood my need for doing this. My mother thinks I’m insane. She hated tire idea of my buying this car. But within a week of her telling all her little friends, and them going, ‘Wooo!’ she is a bigger spokesperson for the car than I am.”
She doesn’t really need a DeLorean in New York, and the expense is great. But she insists, ‘It’s the one thing I’ve purchased that’s given me nothing but pleasure.’ I so treat it like a person. When I bought this car I told myself, ‘I’ll have it for four years and I’ll make a profit on it.’ Now I couldn’t part with it.”
As we indulge in 125th Street’s magic – its soul food restaurants, the Apollo Theater, with an elegantly dressed black woman reclining on its step for photographers, and a group of hip Muslims in silk kaftans waving at the DeLorean – Reilly speaks of the people she’s met through Belinda. “The cops are great. I was down in Philly and I wanted to park, it was about three in the morning. I saw a cop, and I said, ‘Is this a legal parking spot?’ And he said, ‘Well, no, but we’re not doing anything with that car.’ They were so excited about it, they watched it all night. One of them pulled up and on the loud speaker said, ‘One-point-twenty-one gigawatts, Mam?’ I said, ‘Oh, like I’ve never heard that before.'”
She eyes a BP station at 129th, across from the Floridita diner, and stops for gas beneath the elevated subway- which whoops, roars and rattles downtown. “This car is such a guy mag-net,” she says, opening its gas flap.
“I have never met so many as driving around in this car. They’ll run across the street to talk to me! And people will honk just to say hello. But I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh my God, there’s a girl driving it! Is this your boyfriend’s car?’ Like they don’t even believe it’s my car. There’s some sort of weird prejudice.”
The only guy here is a homeless fellow who approaches us for a handout. Reilly dodges him adeptly. “There is only one other DeLorean in Manhattan,” she says, “owned by a guy on the Lower East Side. I believe he parks it elsewhere. And there’s a woman in Arizona who’s also named Lauren. I had to convince her not to get DELAUREN as a plate. ‘I have to be DeLauren, you can’t be DeLauren.'” We pull out and she runs a red light. “It’s pink, not red.” She laughs. “I’m a much more polite driver, elsewhere. Here I’m just, ehhh.”
I have not spoken much; this is my second DeLorean ride. My first, I tell Reilly, was with a 20-something owner who’d quit his job to drive America and then write a book about it. I’m a 60-something guy, of the Rebel without A Cause generation. Back to the Future holds no resonance for me, though I do get that it’s about fine tuning the past.
“Quit his job?” Reilly says. “He deserves a lot of credit to make a change like that. I feel like my DeLorean experience is almost the opposite. It’s my last little bit of holding onto things. I want to have this crazy car once in my life, and I’m not getting any younger. This is the last time I can buy it and still be kind of young and carefree. Even now I feel a little bit silly. It’s like a big toy.”
A remark by Mike Knepper, writing for Car and Driver, has put devotees’ passions into perspective for me: “…there doesn’t seem to be a ‘standard type’ of DeLorean owner… but there is a common thread. Call it a bit of desperado, a bit of the rebel. By owning and driving DeLoreans, these people seem to be thumbing their noses at the rest of us… they don’t care what the rest of us think. The rest of us just don’t get it.”
A stench of gasoline envelops the cockpit. “I think I dripped gas on the hood,” Reilly says. “That flap is new. The other one blew off in New Jersey somewhere.”
I ask about DeLorean culture. “The popularity of the car is only increasing,” she says. “I think John DeLorean dying renewed some interest in the car, briefly. But eighties stuff is in fashion now, all those VH1 shows about pop culture… little kids will come up to me and know what it is. They wouldn’t ever have had a reason to hear of this car.” Glancing at the full moon, she looks wistful. “I’m in a nostalgia mode this weekend. It seems like the ’80s was so much less jaded a time,” she says. “Everything now is so over the top and pushed too far.” Do friends feel this way? “I’m the last year of Generation X. There was such a job slump for so long, that really poisoned people of my age. We all graduated college at the height of the market. Our careers were going to be fabulous, everything was going to be amazing, the internet was brand new, it was just that one small chunk of time. Then everything came crashing down. I think that had a lot to do with the way people feel about the future now.”
A Volvo cuts us off. Reilly mutters, “Idiot, idiot.” Then exhales. “It’s a very strange point in life, being a 30-year-old, single woman. Over the past two weeks, both my roommates just turned 30. This is the new midlife crisis. People get married later now, and they are more career oriented – but at the same time you feel like you’re missing something. You have to have your career, and you have to find a husband, and you have to have kids by a certain age.”
Is the difficulty of finding straight, eligible guys in New York still relevant? “Yeah, New York is the worst dating market. But I love it so much that I would never leave for that reason. My friend felt that she never would meet anyone in New York and had to leave. She’s in San Francisco. Which I told her is actually a worse market. All the men there are gay. Last year, a lot of my best friends moved there, and I kind of thought I was going to go with them. When I visited, one of the first things I thought was, ‘I couldn’t have my car here with all these hills.'”
So it’s worth the time and expense. “Having Belinda has definitely brought me a lot more than I thought it would. She’s like my child! And with the Mid-Atlantic club, you have a bunch of really quirky people. We have barbecues and we go on little tours. It’s kind of like a lifestyle.” She dodges a truck. “I’d never give that up, and in fact might someday buy another DeLorean.” Glancing down, “Sorry Belinda, I don’t mean that. I’ll always keep you.” Then whispering, “I talk to her.”
We’ve entered 42nd Street, having circled back to newly gentrified Times Square. A McDonald’s in a former theater, its neon-lit marquee flashing the restaurant’s name, is just ahead. We ought to drive right in, I suggest. Reilly laughs. “I used to never want to walk around here at night,” she says. “It was scary. I was afraid of the city, growing up. Now I have no fear.” We’re stuck behind a limo and idle, taking in the sights. “The last play I saw was Jersey Boys. I love the opera, dance, the theater. I’m so close, I feel like I have to see every play. I live on the same street as David Letterman’s show. He parks in my building’s garage.”
We re-enter her garage, Belinda still needing a bath, but her reception is tumultuous. Throngs of post-theater tourists point, shout, “Hey, look! It’s a DeLorean!” Reilly smiles, and recalling another grand entrance says, “My 10th high school reunion. Should have been there, should have seen her. I got all dolled up, I polished her, we arrive and the gull wing doors go up… everyone’s like, ‘Wow, who is that?’ People didn’t even remember who I was. But they could talk about nothing else the entire night.”
We hop out and as an attendant slips in, the throng converges. Reilly looks ready to sign autographs. “Like I told you, having a DeLorean is like being five percent a rock star. People buy one and sometimes they’re not prepared. If you’re a shy person, and you don’t like attention, you’re in the wrong vehicle.” She giggles. “1 had no idea it would be as bad as this.”
Story: Toby Thompson – Photos: Kevin Abato