Char­lie’s ex­pected tri­umph be­comes tale of no-go woe

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO &STATE - BEN WEaR

An­other month, and Char­lie would have made it. But now he sits for­lorn in South Austin among other dam­aged col­leagues, bruised, gashed and un­able to move. And the Candy Man mourns.

“I al­most cried when I saw it,” Harold McClung says. “It” is Char­lie, and Char­lie is his 2004 Lin­coln Town Car cab, which McClung owns and drives for Austin Cab Co.

McClung, an Austin cab­bie since 1998, had called me a few weeks ago, ex­cited that his cab was about to reach a mag­i­cal mile­stone: 500,000 miles. He told me the Ford Mo­tor Co. peo­ple were in­ter­ested in it, that this was roughly twice the road life of a nor­mal cab. Busy with other stuff, I told McClung I’d get back to him in a few weeks.

Tragedy struck be­fore that re­turn call hap­pened.

OK, “tragedy” might be hy­per­bole. But not if you’ve spent 12 hours a day and more than 300 days a year for the past six years cruis­ing around Austin to­gether.

It hap­pened at 10:15 a.m. June 30. McClung, who dubbed him­self the Candy Man on the way to his first day at truck-driv­ing school about a quar­ter cen­tury ago (the Sammy Davis Jr. song was on the ra­dio, and he fig­ured truck driv­ers had to have a han­dle), is very pre­cise about the time of

the ac­ci­dent. He and Austin po­lice dis­agree about what hap­pened next.

McClung, 48, a na­tive of Bangs, a ham­let just west of Brown­wood, said he prop­erly paused at a four-way stop in East Austin (on the way to pay his weekly $235 lease to Austin Cab) and then pulled out. The other guy, in a ma­roon Ford pickup, ran the stop sign to McClung’s left and slammed into Char­lie’s left rear.

No, say the other driver and the ac­ci­dent re­port, McClung “failed to come to a com­plete stop.”

Ei­ther way, the dam­age was done.

McClung went to the hos­pi­tal with neck and back pain, and Char­lie ended up at a tow­ing yard on Burleson Road. There’s a sub­stan­tial dent from be­hind the left rear wheel ex­tend­ing into the back door, along with a tear in the body. The frame might be bent. In­surance ad­justers are still de­cid­ing if the car is to­taled.

And the odome­ter (the car, sadly, won’t start now and re­quired a jump to get enough juice to light up the elec­tronic read­ing on the dash) sits frozen at 490,789.5 miles. Just 9,210.5 short of half a mil­lion miles. And maybe done.

“It is my love,” McClung says of the car.

He bought Char­lie when the car had only 1,600 miles on it. Got it for just $13,000 be­cause the own­ers were get­ting di­vorced. It has a huge trunk and an ex­tended back­seat area.

“I want you to have plenty of room,” McClung says.

Now, while Char­lie’s fate hangs in the bal­ance, McClung, a big, goa­teed man who fa­vors a straw cow­boy hat, is driv­ing a smaller Chevy Im­pala on loan from the cab com­pany. It does the job, but there’s no chem­istry. If the worst hap­pens, McClung said he’ll get an­other Town Car. The search, in fact, has be­gun al­ready.

We all have to move on even­tu­ally.

Ralph Bar­rera

Austin cab­bie Harold McClung had driven his 2005 Lin­coln Town Car just shy of 500,000 miles when he was in a wreck last month.

ralph Bar­rera

‘It is my love,’ Harold McClung says of his Lin­coln Town Car, which won’t start af­ter be­ing dam­aged in a wreck last month. In­surance ad­justers are de­cid­ing whether the car is to­taled.

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