From working at sea to working on cars

Posted on May 29 2020

David Michael Rodak poses with a 1965 Buick Century Classic that he fondly calls “Driving Miss Daisy,” after a 1989 American movie with the same name that featured Jessica Tandy, Morgan Freeman, and Dan Aykroyd. (BEA CABRERA)

Sometime ago, while driving along Isa Drive, a white and red car parked in somebody’s garage caught my attention and it was hard to unsee it. I knew it was a vintage car but I didn’t know what kind. It was a sight that you only see in television and movies these days.

Thanks to the law of attraction, I finally saw up close this shiny, beyond mint, 1955 Century Buick one Saturday afternoon at a gasoline station and thought this was my chance to meet the driver and owner. I asked him if we could talk about the car, I got a yes, and permission to set foot in the garage that I used to see from afar.

His name is David Michael Rodak. Originally from North Carolina, he has made Saipan his home for the past 10 years. I found him engaging. “I was a merchant marine and was working on the ships out there. I lived in Hawaii and my ship came here, I thought this is so much nicer and cheaper than Hawaii… not all congested. …And this beauty with me is ‘Driving Miss Daisy,’” he said, “a 66-year-old Century Buick, all original, all stock, still drives from zero to 100 miles an hour and she is mine. …I still have to take her to the next level and that is to repaint. She is still wearing her original paint and nobody makes them anymore,” he added.

The 1955 Century Buick is known as the “Hot Rod” Buick. A hot rod car back in the day is a car that has been specifically modified to give it extra power and speed. “When it came out, it cost $2,963 to own a brand-new model. …It was made to be bigger and quieter than a Cadillac. …The model name ‘Century’ was based on the car’s ability to cruise 100 mph,” Rodak said.

He said that cars and motorcycles are his passion even as a kid. “I have this mentality that if I couldn’t fix the car, then I couldn’t afford to drive the car and I didn’t own a car until I was 29 years old. I was always into Harley Davidson motorcycles and the car guys would always ask me to fix their cars, so I finally decided to get an old car or truck,” Rodak said.

He found Driving Miss Daisy on Craigslist—an American sales advertisement website— four years ago and knew that he had to have her. “I was looking for a 1952 Cadillac but found her instead. I bought it from Bill Gates’ neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. …I flew from Saipan to Seattle, took a cab to the house where it was for sale and drove it away. I drove it cross-country from Washington state to San Diego, went up Route 66 and on the east, west, south and north coasts and finally shipped it here,” he said.

At that time, he was with the merchant marines and, while waiting for his ship to pick him up, he would usually stay in a hotel room. In San Francisco, he was paying between $100 to $140 a night and sometimes he would have to be there for 30 days. “I also bought this car because it is big enough so I can sleep in it,” he said.

Rodak is now retired and spends most of his days on a couple of projects—reassembling, reviving, and re-upholstering his 1965 Corvette, Bronco pick-up, and his 1967 Harley Davidson Police Special. “I was a chief cook and baker on the ship that loved engines on wheels. My mother owned a restaurant, my father was a welding engineer, and I grew up in that environment. That’s what I know how to do and what I love to do,” he said.

“It is kind of weird to be retired because it is happy hour all the time and you can do whatever you want. …I have a bond with cars and motorcycles because we are both old, we try to take care of ourselves and wake up each morning because we are part of history,” he added.

Before ending the interview, I spotted a white dog sitting behind the line of plants as if listening to our conversation. Rodak said the dog’s name is Speedy. Speedy was in in good spirits as he approached us and I couldn’t help but notice that he was dragging his lower body.
“Speedy was hit in the pelvis by a door that had fallen when Super Typhoon Souldelor hit,” Rodak said.

As a dog lover myself, I felt sad about that but Rodak said not to worry. “He has wheels that I made and that’s why he still lives up to his name.”

I still drive by Rodak’s house along Isa Drive and I get giddy when I see Driving Miss Daisy’s hood up. I know Rodak is somewhere under, over, or inside the car, tinkering and making it better and I remember Rodak’s words. “If I can go and fix them up and maybe sell them, I will. I get to keep busy, can’t just sit down, and why stop doing something? That’s when the rust sits in and next thing you know you are in the bone yard.”

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.
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