“Hot, Fresh, & Cheezy”
In January 1991 I had just lost my beloved 1959 International ½ ton pickup to a snapped axle on Snoqualmie Pass. By then my wife had graduated from WSU and moved back to Seattle; I was one year behind her. My only transportation in Pullman at that point was a choice of motorcycles – my Honda CB550 or her 250 Rebel which was still on The Palouse. Outside of The Bookie I saw an ad for a $100 car; from that ad a friend and I got an idea to share a vehicle to deliver pizza on different nights of the week. All told, this car would rack up 35,000 miles in 15 months, and it made a ton of money for whoever sat behind the wheel.
Pizza Pipeline offered us a larger cut of the profits if we painted the company colors on my own car. While I don’t recall exactly how the idea came up to put the teeth on, I do recall that the original name – which got nixed by the shop owner as unprofessional – was “Pie Shark.” The innuendo was all wrong, so the “Food Shark” it became.
Food Shark’s teeth and racing stripe were painted on the car in a WSU parking garage while the outside temperature was hovering around 20 degrees F. Obviously the paint didn’t stick too well in that chill, so it was repainted in May after the weather improved. Typical gas mileage for the Food Shark was around 11mpg when delivering, and 18mpg on the road. The Food Shark needed very little to be dependable. I gave it regular oil and coolant changes, did a tune up, u-joints, tires, and true dual exhaust (no emissions testing in rural Washington). It only stranded me only once, when the electronic ignition gave out ($12 fix).
The “Shark” Concept proved to be popular and profitable. During the first part of the year, friend Paul and I shared the Food Shark and traded off evenings delivering as we had planned. In May he purchased his own Shark – another Cutlass, this one a 1976 – for $50 and drove it home on bad brakes after the City Of Pullman threatened to tow it. Paul repaired the second car, painted it with the obligatory teeth and stripe, and dubbed it “Shark Tooth.”
Oddly, Shark Tooth got horrendous mileage and averaged a dismal 7mpg while delivering pizza.
The Sharks were loved and hated equally in Pullman; as we drove around, children would smile and wave while public safety officials would stare and glare. With the racing stripes and the shark’s teeth, the cars cut a very high profile when on the road. This worked to a financial advantage for Pizza Pipeline but worked against the people driving them, as we were watched very closely by the local authorities. While I tried hard to stay within the law, I still managed to rack up 3 or 4 traffic stops and one messy court date. Paul drove Shark Tooth hard and was pulled over often.
In the Spring of 1991 I had attached the front license plate above the driver’s side headlights, in an attempt to keep the plate from coming off the bumper every time I entered a parking lot. I had considered mounting it with zip ties on the grill, but it covered too much and would have caused the car to run hot. I then consulted the Revised Code Of Washington and determined that I could move the plate from the bumper to the upper panel and still be within requirements. Code indicates that the front license plate on a Washington vehicle should be mounted level in such a manner that it can be read “left-to-right” at all times. It says little else, other than indicating the maximum height from the ground (I was within limitations here as well). Mounting it above the headlights was admittedly in a gray area, because top-to-bottom angle was extreme; I asked the Pullman Police Department if they had a problem with it, and they said “no.” Then one summer day, on the lonely way home on Highway 26, I was pulled over by the Washington State Patrol because the trooper didn’t like how the plate was mounted on the Shark. After I showed why I had mounted it in this manner, indicated what Code I had consulted, and that I had spoken with my local enforcement, he tried to cite me for drunk driving (I hadn’t been drinking at all). This incident is one of the contributing factors to my current status as an occasional drinker, and never when I am going to drive somewhere.
My favorite memory of the Sharks involved an impromptu session of Front Bumper Scrummage; I was coming back to the pizza place in the Food Shark as Paul was leaving in Shark Tooth. We then went bumper to bumper and pushed each other around for a while. I won, presumably because my car cost $100 and his cost $50.
I retired the Food Shark from pizza delivery in December 1991 after graduation from college, using it as work transportation after that. I removed the Pizza Pipeline lettering & logos and replaced them with the simple door inscription “For Recreational Use Only.” In April 1992 – knowing the Shark would never pass the stringent emissions test for the area – it was sold to my brother in law, who promptly parted it out. Paul drove Shark Tooth until 1993 and then traded it in for a new Geo Storm.