Nobody seems to be able to agree on the exact definition of a millennial.
Having been born in the early 1980s, by most — but not all — definitions, I am a millenial. Nevertheless, I find myself with a leg in both worlds. I remember a time before the internet. I remember paying for long distance. I remember having to buy a calling card to call my long-distance high school girlfriend.
Unlike your stereotypical millenial, however, I could not wait to get my driver’s license.
In Connecticut, where I was living at the time, you could get your permit at sixteen. Which I did. On my actual birthday. To get your license, you needed to either enroll in driver’s ed and wait 4.5 months, or eschew formal driver’s education and wait six months. At that point, you could take your driving test at the local DMV. My high school didn’t offer driver’s ed, and I did not opt for the program run by Sears (yes, seriously).
Thus, at around sixteen years and seven months, I scored a driver’s license. I was finally on the road to adulthood. I was finally able to exert some amount of control over my own life.
One evening, shortly after getting my license, I returned home from a friend’s house. I came home at a reasonable hour, and approached my driveway. Our house had a very steep drive that would cause slight concern for your average family sedan, and great concern for an average sports car.
On this particular evening, sitting at the bottom of the drive, in the dark, was an even darker, black, Ferrari F355. As soon as I saw it, I knew who was visiting.
My parents had some friends that had really gone places. We all lived in the generally unremarkable small town of New Fairfield, Connecticut. Despite a population of around 10,000 people, we had a few notable residents. Until his unfortunate passing, my parents were quite close with the man who coined “Pepsi Generation”, for example. But surprisingly, it wasn’t his Ferrari — he preferred Jaguars. The Ferrari instead belonged to Jimmy Galante.
Jimmy was a larger-than-life fellow. He owned Automated Waste Disposal, a trash collection service in the neighboring “big city” of Danbury. Being of Italian descent, and in trash disposal, in a town that neighbored New York state and a mere hour from the outskirts of New York City, we always chuckled about Mr. Galante. But we never really suspected anything.
Nonetheless, I came waltzing in, as only a cocksure sixteen year old can, and told Jimmy I liked his car. Without batting an eye, he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride.
In my 36 years, this is the only time I’ve ever been offered a ride in a Ferrari. You bet your ass I said “yeah, sure!”.
The next thing I knew, I was on the road in Jimmy’s Ferrari. Our neighborhood was just off a mostly-straight, nearly two mile stretch of road. Jimmy took me down that road, mostly behaving himself. Despite it being a rather pedestrian journey, nothing is pedestrian when you’re in a quarter million dollar Italian sports car.
We made chitchat, as much as a sixteen year old can with an extremely successful business mogul who owns a Ferrari. I remember being at the Galante’s not too long before, and noticing that in their garage, Mrs. Galante had the enviable burden of choosing between a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Jaguar XK8 convertible, and an E46 BMW M3. Note that this is just Roseanne; Jimmy had his own stable as well. And a race team to boot.
As we chatted, he asked me about taking my test, and whether or not I knew how to drive a stick. I proudly told him I had in fact taken my driver’s test in my Dad’s Saturn SL2, which was a five speed.
At the end of the road, Jimmy turned the car around, pointing it back toward my house. But just as he completed his turn, he stopped dead in the middle of this not-seldom-traveled road. He opened his door, unbuckled his seatbelt, and stepped out of the car. As he did so, I heard him say something over his shoulder, but I only caught two words. It was the two words that matter.
With considerable trepidation, I climbed out of the passenger seat. With a quickness, I jumped into the driver’s seat. I buckled up, adjusted the seat a bit, depressed the clutch, and slotted the gated shifter into first gear. Immediately, I noticed that the pedals in the Saturn were arranged like country houses to the Ferrari’s row houses. There must have been space between the pedals, but it was indistinguishible.
I very gingerly let off the clutch, opening the taps of the Ferrari’s V8 ever-so-slightly. I was quite lucky, as I was able to successfully launch the car with nary a bog nor a chirp of the wheels.
Before long, I had executed shifts into second, and third, and was cruising down this 45 MPH road. I felt like a million bucks. We continued to talk on the cruise home, with my responses coming late and disjoint; I was quite distracted. Eventually we had a beat or two of lightly uncomfortable silence. It was then that Jimmy asked a question, which took me a moment to process:
How fast do you think we’re going?
Having only been driving for a few weeks at this point, I wasn’t sure, but I was confident I was keeping it to within ~10 MPH of the limit. I stammered, with no confidence, “Not too fast, I don’t think…?”, and then looked to verify my assertion.
I got distracted by the prancing horse shown in the speedometer.
Once I regained my composure, I looked at the speedometer more closely. My speed was indicated to be 70 MPH. In a 45.
No part of me could believe that. I felt like I was crawling.
Turns out, Ferraris handle their speed better than Saturns do.
We made it back safely, with an increased awareness of my speed through the remainder of the trip. Jimmy was a great sport about it all. He knew that 10 minutes of his time would lead to a memory that I’d cherish for a lifetime.
He was right. Here I am, literally twenty years later, retelling it, publicly.
It was a hell of a night. And a hell of a kind gesture from a man who owed me precisely nothing.
Fast forward a few years, and I’m in college. Suddenly, I hear the name Galante being talked about again. Which is weird, because I wasn’t at UCONN or some local school. I was nearly 600 miles away in southwest Virginia. Yet, I was hearing the name of not only Jimmy, but his son, AJ.
As it turns out, AJ — then a senior in high school — was now the general manager of the Danbury Trashers, a minor league hockey team that Jimmy had just purchased. This was quite the amusing story to many, including ESPN; it briefly made national news.
Nonetheless, I didn’t hear much more about Jimmy for a couple years. Until the [is-it-really-though?] unexpected happened: Jimmy was indicted for running his businesses dirty, in association with the Genovese crime family. He was charged with, among other things, racketeering.
Jimmy ended up serving some time in prison. While that isn’t surprising, it is a little odd for me to square that Jimmy with the one that let me take his Ferrari for a spin. In the dead of night.
All of these memories came flooding back to me today because my mother pointed me to an article chronicling the rise and fall of the Danbury Trashers. It’s a fun and fascinating read, but it’s doubly weird for me, as I knew at least some of the players. Beyond the Galantes, a dear family friend of ours, a woman my age, spent some time working for Jimmy and the Trashers when they were still around.
What an odd web life weaves.
Regardless, if you want to hear about a shrewd businessman who made some parenting choices many would consider suspect, read Rich Cohen’s article. But do remember the family friend, who did a punk kid a solid, just for the hell of it.
And if you’d like to hear me retell it verbally, there’s always Neutral.