Wednesday, January 31, 1996
Potholes hold profits for Hubcap Daddy

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Real men don't lose hubcaps. They blame their better halves.

''Ah, my wife, ah, was driving on, ah, Columbia Parkway. Yeah that's where she was. And she hit a pothole. A chunk of blacktop flew up and, ah, cracked a hubcap on our Lincoln town car.''

A fleshy man named Ralph is doing the talking. Red-faced and nervous, he's explaining why he bellied up to the counter of Hubcap Daddy in Carthage.

Dale Cooper - Hubcap Daddy himself - just lets him talk. In eight years of running this shop - ''it's not the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but it's a living'' - he has heard it all. He knows this is ''prime time'' for tall tales and hubcap sales.

Winter is his busy season. When the weather's rotten, the potholes are deep. That makes the hubcaps fly off and his sales soar. Rather than spend $50-$60 for a new cap, drivers go to Hubcap Daddy where they can get a used one for half price.

''The potholes are hungry this winter all over town,'' he says after Ralph leaves. ''You're just riding along and Boom! They take a bite. And, your hubcap's gone.''

By and large, potholes are not very discriminating diners.

''You can't say they eat more caps from foreign or domestic cars,'' says Hubcap Daddy. ''If they're hungry and you hit them, they'll eat.''

To hear his male customers tell it, potholes know who's in the driver's seat. Threading his way past stacks of disc-shaped merchandise, Hubcap Daddy says: ''It's either the wife did it, or the mother or the girlfriend.''

Just outside the store, Eric West taps a rubber mallet on his Buick's four hubcaps.

''Got to make sure they're on tight,'' he says. ''My fiancee lost this one.''

He points to the driver's side front tire and taps the hubcap. Thunk!

''Don't want to lose another.''

Thunk!

Without any prompting, he talks about his recent loss.

''I was sick. She was driving my car in Walnut Hills. She was running some errands for me and hit a pothole. The hubcap was gone.

''I can't get upset. Got to keep it to myself. She was helping me out.'' Thunk!

Inside, Selena Stripling is fessing up. She lost a hubcap to a pothole on Kirby Road.

''I missed it the first time I drove by,'' she swears. ''The next time, it was raining hard and I swerved. But I hit it.''

In an instant, her silver 1992 Eagle was hubcap-challenged. And, the woman behind the wheel felt she was driving a car that was ''undone.''

She likens it to ''going out partially dressed. That's tacky. So, I got to get my naked wheel covered.''

Hubcap Daddy goes to work. Stepping over two sleepy guard dogs, Spot and Frowzy, lumped under his counter, he disappears down an aisle between floor-to-ceiling shelves of hubcaps.

He passes the metal caps with their gleaming chrome finish. He walks under two vintage hubcaps - one from a 1956 Olds with little Saturns orbiting its center ring, the other a cone-shaped art-deco beauty from a 1936 Hudson - hanging from the ceiling. He's after a plastic cap. Not red. Not white. But standard silver gray.

Hubcap Daddy reappears with one for an Eagle. Using the cuff of his jacket sleeve, he whipes the dust from the cap's chrome-plated rim.

''Hey, that's probably mine!'' Selena says. Hubcap Daddy smiles and says:

''It will be . . . in a minute . . . if you buy it.''

Sold! One hubcap!

He asks her if she wants it installed. She looks down at her spotless coat, her polished high heels and demurely says, ''Yes, please.''

Walking to the Eagle, Hubcap Daddy notes: ''You always ask the women customers if they want you to put it on.

''Men, you never ask. You don't want to step on their toes. It's a manly thing. All men want you to think they can put their hubcaps on.''

They just don't want to admit their driving can knock them off.