Saturday, September 21, 2019

Remembering Cars

I remember as a young child not liking the narrow pointy cars designed in the early 1970s.  They seemed aggressive somehow.  I associated them with crime, and Pall Mall cigarettes, possibly the worst-smelling cigarettes ever sold. Pall Malls--the putrid smoke, acrid on breath, the sour stink of stale sick.  Reckless men drove narrow pointy cars too fast through hairpin turns, inevitably losing control, plunging over a cliff, and landing upside down in rocky surf.

I found well being in the VW Rabbit, a tiny, boxy car that boasted high mileage. Its owner might be male or female, a gender neutral car.  The vulnerability of such a thin-skinned vehicle required a defensive driver.  A peaceful, harmless car.

Before I was born, my parents, newly wed, owned a Jaguar.  Great fun to drive, when it would go, but impossible to maintain.  They replaced it, when I was a toddler, with an off-white VW bug.

In his early twenties, my father raced motorcycles.  A large plastic Yamaha sign covered a hole in the wall of the dining room, a fireplace without mantle or frame.

Dad crashed his motorcycle while racing in Daytona.  He dislocated and ripped open his massive right shoulder.  That was the end of racing for him.

In their mid twenties, my parents owned a white van.

When my mother left, at 29, she didn't take the van.  She took a ride with friends.

Her first car in her new life was an ancient green Volvo station wagon with white fiberglass fenders.  I had never seen anything like it.  I hated it.  It was appalling.

My father continued to drive the van while we had a Saint Bernard.  After she died, he bought a beige Honda Accord with beige interior, a model he would drive throughout his forties.

My mother bought a series of lemons, which broke down whenever we tried to go away for the weekend.  Her VW Microbus broke down in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania while the nuclear power plant at Three-Mile-Island was actively leaking contaminants.

When I was 15, Mom finally bought her first new car, a Datsun B210.  It was small, indifferent to ergonomics, utterly manual, but low gas mileage and totally reliable.  A little more pointy than I would have liked.  Light blue, but gender neutral.

I learned to drive the Datsun B210 and the Honda Accord, both stick-shift.

I had to reverse out of my mother's driveway into congested two-lane traffic, across from  C&L Liquor's.  At the top of the hill, I had to stop for the traffic light, teetering on the accelerator, cars behind me, cars in front, sweat pouring down the back of my knees as if I were trying to speak French.

I remember driving on the highway in the Honda with my Learner's Permit, blood pressure rising through the roof.  Begging Dad to let me pull over.  He insisted I drive on.

In the midst of my lessons, my Golden Retriever was struck by a car on Lynn Shore Drive.  He died.  It was my mother's birthday, December 14.  I didn't drive again for a year.  No one asked me to.

For my senior prom, my date, one year younger than me but the handsomest, sexiest man I ever  saw,  picked me up at my father's house in a 1957 Chevy Bel Aire. Black with round fenders (my father said out loud they looked like a C cup) and fins.

It was a gangster car.  Al Capone. Uzi out the back window.  John Dillinger might have fled to Wisconsin from Chicago in this car.

Between the prom at a yacht club in Saugus, and the after-prom in the high school gym, my date's Chevy Bel Air sputtered out, and we switched to my father's Honda.  Though it was a beige Accord, my date smiled with approval as I deftly maneuvered the stick shift.

I paused for a gathering of pigeons in a parking lot.

"You can't hit a pigeon," he said.  I accelerated, and hit one instantly.

"Huh," he said.  "I guess you can."

Such was my luck, for good or ill. Normally, running over a pigeon would have ruined my day.  But I was living out the fantasy of a hundred hours in Algebra.  I could not entertain regret.

It was morning when I drove him home. His driveway backed up to the same busy road as my mother's driveway.  So, I was in my element.

Over the stick shift of a beige, gender-neutral hatchback, the engine revving for the tail fins of a 1957 Chevy, my date leaned over from the passenger's seat and kissed me once and twice.

"Sweet dreams," he said, closing the door behind him.

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