Monday, March 31, 2008

Driving Full Circle

I bought my first car when I was a sophomore in high school. It was a 1962 Buick LeSabre convertible. It needed new canvas and a few other things, and it was an ugly blue-gray but I loved it. I picked up a friend and we'd cruise to school and pick up kids hitch-hiking along the way. Gym was my first class of the day and I used to sleep in late. When I signed in, just in time for second period, I would frequently blame a flat tire for my tardiness. The tires on the car are one of the few things I never had to spend money on. My brother and other boys in the neighborhood would ask for rides down to the plaza and I'd take them - if they first agreed to push if I ran out of gas. I think that only happened once. It was in the LeSabre that I first experienced the late night submarine races ;-)

I didn't own the LeSabre very long as it required all of my paychecks and then some to keep it running. My next car was a brand new, bright red, AMC Gremlin. I no longer had to park in the students lot, I parked right with the teachers. Nobody questioned a brand new car in the lot. A Gremlin is not a large enough car to enjoy submarine races in. It sometimes seemed that the repair shop had the car more than I did. My boyfriend needed the car to get to work early in my junior year and I was back on the bus!

I graduated at the end of my junior year. I don't remember why but before graduation I traded the Gremlin for a Chevy step-side pickup truck. It was bright orange with great white detailing. I know there is a picture of it someplace but it's hiding right now. After I married in 1977 we took the truck to North Carolina to visit my father, in the spring of 1978 I think. We agreed to bring my step-sister back to Syracuse so she could visit her father. Rain was forecast so we put all of our suitcases and other belongings in plastic trash bags before loading the back of the truck. On the beltway around Washington, DC cars started honking their horns at us. One car pulled alongside and started pointing at the bed of the truck, which was on fire! I'm sure it only seemed like the beltway was 12 lanes wide back then. We finally made it to the shoulder and my step-sister had brought along distilled water for her contact lenses that we used to put out the fire. The smoke irritated her eyes and she had to take the contacts out but we'd used all of the water. Someone had thrown a cigarette butt out their window and it landed on one of the plastic bags. I had a canvas cover made for the bed soon after we got home. This was the first of many vehicles that I would lock with the keys inside.

My husband bought himself an old, ugly brown Chrysler New Yorker. It looked just like my grandfather's car. But that was OK because I wasn't the one driving it. He talked me into trading the truck for a new bright yellow Plymouth Horizon TC3. In my memory it was a hot little car. He ended up with the new car and I drove the Chrysler because it was safer with the baby. When we divorced I was quite happy to let him have the car and everything else that still had payments. This was the first car I owned that had the high beam switch on the turn signal bar. I had to get out the manual the first time I drove the car after dark.

Not being happy with the New Yorker, I sold it and bought myself an orange Chevy Monza. It was both the best and the worst car purchase of my life. It was fun, fun, fun to drive! It was very small for putting two car seats in and a two door made it hard to get the kids in and out. It was a V-8 and had been in an accident. There was also a four cylinder model and the previous owner had used the cheaper four cylinder parts to repair it. The radiator was too small so I had to keep gallons of water in the trunk. To visit my girl friend in Rochester I'd have to take a break on the Thruway to cool it down. Eventually I had the money to replace the radiator. It needed new brakes and I couldn't afford that too, so I took my first BOCES class in auto mechanics and changed them myself. While working on the car in class I met a man and we started dating. His girlfriend was not pleased! He was soon dateless. The next drawback to the car was that you could not change one of the spark plugs unless you jacked the engine up! Who in their right mind designs something like that? It must have been Cupid because John and I met just minutes after I had dropped the car off to have it done.

For our first date John picked me up in his old Dodge Dart. The car's fenders were literally held together with duct tape! He told me he had just had a fender bender in front of the park that I lived in. I was more than a bit hesitant to get in that car. It was March and the heater didn't seem to work either, forcing me to snuggle up close to him to stay warm. We kept that car for several years and called it the dump car as it was only driven on Saturdays to go to the transfer station.

What I didn't know on that first date was that he had ordered a 1982 Cutlass Ciera Brougham. That was one of the prettiest cars we ever owned. It was burgundy red with a cream color vinyl top. It had all leather interior and power everything. He must have really trusted me because he let me take it within a week of getting it. I felt like I'd just won the lottery driving such a fancy car!

While we were still dating I replaced the Monza with a much more practical, dreary tan color, Plymouth Duster. A very used Duster. The engine didn't last as long as the payments did. So John picked up another one that had a good engine but other problems and we found a mechanic to make one car out of two. I really don't have any special memories associated with the Duster.

After we were married in 1984, I generally drove the Cutlass and he drove the Duster :-)

In 1987 we bought the first of the two Dodge Grand Caravans that I would drive. We took family trips to Ontario and Florida. I was now a full time mom so I used the van running my kids and their friends to wherever they had to go. John now drove the aging Cutlass. We moved to Akron, NY in 1989 and the vans then saw lots of travel back and forth on the Thruway. (We no longer needed the Cutlass because John now had a company car.) All three of our kids learned to drive in the vans. The second van moved back to Central New York with us in 1995. They weren't fun to drive, they had no style but they were practical and served us well.

In 1997 we bought a new 1996 Cutlass Ciera. This one was not nearly as pretty as it's predecessor. I don't know what was up with the color but in daylight it looked blue and at night more green. (My son used the van to get to school and work so we had that for quite awhile too. He finally killed it and we donated it to charity.) It was in this Cutlass that Mom and I made her last trip back home to Michigan. It was the only trip we ever took together, just the two of us. On the way home I got turned around not once but twice (something I never do!) and both times we saw hot air balloons. Mom loves to chase balloons, so we did.

A few years later John and his brother worked out a swap and we traded the Cutlass for an Olds Alero. Driving was fun again! OK, it was an automatic but it held the curves well. I drove the car to mother's weekend at Wells one year and took my daughter and her friend out to dinner in Ithaca. I think this was the only time my daughter was frightened when I was behind the wheel. In 2002 we found out that we were being transfered back to Western New York. My daughter's car was on it's last legs so we gave her the sporty little Alero.

John now drives a 1999 Ford Taurus that our son-in-law picked up for him at auction. It has close to 100,000 miles but now that he's retired he doesn't put many miles on it. Hopefully we'll trade it in for something new in a year or two.

I drive a 2002 Buick LeSabre. It isn't fun to drive but it is oh, so very comfortable. We have taken it to Tennessee and Florida several times. It will forever be remembered for my one and only accident. It also has close to 100,000 miles and is starting to have some minor problems but I'm hoping to get a few more years out of it. It certainly isn't as big as my 1st LeSabre but it is much more reliable and gets surprisingly great gas mileage. I'll be driving it to Michigan in less than two weeks!

1 comment:


Your retrospective on cars made me smile - I particularly liked your comments on your AMC Gremlin - it reminded me of something one of my high school friends would have done. (It's why we were friends - I needed her boldness and she - well I'm not sure what she needed with a wimpy friend - my warped sense of humor?)

Thanks for sharing - although I still don't get everybody's obsession with cars. You put your key in and it goes or it doesn't!