We’re passing out awards here today for the deserving cars from our youth. If you managed to go through your teens unscathed by the character-building experience of watching your friend climb in her shiny barely used Bonneville while you repositioned the duct tape on your Ford Escort station wagon fender so it wouldn’t fall off when you slammed the door, good for you. I, on the other hand, took a class from The School of Humility, and you know what? I’m glad. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t drive my car and feel like the coolest person on the planet when I push the window button…and the windows go down–what?!
There’s a few rules I gathered from years of driving character-building cars to make those years easier, and I’d like to share them with you today.
Name Your Car
Clunkers are automatically cool when you name them. Personify them with characteristics and talk about them like they are human. Inherited your grandpa’s boat a.k.a. Crown Victoria? She’s Big Marge, and she never starts the first time you try because she’s lazy and likes to make decisions on her terms. Also, she’s done with men. I often chose names that started with “The” for my cars because it worked for The Terminator and The Godfather.
Master the “That’s funny, I can’t find my car” Confused Shuffle
Leaving Happy Hour with a crowd of work friends and feeling a little embarrassed about the piece of junk you’re headed to in the parking lot? Pretend you can’t remember where you parked it, and shuffle around the parking lot “searching” until everyone has driven away. Look confused. If someone offers to drive you around until you find it, smile and shoo them away: “This happens all the time. You know me. Head in the clouds, ha ha ha. I’m good, you go on–I’ll find it.” This happened to me on many occasions.
Take It To the Moon.
At some point, the whole “I’m embarrassed of my car” thing is going to get old, and you’ll eventually stumble into some real confidence, finally able to proudly own the uniqueness of a busted up box-on-wheels that smells like cheese. At this point, pretend your car is a rare gem and accessorize it Vegas style. Hang dice on the rear view mirror. Buy the gold chain license plate holder. Search the Internet for a hood ornament that sends a message of power and class, possibly this one. Purposely valet park everywhere you go and throw your keys to the attendant with a wink and say, “Take care of her, she’s special.” My dad does this with his 1994 LeBaron convertible which we all call The LeBenz because he thinks it’s a Mercedes. He cranks dance music up really high when he drives it–with the top down, of course–and waves at all who pass as if they wish they were him.
Now with no further ado, I’d like to pass out the awards to the three cars of my youth that helped shape who I am today. I dug through some old photo bins in search of pictures to illustrate these cars but found nothing. Brett, on the other hand, leaped at the chance to offer his old photos because he basically has a small suitcase packed with nothing but faded photos of all the cars he owned in his youth–and he owned a lot. Cars were important to him. He posed like Knight Rider next to his cars for photos.
I was beginning to wonder why I didn’t have any pictures of me standing next to my old cars until I realized maybe it’s because when you’re driving a teal Ford Escort wagon with two missing hubcaps and the fender strapped on with duct tape, you’re not like, “Hey Dad, will you take a picture of me in my bathing suit next to my car?’
Sweet Pea – After my parents divorced, my mom and siblings and I moved in with a pastor’s family. Eventually we all moved together to a big home out in the country where several families from our church lived together. It was as weird as it sounds, but I also have many vibrant memories from those years. We all fit and traveled together in Sweet Pea, our huge passenger Scooby Doo van. She was white with a big fat sky blue stripe painted across her middle. I’ve never seen another van like her. She once took us on a 3-week trip out west where her horn broke and wouldn’t turn off. It was just a constant honk as Sweet Pea glided across mountain highway. When the give-or-take 500 people inside got tired, we’d curl up in whatever empty square inch we could find to try and sleep. I once woke up in the middle of the night on a road trip and realized I was crouched completely under the back bench seat. Thank God I was homeschooled because Sweet Pea wasn’t a van you’d want to be caught dead climbing out of at middle school drop off. Years later, after we’d grown up and moved on, my brother and sister-and-law would swear they’d catch sightings of her in the town where we grew up. Sweet Pea was a legend and sometimes I wonder if it was all just a dream.
The Celebrity (not my car picture, but similar)
Okay, The Celebrity wasn’t a very original name because it was, in fact, a Chevy Celebrity, but the name also conjures images of red carpets and paparazzi, and let’s just The Celebrity needed that because she was anything but noteworthy–so bland that even her paint job had lost its shine, worn down to a sort of odd matte navy blue. She looked like someone buffed her with a Brillo pad. But she was my first car, her keys given to me in a wrapped box at my homeschool high school open house by my dad who I was just getting to know after having been separated from him for years. I think she was a Celebrity Eurosport–Eurosport being a fancy name they used to attach to shitty cars to make you think you’re getting something really special. Yes, I’d like to upgrade to the Geo Prism Eurosport, please. The Celebrity was a faithful servant up until a 16-year-old ran a stop sign out in the country on her way to school and hit me. She wasn’t going that fast and no one was hurt, but when your car is worth about $600 and you have PLPD insurance, you just kiss it goodbye and call it a loss. Which led me on the hunt for a new car. My dad and Gary scanned the papers until they found a winner. On the way to go see it, I remember telling them, “I really don’t care what it is unless it’s a station wagon. I’m not driving a station wagon.”
The Staysh (picture not my car but so close!)
I winced when I saw her, but my dad convinced me that it would be the greatest car for driving my nieces around. So we bought the teal Ford Escort station wagon which quickly became The Staysh, the car joked about more than any other car in our family. First of all, she was trashed 99% of the time. Like the kind of trashed that would allow me to comfortably live in it for 6-8 weeks if I ever found myself stranded. Piles of clothes. Books. Food. Paperwork. Old purses. Kids’ clothes. Toys. 18 Pairs of Shoes. Numerous make-up cases. I once drove around with a vacuum in the backseat because I was helping my sister clean offices. There was no place for anyone to sit. When things broke, I just reattached them with duct tape. The starter broke so many times that a mechanic told me he could fix the problem by installing a push-button starter, except he had to install it near the floor. So every time I started her, I’d have to hold the brake and then bend over, disappearing from sight for a minute while I pushed the button on the floor. I got in a fender bender and reattached the fender with–yep, duct tape. One early evening I was driving home on the last stretch of dirt road that led to my dad’s driveway. The setting sun straight ahead blinded my vision, but I was sure I could have driven it with my eyes closed, so I just kept driving. Into a tree. That was the last day the passenger door opened. But I kept driving her, my loyal Staysh. Until I took a job in Florida and closed the chapter on humbling cars with character.
How fun is it reminiscing our old cars? There isn’t a family get together where one of these blasts from our past doesn’t get brought up, and we end up in tears, laughing about the memories. Do you have a memorable car from your youth? Did you name your cars? I want to hear all the car stories, I must know all the names!