Car talk

I’m not a car guy. Never have been. It’s genetic. My father lived in Jersey City, NJ, where you could get by without a vehicle – subways, streetcars, buses and trains worked just fine. He didn’t get his license until he got married in his late 20s. His first car was given to him by a friend of his who decided to become a monk. (I think it was a Studebaker, but I’m not sure. Let’s go with Studebaker because it’s fun to say. Studebaker!)

When we moved to rural Arkansas after my mom died, going car-less wasn’t an option. School and church were 10 miles away from our hillbilly home. But cash was always tight, so we never had a nice car, just a never-ending procession of $500 autos… a conga line of clunkers. Typically we had a couple at any given time – when Junker A needed repairs, we’d switch to Junker B. If the repairs cost too much, we’d pull the plug — my dad was the Jack Kevorkian of the auto industry — and buy another hooptie from W.G. Pickett’s used car lot (their sign said “we tote the note” – meaning my dad could pay in installments).

(This shot is from an ad campaign I worked on long ago – if you do an image search for “used car salesman” it shows up!)

A few years ago, just for kicks, my brother and I tried to name every car we owned while we were growing up in Arkansas. We were able to name more than 30, in a 12-year period. We owned every AMC model except the Pacer (Ambassadors and Matadors and Hornets, oh my!). We had a yellow Ford Maverick (“The Big Banana”) and an orange one (“The Great Pumpkin”) and a purple Ford Torino (“The Purple Cow”). We actually bought the “convent car” – the Ford LTD sedan that the nuns who taught at our grade school drove. They upgraded, and we got their castoff. It was pure white, of course. Can you imagine how embarrassing it was to get dropped off at grade school in the old nun-mobile?

Following in my father’s footsteps, I too was late to the car game. I bought my first car just before I graduated from college in 1986. My friend Paul was selling a 1976 Datsun B-210. It had been rear-ended so the trunk wouldn’t close, it had to be held semi-shut with a coat hanger. The car had been sitting in a campus parking lot for a few months, so Paul said he’d take 50 bucks for it. My friend LJ and I went halfsies on it… $25 each. It was a stick shift and neither of us knew how to drive a manual. After graduation, I’d get rides to Xavier and practice driving in the deserted parking lot. One day I finally got up the courage to actually drive it home. Other than mistaking first gear for third gear once and screeching through an intersection, the ride was uneventful.

coat hanger sold separately

Nowadays, I take the bus to work 95% of the time. So to me, cars are just a bucket of bolts, a way to sometimes get from Point A to Point B. I don’t give a tinker’s damn about particular makes, models and styles. With one exception – the car we just got rid of.

Behold the mighty 2010 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI. My first true car love. Smooth. Sleek. Fast. Up for whatever. Oh, and easy to put my kayak on top without hurting my back. It got great gas mileage too… over the seven years we owned it, we averaged 35 mpg, doing mostly city driving. For six of those seven years, we thought we were saving gas and being kind to the environment, because it was billed as a “clean diesel.” Turns out Volkswagen was duping us the entire time – they programmed their cars to cheat their way through the emissions tests. So our class-action-approved options were to turn it in or get the exhaust system fixed. I didn’t trust the fix, and because most owners are turning in their cars, getting parts and repairs would likely be a nightmare a few years from now. So we cashed it in – VW is paying well above book value as penance for their sins.

I never thought I’d get attached to a car, but darned if I don’t miss it. I finally understand how other folks can “ooh” and “aah” over particular cars. Maybe I’ll have to use the cash we got from VW to buy a nice Studebaker…

UPDATE – adding a comment from my older sister:

Damo you forgot to mention the recalled Ford Pinto.  Recalled because it was found that if it was rear ended, basically the whole car would explode.  This was discovered after we used it for thousands of miles going back and forth to high school (120 miles round trip per day).  Of the three of us you always rode in the back because you jimmy rigged some kind of antennae for your radio reception and it needed to be extended through a crack in the back window.  You owe your big sis for being such a good driver while applying a full face of makeup I wasn’t allowed to wear leaving the house.  Those were the days. 

2 thoughts on “Car talk

  1. Damo you forgot to mention the recalled Ford Pinto. Recalled because it was found that if it was rear ended, basically the whole car would explode. This was discovered after we used it for thousands of miles going back and forth to high school (120 miles round trip per day). Of the three of us you always rode in the back because you jimmy rigged some kind of antennae for your radio reception and it needed to be extended through a crack in the back window. You owe your big sis for being such a good driver while applying a full face of makeup I wasn’t allowed to wear leaving the house. Those were the days

    • Thanks Jeanne. Ours was a Pinto wagon, which wasn’t quite as “explosive” as the regular Pinto. But yes, I do owe you for keeping me safe while I sat in the back doing my homework with my battery-operated radio’s antenna stuck out the window to pick up the rock station in Little Rock. Also worth noting that the used Pinto was probably our dad’s most expensive car purchase, and it wound up costing a lot more in repairs. The nun-mobile was a much better value.

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