Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A new driver in the family

We're taking a day off from herb talk because this is a red-letter day here on the hill.
The kid pulled it off. She made it through the parallel parking and the 3 point turn, and got her driver's license. She is, at this moment, off picking up a list of groceries that I made up before the test, so she could have a destination to try solo.
It took her a little while to realize the enormity of the situation. She was prepared to fail, and as the inspector signed her permit she was still expecting a rejection. We talked on the way home about what this would mean. In honor of that, I'd like to share my youthful love note to my first car.... And just look at the difference these years have made in cars!

Somehow I managed to pass my 26th birthday without my driver’s license. After several permits and 10 or 15 surprises of changes in state licensing procedures (they are kept secret, no publicity, in order to test the driver-to-be’s sincerity), a kindly and understanding trooper awarded me with the coveted rubber stamp on the permit.
After all those years of pretending I didn’t care to add to the congestion on the roadways, I lost control. I leapt from the car leaving the officer staring, and the door open, while I jumped up and down, whooping to my sister. She had been through this before, but the results had never been too good. She was on a bench with a mother and 2 driver’s ed teachers. She had told them the horrors of my student driving “career”, so all had expected me to be defeated once again by the demon course. They cheered for me as I stumbled over the doorstep and staggered blindly past the line of waiting testees to be validated.
I was too excited to drive. Instead I hollered and yahooed, and beat on the dashboard. This was a big triumph. I had somehow, in less than 15 minutes, become a real person.
Now it was time to find “the” car. I had taken a temporary job and expected to be able to afford 8 or 10 hundred dollars. My sister’s husband having ignored dire warnings, had taught me to drive (many before him had failed), and took it as his responsibility to find my car. My bank account swelled, but no decent cars revealed themselves to me. I started to spend, lend, and blow the money.
Finally yesterday, with no savings, and 400 expected income, the car arrived. A 14 year old 1969 Ford Galaxie for 300 bucks. It was buy the heap or walk. It isn’t much to look at, but better than many I’ve seen for more money. Pretty regular – until the test ride….
As I slid in, I was unimpressed, but knew I’d buy it because it was cheap and ran. Then I adjusted the seat. I’m short, but this seat moved into a position only a tall person could expect. I could see everything. I had power! I searched the steering column for the ignition keyhole. Not there. Delighting in oddities, I grinned when it showed up on the dash nearly a foot over from the usual place. I was beginning to warm up to the heap. Disappointment was almost painful as the car refused to even make an effort to start. Finally Bob suggested jiggling the gear shift lever. It worked. What character! And what a lovely noise the car makes…”Ba-doom brum brum brum brum”. Other than terribly bald tires and the need for front end alignment, the car is perfect. The paint is terrible, and half of the ornamental chrome is missing, but the interior is nearly perfect, and I feel like its beautiful outside – when I’m inside driving. Sometimes when I walk up to get in, it startles me that the outside isn’t gleaming candy-apple red, but faded dull, dented, white.
No matter. This car and I were together in another life. We fell for each other right away, and I think we’ll look out for each other. It seems to be a male. I say that because he’s a rugged individualist. Who would expect an old bargain basement Ford to act like a sexy young foreigner? Yet he’s still old fashioned enough to be comfortable around. Anyway, I named him Bob in honor of my driving mentor, and he seems to like the name.
Today I spent six hours cleaning him and 3 hours driving him. It was plenty of time to realize that this was one of the better breaks in my life. We perceive life similarly. Besides, we need each other.
For one thing, being short, I’m a bit afraid of other, bossier drivers. Bob remedies that by seating me in an almost menacing position, and making noises that sound like we could blow anything else right off the road. He’s got confidence.
Bob is a big car with a small appetite. I’ve never really liked compacts, but in the past ten years, everyone has adjusted to them. Bob has 4 big doors. No more bumping and grunting to get in the back. What a luxury. What a back seat!!! It’s as big and lush as a taxi. Compared to the cars of today, it is almost an obscenity, but it is beautiful, with a huge shelf in front of the rear picture window.
The dashboard sits back almost 6 inches, so that I can carelessly toss my stuff onto the shelf made by the indentation. The radio still plays, but only get am stations. He takes regular gas, NOT unleaded, and has a hinged gas cap that won’t get lost. Bob does not have bucket seats, thank God, but long soft sofas. Most wondrous of all, Bob has wing windows in the front. They wind open like the regular windows instead of nasty clasps and catches that take years of practice to figure out.
So now, not only can I get myself where I want to go, I have found a friend. He’ll never rust away in a (gag) junkyard. I’ll take care of him forever, get a job to earn enough money to restore him. Whatever. We’re in this for keeps.
Nowadays I have a real plastic picture license. The stamped pink paper one lives with other valued pages of my life. With my own car and a plastic license, nobody will be able to tell. But Bob knows, and at the same time, I know he has some itty bitty weak spots. So if he doesn’t take a turn too wide, I won’t let anyone kick his fragile grill. If he doesn’t let a tire blow out, I won’t push him into any other cars. If I don’t drive too fast, he won’t float across the center line and squeal his bald tires at me. In two short days we have reached this understanding. Great things are ahead for this duo…I just hope I don’t run out of gas money.
Sadly, Bob ran through a red light 4 years later and smashed a brand new camero. Yes…. It was icy, but he had to go. I later regretted that decision.


Maryanne said...

What a Day!
And good, old Bob... memories...

Tina Sams said...

Yeah... makes me think about my best friend's (at the time) giant cinnamon convertable caddy. Those were the days...

Laura said...

Love-love-LOVED this post! Makes me think of my first car which was a faded yellow trcuk that would shake when it hit 50 mph. :) Nowhere near as cool as "Bob," but a good car to learn on and grow up with in the sticks of Hemet, CA.


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