Life is a Highway: The Car Chronicles

I recently enjoyed a splendid evening in the company of dear friends, during which, we discussed some of the cars we’ve had and loved over the years.  It’s been on my mind since, so I thought I’d chronicle here my current and past vehicle relationships.

There’s a bond between a girl and her car that runs deep and often transcends reason.

I’ll start at the beginning with my very first car… It was 1992, I was 16, and the car was a 1985 (I think) Chevy Cavalier Type 10 hatchback in an off-white color, standard transmission.  She had a name, but I cannot recall it.  It’s driving me crazy for 2 days now.  If any of you knew me while I owned that car and can recall her name, please share.  I would sleep easier if I remembered.

This car was special.  Not just because it was my very first taste of freedom and independence, but because it was such a giant piece of crap.  Let me start by pointing out that there were large patches of Bondo on both doors.  Really very attractive.  I never locked it.  And if a friend thoughtfully locked it for me, I couldn’t get back into the car because the only key that I had did not fit the locks.  No worries, though.  You see, the latch on the hatchback was also broken and could only be opened by way of a carefully placed screwdriver, so I carried one always.

My father worried by my inability to lock my car on campus and holes in the interior door panels in an attempt to “fix” the problem with the locks.  Unfortunately, the locks remained a problem, but whatever trickle of heat the car put out in winter could easily escape through the wind sucking door-holes.  Thanks.

The radio… Ahhh, yes… the radio, the most important part of the car to my 16 year old mind.  It was intermittent.  But most of the time, a well placed knock on the dashboard would have me singing along again without missing more than a few lines.

The horn?  It sounded alternately like a dying animal or flatulence, then it finally quit altogether.

She ate tires every few months.  I just kept buying used ones, over and over and over, because they were all I could afford.

She had radiator “issues”… as in: I kept antifreeze and stop leak in the back seat next to the spare quarts of oil.  It’s really impressive that she carried me back and forth to college for as long as she did.  I loved that car… but by… hmmm… maybe 1996? Was it?  I was ready to move up to my 1991 Pontiac Grand Am.

Sadie.  She was blue and an automatic.  She had a sunroof, which would eventually leak.  That car saw me get married and buy a house, but she didn’t have much personality.

Then there was Pearl, a used Plymouth Voyager.  Yes, I really did own a mini van in my early twenties, well before I had kids.  Why?  I was active in greyhound rescue at the time and used it to haul dogs around.  It was very practical and I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about driving it although I probably should have been.

Then there was Camilla, the hand-me-down Corolla, who also had no personality.  And she was followed by a pair of Mazda Protege 5s.  A pair, you ask?  Yes.  There were two of them.  It’s a traumatic tale but I’ll give you the shortest possible version.

Mona was my very first brand new car.  A black Protege 5.  I was very excited to have a new car.  Something that only I have ever driven.  Mona was also the first car I had that never slept outside.  My husband cleaned out a garage bay just for her.  I can’t remember the year anymore.  Must have been early in the 2000’s.  I took good care of that car.  I think she was about a year and a half old when I took her to a dealership for warranty service.  She had to stay for a few days.  I told the shop manager that she needed to sleep indoors.  He thought I was mad.  I probably am.

He called me the next day asking if I had taken the car.

“Ummmm…. no.  You have the car.”  I said.

“Okay, ma’am.  Don’t panic, but I have no choice but to call the police and report this car stolen.”

“I’m sorry…. what???”

Yes.  An unscrupulous employee had stolen my car off of the lot and taken it for a joyride.  It was found later that day, 200 miles later, in a seedy part of town.  There was a bottle of sunscreen in the backseat (that was not mine) and some greasy hand prints on the hood from when the perp was arrested. Ewwwww.  I couldn’t drive it again.  Over dramatic?  You bet.  I was not driving that car again. Period.  So the dealership gave us a good deal on another new one.  It was silver because that was the only new one left on the lot.  I called it “Kestrel”, but we never bonded.  It felt like a tainted relationship from the outset.

After that fiasco, when it came time for a new car, I knew exactly what I wanted.  And I got it.  Her name was Lorraine.  She was a red Camry with all the bells and whistles.  That car made me happy. Crazy happy.  Brand new and beautiful.  I called her Lorraine because it was a grown up sounding name but still a little bit sexy.  And that’s what this car was to me.  Hubby and I were talking about starting a family and Lorraine would be able to accommodate a child too.  I was in love…. except when the child finally arrived, there wasn’t one, there were two.  And while Lorraine could carry them, she couldn’t carry anything else.  There wasn’t room for a bag of groceries between the car seats, the stroller and the diaper bag.  She just wasn’t big enough. *sigh*

So we bought a minivan.  Only this time I was embarrassed.  I hated everything about having to drive a minivan and every soccer mom cliché that it represents.  I wanted a black one.  I figured that if I had to drive a minivan, it should at least be black so I could pretend I was part of the A-Team.  I contemplated getting a red stripe added on later…. except that the one we bought wasn’t black.  It’s green.  Pea green.  It’s hideous.  This did not seem like a fair trade to me… my Lorraine for this… icky green van.  It’s just so wrong.  I’m too cool to drive a minivan.

But it is so practical.  Even though I want to hate it, it just makes sense.  I hassle my husband about it all the time, how I gave up my beautiful Camry for this van and the injustice of it all.  I’ve claimed that I would never name it because I have no attachment to it whatsoever.

But it has grown on me…. as shown by the frequency of swagger wagon references (I still want spinners).  And don’t tell my husband, but I call her “Joanie”.

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