Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cars of my life, Part I: My unglamorous youth

We all travel through our years in a succession of vehicles ... the ones our parents and siblings drove, the ones we drive, the ones we get for our kids (except for my kids, who due to peak oil and fortunately for my stress levels will come of age after personal automobiles are all but extinct). Here are the ones I remember best.

1980 Cadillac Seville. My mom drove Cadillacs ever since I can remember. This was one of the strangest. Remember that high, sloping trunk design that looked like somebody had sheered off the back end of the car with a giant rotating saw? It also featured little feedback LEDs on the right and left corners of the front end, which were supposed to tell you what lights were on (headlights, parking lights, turn signals). I still have a soft spot for the retro technology of the Cadillac -- wood grain instead of metal, plenty of knobs and dials, an embrace of digital readouts that seemed half-hearted at best -- they were always surrounded or even undercut by analog inputs and outputs. Whenever I hear "Looks Like We Made It" I think of the sample 8-track that came with the car, which had two Barry Manilow songs on it.

1978 Mustang II. This was my older brother's car for a few years. I grabbed every chance I could to ride in it so I could hear actual rock and roll coming out of the 8-track tape deck. It had an automatic transmission, but the shiny chrome shifter was between the front seats. I thought this car was completely badass. Whenever I hear ELO's Out of the Blue, I think about riding home from Sunday night services in the passenger seat of this car -- half an hour of swirling, Beatlesque pop cranked up to levels our parents wouldn't have tolerated.

1975 Volkswagen Beetle.
I learned to drive a stick in this car, out on the deserted country roads around our Apison, Tennessee home. I think Dad picked it up cheap just to teach us in. He loved to talk about the legends surrounding the car -- that if you drove it into a lake it would float; that you could fix the engine with rubber bands. It felt more like driving a toy than an actual vehicle, which is great for learning --the stakes seem so low. I believe it only had an AM radio.

1981 Buick Skylark. My parents let me use this car during my senior year in high school. It was that boxy K-car look -- about as unsexy as cars got. But it was a measure of freedom, until I got stuck in the middle of a three-car pileup on I-24 East just before the East Brainerd Road exit. The car was totaled. No cassette deck, so I listened to KZ106 exclusively in this car; I believe Kansas was playing when I had the wreck.

1984 Honda Prelude. My dad traded in his usual Audis and Mercedes for this sporty number when I was just about ready to leave home. It was red and zippy and vaguely triangular and low to the ground and had the sunroof and the headlights that swiveled up out of the front end. I loved that car. Still to this day, I think I crave that car. It's everything I thought a sports car should be.

1978 International Harvester Scout II. ... But whenever I came home from college, this is what I drove. It was brown with a white hard top when we got it as the third or fourth owner. I swung in too close to the row of mailboxes at the end of our driveway on my way home one day and took off the passenger side mirror. When the radio cut out or dissolved into short-circuity static, it could be fixed most of the time by vigorous flathanded thumps on the dashboard. I think it was my younger brother rather than me who sideswiped some of those yellow concrete poles set up to protect gas pumps and suck, leaving a set of yellow scrapes down the passenger side that made it look as though the Scout had survived a run-in with a school bus. After my carless years were over and I was out on my own, my folks had it painted flat blue and my younger brother continued driving it. Lap belt only, and a suspension like our Kubota tractor -- you bounced all the way around town. Mom and Dad swear that the person they sold it to still uses it, and although I don't see how we'd get confirmation, it's a believable tale; the proto-SUV was indestructible. Even after Doug's collision with a city bus in the Brainerd Road tunnel, the Scout abides.

Note: All errors of dates and attribution of vehicular damage are my personal responsibility, and I'm sure they will be corrected quickly by my siblings.

Tomorrow! Part II: A car of one's own.


Timothy said...

Donna, I copied you and made my own "Cars of my life" post. I hope you don't mind. Every time I see a car like one I used to drive I smile a little, have a good memory of that car. Thanks for the inspiration!

Dwayne said...

Probably your best blog post of all time (for me anyway). I clearly remember each of those cars - and, yes, I associate the Mustang with the only 8-tracks I ever owned - Beach Boys, ELO. I didn't know how to drive a stick, but I used to pretend that I was driving one - I would shift down to 3rd or 2nd from "Drive" quite often. I did finally learn how to drive a stick on that VW Beetle - with its lawnmower engine in the back. I got to take the IH Scout to college for a couple years (before you and Doug started demolishing it) and it was a great car to have at school. One car you missed was a VW Rabbit that I drove for a bit during high school - it was pathetic - maybe you blocked it out.