When I was 17, my mother understood that driving my Dad’s car was less embarrassing than driving hers, but the truth was both were pretty embarrassing to a teen girl. When the only two vehicle choices are the old, bright red station wagon with the fake wood peeling off and the newer, cream-colored station wagon, well … the choice really is the lesser of two humiliations.
Such began my lifelong distaste for family cars. To this day I understand why station wagons, hatchbacks, minivans, and crossovers sell; they are quite functional. I just find them also quite ugly. I don’t even care for the Porsche Cayenne, really.
When I wanted to use the car, the trade-off was I had to drive one of my parents to the store and back first. They were pretty excited to have another driver under their roof, but exactly why became clear at the outset of these little treks: My having a license wasn’t so important for hauling my siblings to and from school events and such as it was for what became the ubiquitous beer run.
I happily traded 15 minutes of my time for the freedom of having the car the rest of the evening.
It was years before I realized just how much drunk driving-related trouble I’d saved us by agreeing to be a booze courier.
I drove the Fairmont wagon all over the area near where we lived, but no further. I was not yet comfortable with freeways.
It would be years before I was.
Some of my friends had cars their parents had given or bought them. One had a beautiful, baby blue, 1965 Plymouth Barracuda which she drove like a scared grandmother; another had a ratty, decrepit, faded purple AMC Gremlin and drove as if the Devil himself were on our tail.
When we returned to Southern California in 1983, the girl next door to us drove a Triumph TR-6. She was the spoiled cheerleader type and though we were at the same high school, we were in completely different worlds, so we didn’t get along. But I loved seeing that car of hers.
The neighbor on the other side of our house had a fully-restored Ford Model A in his garage. I lived for Saturday mornings, because that’s when he would take it out for a little drive, “Just to keep ‘er runnin’” he said.
Most teen girls have posters on their bedroom walls of favorite bands or cinematic heartthrobs. I had a shiny blue Lamborghini Countach 5000 on one wall, a red Ferrari Tesstarossa on another, and a hand-made collage of the Porsche 911 Carrera covering my closet door.
The first car I had that was all (mostly) mine was a 1978 Ford Mustang. My then-boyfriend – eventually my first husband – bought it for me. My parents had forbidden me to see him, though, so using the car was a bit … tricky.
So I left for school in the morning, walked to where the car was parked a few blocks away, and repeated the process in reverse at the end of the day. Six months later and just after my 18th birthday, I announced my engagement and was then able to keep the car at home.
It was around this time my Dad, after 20 years of waiting, was finally able to replace his beloved Mustang, though not with the same model year.
This time, he cried. Not because he got his dream car back in to his life, but because the car itself was an utter piece of crap.
So was mine.
To be continued.