|It began with a summer job when I was sixteen years old; I was netting $100 a week, big bucks for a sixteen year old. I tried to save money, but there were silly things like food, clothes and such that I had to have. The following spring I was making $8 an hour, a full $3 raise, but still, the money was slipping through my fingers and into the cash registers of local businesses. I didn’t care though, because now I had my driver’s license and $500 saved for a car. Being a na´ve seventeen year old I thought $500 was a lot of money and would make a nice down payment on a car. I had a job, so payments would be no problem. I began my search for the perfect first car.
I started with car lots, used cars of course; even in my dreams I knew a new car was not practical for a teenager. I looked at one rust bucket after another, falling in love with each one without even a test drive. With each car that I saw for $500 I promised myself one day it would be mine, if only I could get Dad to agree. Dan and I would find these perfect cars, then I would take Dad to see them, a quick look at the body and a listen to the engine was all he needed to tell me that this one wasn’t going to be mine, nor the one next to it, or the other one.
Then, I found my car, a 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme; she was booger green on the interior and had been painted black over the original booger green on the exterior. Dad went with me to look at it and my stomach danced with nervousness because I knew his answer would be no, but I was going to stand up this time. The salesman started the car and she purred like an African Lion in heat, oh yeah, I have got to have this car. I was under eighteen years old, so I wasn’t allowed to test drive it, but Dad could; and he did.
This time he was a bit hesitant, but he gave in. Besides, it was my hard earned money, so he let me get the car. In all my fantasizing about the independence a car would give me I didn’t think about needing extra money for car insurance, taxes, registration, gas, maintenance, and all that other good stuff that goes with the responsibility of owning a car. So, my first car cost my Dad more in loans for me to pay all the extras. I ended up having to pay $66 a week to Dad to re-pay him, and I still needed gas, food, and clothes.
The car was mine and it became a bubble of independence. I could go anywhere, and do anything, having a car was a status symbol. Suddenly people that never spoke to me became my friends, but I didn’t realize it was because I had wheels, I just knew that I was cool. I was going places, lots of places, as far as the gas tank could take me.
One day, it happened, my baby broke down, it was dark and I was cruising along when suddenly the motor quit running. I was able to coast into a shopping center, where there was a pay phone. I scrounged through my car and couldn’t even find a quarter to call home to tell someone I broke down. I went into a store and they kindly let me use their phone to call my house.
My brother came to save the day. “What happened?” he asked.
“I was driving down the road and all of a sudden everything just shut down, except the lights, radio and such; the motor just died.”
Dan tried to start the car to no avail. “Do you have gas?”
“I think so, I’ve been running on empty for three days, but usually I can do that for four days.”
“Laura, you need gas. Do you have any money?”
I hung my head in idiotic shame, “No, I’m broke.”
Dan bought me enough gas to get home and the car sat until I got paid the next day. It doesn’t sound long, but for a seventeen year old with new independence it seemed to be an eternity.
As soon as I had a half tank of gas I was good to go and I went to see my sister. I pulled into the driveway via a right hand turn and crashed into her car. I tried to back away, but our bumpers were locked. I went inside to tell her and she didn’t believe me, thought it was a joke. After about ten minutes I finally convinced her to step outside and see the damage. It took some doing, but we were able to get the cars unhooked from one another. It was then that we discovered my car would only drive in reverse, so she informed me I would have to leave the car there until she could find someone to work on it.
“No, I’ll drive the car home in reverse. Besides, it’s only what, four miles?”
“Laura,” she laughed, “you can’t drive home in reverse.”
I was serious, I couldn’t leave my baby here, I had to get home … in my own car. It took a while for Linda to convince me, but finally she did, I had to leave my car there.
For a day or two I was back to walking to and from work, but it wasn’t long before my car was up and running again. My uncle asked me to take care of his new kitten while he was out of town for a few days, since I had a car now. Not only was this cool, but he would pay me to run back and forth from his house to mine … oh, money, let’s do it!
The first night came and I went to Uncle Dick’s house I cared for the kitten and left. I got in my car in the driveway and it wouldn’t start, it wouldn’t do anything. I went back into the house and called home, this time it would be Dad to save the day. Turns out, my alternator had died, and a few more days with no wheels.
The whole idea of independence was getting annoying and expensive. Once again, I was broke, so Dad lent me the money to fix the car. And away we go!
This time, it was a flat tire, Dad had paid special attention to showing me how to change a flat when I got the car, but I couldn’t think when it happened. The radio was so loud at first I didn’t even realize I had a flat and I have no idea how far I drove on it like that.
My niece was with me, she was twelve and no help to fixing a flat. Finally, a kindly gentleman came along and changed the tire for us. I offered him five dollars for the work, but he refused the offer. I silently thanked him, because that was the last of my money for another week.
All fixed up, Susan and I headed back home to tell our tale of the kindly gentleman that did repairs for free. Thanks to him, my bubble of independence seemed to be extending a bit.
I had quite a few accidents in that old car and it kept running. All told I had the car for about four months when I ran away from home. Mom and Dad knew how important the car was to me, so they said I had to bring the car home or they would report it stolen. This was a possibility because the car was in Dad’s name; I never stopped to think that I was listed as co-owner. Instead, I returned the car to my parent’s house, where I never saw it again.
I don’t know exactly what happened to the car, but my brother tells it that someone ran a stop sign and crashed into him in MY car! It was towed to destination unknown and the symbol of my independence went to car heaven.