Rolling Deathmobile
March 6, 2009

My family was not rich and I had no pretensions growing up that we had money. We didn't have a pool, we didn't have a family room with a pool table or fooseball, and I didn't expect a car for my 16th birthday as many of my classmates did. After all, in the '80s, we didn't have the $500 for me to go to Washington, D.C. with the rest of the honors geeks or the $50 for the PSAT that could have gotten me a national merit scholarship, so I knew we didn't have a lot extra.

What I couldn't understand was that my parents really didn't seem to want me to have a job, either.

At any rate, I will admit to having more than a little bit of envy for my classmates who drove their second hand beaters to school ... and especially for the ones who drove their own BMWs, Porches, the Alfa Romero and the Lamborghini. But it was an idle kind of thing. I had no idea how I would ever manage a car of my own since I was so rarely allowed to take mom's car, couldn't work and my parents didn't have anything to spare.

So, I was trying to take some vicarious joy out of my mother's quest for a new car when her ancient and decrepit Delta 88 had lived far past its prime. I was completely stunned when Mom passed a book to me advising me how to pick a used car -- we were going to use the money from the sale of the Oldsmobile to buy me a car for my senior year of high school. Ecstatic, I threw myself into the task. We made little checklists of things to look for and examine and set out to various used car lots.

But, everytime I found something within the price range, the answer was the same -- "let your father check it out first. We have to wait for him."

After two months of this, I gave up. I'd get my hopes up over a cool car and be ready to drive it to a garage for a check-up only to be told again to wait for Dad ... and he never looked at any of these cars.

I thought maybe I'd get a surprise for my 18th birthday. Nope. Christmas? Again, no. I gave up completely.

Mom tried to bully me into going car shopping again, but I kept asking her what the point was and she, too, finally gave up.

I threw my after-school time into our drama production and forgot all about it (mostly). The day of our premiere, my grandparents and mom were beaming at me from the audience. A shy kid (despite the hyperactivity -- I'm just a mass of contradictions), my mother in particular was shocked and proud when I'd decided to pursue drama. But I was more than a little surprised when Mom and my grandparents dragged me out of the theatre as fast as they could after my performance, telling me I had to come outside NOW.

About a month early, my graduation present sat in the parking lot. A red Buick Skyhawk hatchback with mag wheels. Only 6 years old.

I was completely stunned. I really hadn't expected to get anything.

In retrospect, I would have preferred a nice pen set. You know, like the 5 other uninspired, generic pen sets I got for graduation.

My idea of a new car had been small, foreign and standard. My father's was small, American, automatic ... and red. Yes, the 18-year-old wanted something more practical and the 40-something wanted RED. And, as it turned out, he bought one of the worst vehicles on the lot.

First, the mechanics on the lot had not yet looked at the car ... it had just come onto the lot as a trade-in from the new car lot. Second, my father's idea of working on a car is to stick his lit cigarette face deep into the running engine and bang on things, so his examination was incredibly intense and thorough. Third, the car had a glass roof ... a "moon roof" that was an obvious home-job. I have never seen any project EVER use so much caulk. (It did, however, never leak from the roof, I will say that.)

Oblivious to most of this at the moment, I was ecstatic. My own wheels! Freedom!

The next day I took the car to a shop to get an evaluation of it. The mechanic walked back out white as a ghost and said, "I hope you didn't pay much for it."

The car had been in a serious accident which had broken the frame of the vehicle. It was welded back together underneath the driver's side door. The mechanic looked at me and said, "Don't ever get into even a fender-bender in this car. That weld could snap at any time and the car will crumple at that point ... right at the driver's seat. Don't even let anyone rear-end you."

I stared at him, horrified, looked back at the car and then up to the moon roof. He just bit his lip and nodded. He didn't need to say it. This car was a rolling deathmobile.

As a result, I was probably a far more careful driver than any of my peers, including my best friend Andy, who totaled out at least two cars in high school and the beginning of college.

Somehow, though, we nursed the car along for about two or three years before the repair bills were $200 every other month, rather negating the bonus of having a car with no car payments.

Highlights of the deathmobile were the time that Mom decided she knew "what was wrong with that car" -- she happened to be reading a book on auto repair ... I have NO idea why because she certainly wouldn't deign to stick her fingers in the engine. Coincidentally, the parts needed for this repair happened to be on sale at Pep Boys ....

Net result: Dad broke the timing chain in his efforts to fix a car that had been running just fine. The car wound up at Pep Boys for about three or four days while they repaired the car for me. However, when driving it on the way home, I took my foot off the accelerator for an approaching red light.

The car didn't slow.

It sped up.

Crap. I put my foot on the brake and it did slow to a stop. However, I had to ride the brake all the way home because the car continued acceleration regardless of whether or not I was pushing the accelerator. I called the shop the next day and complain, telling them they need to fix it. They hem and haw around, telling me they were nowhere near the fast idle choke and that they didn't break the car. I point out it wasn't doing that before they got hold of it. Yelling match ensues in which they think they can bully me because I'm a kid ... bad mistake.

I take the car back and they fix it.

Phone call, "Your car is ready, but I have to tell you that there's a potentially dangerous problem with the vehicle."

I'm thinking, yeah, the frame is probably cracking already.

"Three of the four engine bolts that hold the engine in the car are missing."

At this point I'm sure that they had the three frickin' bolts sitting in the mechanic's pocket because he was pissed that I made them fix the fast idle choke. Of course, they have the car ... and I don't have the bolts ... and there's lots of potholes on the way home. I tell them to fix the car and tell me when it's done again.

Two weeks later, the car is ready. They had to order the bolts. Mmmm-hmmm. I believe that. My father, on the other hand, is ecstatic because they only charged me $12.00 to fix the car -- no labor, just the cost of the bolts. He's now convinced these are the most honest mechanics in the world.

But my favourite story about the rolling deathmobile is when the brakes went out.

Well, really, I guess it's a story about my dad more than the car.

But I'll save that one for another day ... until then, if you see a red Buick Skyhawk on the road ... don't scare it ... it'll fall apart if you honk at it, shattering the inch thick glass roof and probably exploding, creating a crater the size of Detroit.

Posted by Red Monkey at March 6, 2009 7:22 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Alan said:

The first car I ever bought, used, was a Red Chevorlet Chevette. I was 19 and my dad paid for it. But it was definitely me who chose it and it was the biggest POS ever made. My Saturn SL1, which is now 10+ years old, OTOH, is the most reliable and dependable car ever.

March 6, 2009 11:46 PM


Tara R. said:

My first car was a red, 1967 Mustang. I abused that poor car something terrible. I wish I had it now, I would love to restore it.

March 7, 2009 1:04 PM
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