Friday, July 12, 2013

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Do you drive? Do you remember your first car?

Mine was a 1962 Oldsmobile F85, a small car made out of real metal with bench seats. It had a “War of the Worlds” after-market air-conditioner, quite the bees’ knees, I thought. I called it “Virgin Mary” blue. Everything worked, hard to beat when your parents have bought you a “beater.” It was a delicious gift, not a racing car like my brother had, some black Plymouth with red interior. His looked like a bad tattoo but he soon traded up to something that went faster. Mine, on the other hand, looked like the Miraculous Medal, a “Jennifer car” perhaps before they classified cars that way.

What’s a Jennifer car? Well, I drive one even today. It’s a small car, not expensive, easy to handle, easy to take on a shopping trip, unassuming and perhaps even feminine, if a car can be considered so. It’s the kind of car a young woman perhaps named Jennifer would drive. Certainly it was not a car that inspired thoughts of racing, the kind of car my brother craved like his eventual 1968 Oldsmobile 442, turquoise with white surfer racing stripes. He raced it too, at night on a side of town remote from our house.

We named our cars as if they were pets. It was a family tradition. Mom and Dad had matching Oldsmobiles when we moved from Florida to New Mexico, Dad’s a 1960 brown two-door Oldsmobile 88 and Mom’s a four-door 88 in that same “Virgin Mary” blue, the style with sharp flat fins in back. By the time I was driving age, they had traded Mom’s 88 in on a new station wagon with lots of electrical gadgets that never quite worked. Somewhere along the way, the stuffing in the seats had gotten damp and the car smelled like mold no matter how hot and dry it was out on the sandy Staked Plains of eastern New Mexico. It was the color of the reddish sand there. Mom hated it. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Mom hadn’t hated it so loudly.

She did have a point. There was something about the wiring in the steering column that was off and we were never sure when she turned on the lights whether the windshield wipers and fluid would start up too regardless of the weather. The electric locks worked most of the time. The electric windows were new and had what my brother and I considered an annoying safety feature of rolling down only halfway in the backseat, now standard. We had been used to hanging our heads, hands and feet out of windows in a way that would have made Ralph Nader faint.

My little car, however, was what I lovingly call an “analog” car. It had power steering, at least. Just about everything else was up to me, though. I didn’t mind. It was easy to park and easy to drive.

One thing that Oldsmobile did that became quite a fun feature is to put an enormous engine in a small car, "a lot of horses under the hood" my father said. So my Virgin Mary blue Jennifer car that looked like Hollie Hobbie’s motorized muffin-mobile actually had a tiger in its tank. That baby could go.

Yes, I was safe and sane as a driver. I didn’t take back-seat driving tips well though, and after a few weeks of criticism from one of my high school pals, I pulled over across from one of the local drive-in diners in town and suggested she get out of the car and get a ride elsewhere. I believe that was the last time she rode with me. Peace, it’s wonderful.

The Chariot from Robert Place's
Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery
My alter-ego, however, had other ideas. “Schnell” as I called my precious pet car had delicious get-up-and-go. At a quiet time of broad daylight in summer, I would head for the Floyd highway or “blacktop,” distinguishing it from the many caliche-hard “dirt” roads leading out of town. The Floyd blacktop, which is now Highway 267, is a nearly dead-straight stretch of road best driven west from Portales to Floyd at noon or earlier to keep the sun out of your eyes. I don’t know how the population has grown now, but then it was at least a 10 mile stretch of uninterrupted pavement so flat that, except for the curvature of the earth, you could just about see Russia from here or at least Floyd.

I wanted to feel the limits, the thrill of speed. And sure, I knew it was dangerous, so I never took anyone with me. I avoided times like the start and finish of church services at the Floyd Baptist Church. And then I floored it. Schnell would wind up to 97 miles per hour in no time. At 96, I was flying. At 97, the steering column started to vibrate so violently that I had to grip the wheel with both hands to maintain control. I never pushed Schnell faster, figuring the shimmying steering column was perhaps a bad sign. I was lucky. I never blew a tire or hit anything bigger than a grasshopper.

The one morning I was on my way to high school with my best friend Cyndi in my little blue rocket and the brakes went out made me never race again. We screamed the entire way while I, on the fly, figured out the only way I could go to hit the minimum number of stop signs between Cyndi’s house and school. We rolled to a stop in the parking lot, practically kissing the ground for the expanse of fine gravel that was the generous extra real estate next to the gymnasium.

But before that came Alan Wall. Alan was a couple years older and Cyndi had a crush on him. I couldn’t figure out why except that for the guys we knew he seemed slightly smooth. Otherwise, he was a skinny bow-legged guy with a toothy grin. I seem to recall never seeing him without a comb. Sometimes I think one of the best things about my best friend was that she had completely different taste in boys from mine. But Alan drove a red Ford Mustang.

Alan’s Mustang was the kind of car that chugged loudly in protest of having to maintain such a slow speed as the speed limit in town. It had the appearance and reputation of a light-weight, aerodynamic speed demon. And there we were one afternoon, Alan and I, just happening to be the only two people stopped side by side headed southwest on the Roswell highway at the only stoplight in town.

 The Chariot in Tarot is a card of victory, confidence, self-control, and the application of will. You control both the light horse and the dark. You control the horizontal and the vertical. You are in the driver’s seat in your own life car and you are winning. Sure there’s a dark side to the Chariot. Who hasn’t seen the driver make a bad choice? Winners are not always kind. Sometimes those in way get run over. The driver feels the power of victory and the vision of forward direction. It’s a “Go!” card.

Alan turned, recognized me and grinned. Our eyes locked and that unspoken challenge was set. The light turned green. We floored it. And I won! Somewhere past the Dunes Motel we both slowed down. Alan laughed, shook his head and saluted me. Ah, Winged Victory in a car that looked like a little blue sewing machine!

Thank goodness my racing days are long past! I know I’m lucky to still tell the story. Kids, don't try this at home, or even on the way out of town.

Best wishes!

1 comment:

  1. What a marvelous story, Marcia! It's fun to read about your experience, given that I never had any interest in driving or having a car when I was a teenager. When I had to go somewhere, I drove our family's blue Buick, a dignified sort of car. When I got married, my parents gave us an orange Plymouth Duster as a wedding gift. I almost never drove it myself, as I hated driving and ended up not even having a license. Then, many years later, we ended up with that blue Buick as our "second car." By then, my siblings had nicknamed it the "Blue Goose" (I have no idea why!) Actually, I think I might have been more keen on driving if I could have had a chariot...