Don’t Judge a Car by its Appearance

1974 Olds 98

For about 20 years, I was challenged with one automobile crisis after another. Supporting myself by being a writer didn’t guarantee a big income.  Although my dreams of writing had manifested and I’d received some fame, appreciation and money, I realized I hadn’t factored in financial security. Life was almost a roller coaster ride.

When my ex and I separated and later divorced, I took the family car, a 1974 Oldsmobile 98. We’d bought it almost new at a good price during one of the gas crunches when gas was expensive and hard to get. We’d been proud of our used luxury vehicle: a soft blue exterior with a fairly plush and roomy interior.

By the early 80s, the Olds was a senior citizen. Her electric windows weren’t dependable and seldom worked for the back windows. Pretty soon I had to resort to leaving them permanently lowered, not too inconvenient considering California has a short rainy season. In 1984, she took me, my Aunt Rosie, my son, Hansi, and my cousin Ray Scott on a Northern California trip that included Yosemite, San Francisco and the Monterey-Carmel coast, and she didn’t break down. If she had, we would probably have laughed, which we did a great deal of during that journey! With her eight cylinders roaring, she made it up the winding road to the viewing spot for the Yosemite Valley below. My son and cousin enjoyed the view.

Beautiful Yosemite National Park

A nice family who ran a nursery school “adopted” the Olds when I bought a newer used car, thanks to selling my home and downsizing. My cute white Datsun, a shift transmission, had her problems and taught me not to judge a book, or a car, by its cover. She was fine if I was headed straight down the road, but she refused to back up. Fortunately, she was small and light; if I needed a backwards push, a handy friend could help. I learned to anticipate how to maneuver and avoid backing up—it was hell to park, however! Forget parallel parking! Being an optimist with a good sense of humor, I figured it was the Divine telling me I didn’t need to go backwards.

An acquaintance gave me a good deal on a rebuilt transmission but it didn’t prolong the car’s life for very long. My friend Bonnie knew a woman who wanted to sell her used Ford LTD for $400 (as I recall). It had hardly any mileage since for years she’d only used it to go the 8 miles back and forth to work. The fellow I was dating named it the Ghetto Glider, which was funny until one tire, which I didn’t know was a retread, came apart when I had to pick up my daughter, Heidi, at traffic school, some distance from home.

No cell phones in those days—it was leg power and public phones. No buses on Saturday either, so I had to hoof it for a mile to get Heidi, after I left the disabled car. The expensive results of that adventure included a costly new tire, a pricey cab ride, and a disgruntled dog groomer, who had to wait over an hour past closing time for us to pick up our Cockapoo.

Before the Glider left my possession, her timing belt was broken, the dashboard lights didn’t function (try estimating your speed at night!), and the trunk wouldn’t open.

In between cars, a new friend lent me his used taupe-colored Porsche since he’d bought a brand new one. What an adventure that was! I had learned to drive on a shift car, and Ms. Porsche just purred around corners and on the canyon roads nearby. Not long after, he took back the used car and lent me his brand new white Porsche 944. It’s a complicated story and so interesting I’ve written a long “short” story about it. I enjoyed it for a while and even crowded two friends into this gorgeous vehicle to attend Pasadena’s bizarre Do-Dah Parade, the humorous answer to the Rose Parade. Within a couple of months I was without transportation again as my friend Bill’s drama played itself out.

Being without an automobile in Los Angeles is a challenge. I was lucky to have available friends with cars, and that Agoura Hills, where I was living at the time, had cheap taxi service. I remember one Sunday I walked a couple of miles, roundtrip, to see a Whoopi Goldberg movie. Besides laughter at the movie and at my predicament, I’d gotten some exercise.

Isaac, a musician and poet friend, came to the rescue. He had an almost new Yugo and was ready to get a more expensive car for his wife and baby. All I had to do was take over the reasonable payments. It was a darling little blue car and smelled like baby crackers. The car didn’t have much gumption and we do have some steep grades between various valleys in Southern California. I put the pedal to the metal and prayed, in the slow lane.

The Yugo saga to be continued…

Cars — My First Experiences

Posing in a '62 MGB

In the US, most of us can trace our histories by the cars we owned, used, or learned to drive in. Not to mention the cars that provided room for early sexual  exploration. Whether you “made out” or “went all the way,” who doesn’t remember a few cars that were special?

My first driving lessons were in my dad’s  1953 white Ford convertible. My mother was my first instructor, but she was so nervous in the passenger seat she was already slamming on the imaginary brakes a half block from a stop sign in a residential area. The top was down so visibility was great, but my mom was a worrier. My dad didn’t fare much better, although he stayed calm during the lesson. “I need a beer,” he exclaimed to Mom when we got home safely. I got my learner’s permit but no car or permission to drive the family Ford.  I’ve recently used a photo of me sitting on that Ford’s hood in Tripoli.

Driving lessons in an old Nash Rambler were the perfect excuse for a boyfriend to get a few kisses and a little “petting,” as we called it then. After a little night driving practice and warnings about oncoming headlights, we found a likely spot for some action.  A few kisses later, we were in the sights of a large flashlight brandished by a policeman. It was just a warning that where we had parked was inappropriate (the grounds of an Episcopal seminary), but embarrassing nonetheless.

When the boyfriend took me home that night, he walked me to the door in his socks. The cops pulled up and, suspicious about the socks, questioned him, he told me later. When they got a close-up view and interviewed him, they realized he was quite reputable and not a potential burglar.

In college, one of my favorite memories was the white Corvette driven by the charming Army lieutenant who squired me about. He was stationed nearby and had more money to spend than the typical underclassman. Making out by a Virginia lake in spring, however, wasn’t a good choice. The next day I was taking semester exams and could barely restrain from scratching the hell out of the 40 mosquito bites on my legs. The car pictured here is similar to the lieutenant’s car, but he had the  US version with left-hand drive.

In my senior year I was trusted with my graduate student boyfriend’s MGB. He let me drive it by myself from time to time. I think he was serious about me, but I wasn’t ready to settle down, despite the nice car.

Years later, at the end of my marriage and the beginning of single life, my most vivid memories concern an aging Oldsmobile ’98, a Datsun, a near decrepit Ford LTD (retread tires and a trunk that didn’t open), a borrowed Porsche 944, a Yugo, a used BMW that was in great shape except for the broken AC,  and finally a brand new Mustang! Such is the brief version of my single life with cars.

I remember them all quite fondly, even when these cars were giving me grief. In Los Angeles, the best advice is to find a good and trustworthy mechanic.

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