Every teen ager dreams of the day when they can sit behind the wheel of a two ton hunk of steel and drive away from their parents, all on their own. I was no exemption. I had been practicing for months. Dad took me driving. Mom took me driving. I watched, listened, and learned. I had taken drivers ed at school and knew all the mechanics involved. I had even been scarred for life watching the old black and white movies showing poor old men thrown from their golf carts because they had not been wearing a seat belt. No way was I ever going without mine! Those guys bounced clear across the green!
I had dreamt of getting a new car for my sixteenth birthday but, given the tight circumstances of our large family, it was only a wisp of a dream. Not one that kept me awake at night with fevered desire. When my brother ran in the house to tell me there was a car in the driveway with my name on it, I was taken completely by surprise! No way! I ran out the front door and down the driveway past our behemoth suburban. Maybe it was small enough to hide behind Bessie? Yes, in fact, it was. My brother dissolved in laughter when I saw “my car.” It was a three inch high ‘stomper’ truck parked in the driveway.
“Very funny”, I told him. “You are hysterical.”
“You should have seen your face!” he sputtered between gasps for air.
Brothers. Seriously. Are they really needed? I grumpily made my way back into the house, feeling like an idiot for falling for another one of Rob’s practical jokes. I wasn’t very surprised to see my fun loving parents snickering in the living room when I came in.
“Did we get you the right color?” my dad asked as I stormed past. I didn’t even bother to answer. I just rolled my eyes and mumbled a ‘very funny.’ As I went down the hall to my room. I would never admit it, but I did laugh a tiny bit when I was in the privacy of my ‘shared by three girls’ room. I had to admit, it was a pretty good trick and I did fall for it completely. I’d be sure to pay him back one of these days.
Although I did not get a new car for my 16th birthday, my parents did manage to acquire a vehicle of sorts for me to drive. I’m not sure where they dug it up or how much the previous owner paid them to take it, but my ride ended up being a pinto station wagon in burnt orange with wood grain paneling along the sides. I spent many an hour washing, vacuuming, decorating, fumigating, and trying in vain to ‘better’ the car. But no matter what I did, it remained the ugliest car in the high school parking lot. The good news was I was noticed, the bad new was, it was not the kind of noticing you really wanted as a teen ager.
The only good that came from having the wagon, besides actually being able to drive myself around, was the fact that none of my friends had a car at all. I became the designated driver for all of our escapades. It was kind of nice to be the driver of a car that could NOT be hurt. We tried too. Cones in the road did no damage whatsoever. Parking lot poles? Not a problem. I drove that car everywhere. It was annoyingly reliable and took ‘regular’ gas so it cost almost nothing to drive. Not that I wanted to kill the car or anything, but I had a hope that if somehow the wagon died, I might be able to get something better. Heck, anything would be better!
The day finally came when I actually succeeded in hurting the wagon. It wasn’t intentional, really. I had once again been chosen to give a bunch of people a ride home from school. We all piled into the wagon like clowns into one of those clown cars at the circus. I don’t know how many people we managed to fit in there, but let’s just say there was no need for seat belts. There was no room for whiplash.
It was a warm day in Arizona, towards the end of the school year. I had air conditioning, but it was not as cool as was desirable on that hot day. I decided to speed along the crammed commute by taking a short cut through an abandoned field. It was easy enough, there was no curb going into it so we just cut through to the next street. It was fun pretending to four wheel drive in a wagon packed full of people. We were bouncing into each other and laughing so hard we were dizzy. My seat was pushed up so far to make room for the clowns in back that I could touch my ears with my knees.
As we came to the end of the field I slowed down to enter the real road. After a quick look both ways, I gunned it and jumped the curb out onto Center Street. It was quite a bump and it made us laugh even harder than we had been. As we crossed the center lane and turned left, we all stopped laughing and got really quiet. At least I think we got quiet, it was hard to tell because the car was suddenly making the most horrific sound I have ever heard. We were also seeming to bump along the road in a very peculiar way. I thought about pulling over to see what was wrong but realized that if we all got out, we would not be able to get back in again and we would have to leave someone by the side of the road. We didn’t have more than a mile to go, so we just kept on going. We got a lot of strange looks from people along the road and several people made some interesting hand gestures to us, but we finally made it to my friend Tawnya’s house.
As we pulled into her driveway, her father came rushing out the front door with a worried look on his face. I turned off the car and slid out. The rest of the clowns disentangled themselves from each other and melted out the doors as well. Tawnya’s dad took one look at the back of the car and asked me how in the world I had ripped the muffler off the car. I asked him if that would have been the cause of all the noise we heard. He just laughed and said, um, yeah.
He then proceeded to explain that the reason I had two flat tires in the back was because I had bent both back rims on my tires. He had to remove both tires and beat them back into shape with a sledge hammer. I was there for hours. Everyone else managed to get a ride to their respective homes.
When I finally reached home at dinner time, my mom asked why I was so late. I looked back at my smooth running, dent free car and thought about telling her the silly thing I had done. Instead, I just told her I had been helping Tawnya’s dad with a project at his house. My mom smiled and said how nice I was to help that nice man.
Yes, I told her, he is a really nice man.