My first car was a silver 1972 Mercury Cougar, that wasn’t actually mine (a mere technicality) and my most vivid memories of it involved running out of gas, or trying to scrounge money so that I didn’t run out of gas.
I remember that I ran out of gas (or somehow broke down) while cruising around with my friends one night, at a stop at the White Hen Pantry, a convenience store that was then a hot spot for cruising teenagers in Winchester, Mass. It seemed like the whole town was there that night, so we hung out as if we had a purpose for being there. Every once in a while we’d send a different person into the store to buy a popsicle or something.
The car was originally owned by my grandmother, of all people. She bombed around Florida in it until she decided to upgrade to a Cadillac. She gave the car to my Aunt Jennifer, and eventually it ended up in Winchester with my mother. When my friends and I first heard that we were getting a new car, a grandmother car no less, we were expecting the worst. The first time I drove it to high school however, it was pounced upon by a bunch of guys in the parking lot who instantly recognized it as the muscle car that it truly was.
My mother took the bus to work at MIT each day, leaving the car. I left for school after she left for work, and given that it was there, I’d often take it. Finding a parking space at the school (less than a quarter mile from my house) was difficult, but it was the thrill of having wheels that required that the car to come to school several days a week. I had to pick up my two friends who had about a half–mile walk completely downhill to school. We were all on the track team together, but didn’t see the point of getting an extra workout in the morning. The combination of the fact that the car idled at about 35 mph and was a real gas guzzler, along with our meager gas budget, had us running out of gas about every third time we drove it.
It did go fast, and although I never drove it too recklessly, I also never lost a challenge. We took that car to the beach, to parties, and drove it to work at Swensen’s Ice cream at Faneuil Hall in Boston, where my friend Leslie and I both had summer jobs working on the cone line. Since our shift started around 5:30 pm at the height of rush hour, we were in stop–and–go traffic for most of the 20–mile trip to Boston, and devised several time–saving devices to get to work on time. Sometimes we would change into our chocolate brown faux–milkmaid Swensen’s uniforms in the car on the highway.
On a number of occasions when traffic was truly at a standstill, we would trade off being late for each other. One would slog through traffic and eventually find parking while the other ran down the off–ramp (in uniform) to get to this important job that we had. If we were lucky, we got a coveted space in a free parking lot under route 93, which was right near Haymarket Square. One night when we were parked there, we came back to the lot and experienced the confusion of not being able to find the car where we’d left it. At midnight, we walked up to the nearby police station (in ice cream–covered, sticky uniforms now), and filed a stolen vehicle report. It was recovered a mere 45 minutes later because it had run out of gas, and we were finally vindicated, as if driving the car on no gas had been a really good idea after all. I remember that I did have to start it with a screwdriver until the starter was replaced.
Times have changed. I’m now driving a 2002 Suburban, generally with many kids packed in it (albeit 25–35 years younger than me), and have never run out of gas.