I came by my first car the way a lot of people do, via a hand-me-down from my grandmother. I admire people who, with awesome maturity by their twenties, save money and seek out an automobile of their choice—choosing it for the cool factor, practicality, or even a combination of both. I was not one of those people, and there was nothing cool about this car. I simply accepted what I was lucky enough to be gifted: a 1984 flesh–tone Chevy Citation.
I wasn’t particularly interested in getting a car, but suddenly needed one. I was living in Allston, MA with my boyfriend Todd, who, was heavily ensconced in his music career. I had recently applied and been accepted to school in Providence, RI, and didn’t want to move down there. The commute via train or bus was totally impractical.
It was my father who thought through the logistics, and realized that he could kill two birds with one stone in this situation. He could get me back and forth to Providence, and at the same time, make the streets of Cape Cod a little safer. My grandmother had a Chevy Citation sitting in her driveway on the Cape, which until recently she had only been using to drive once a week down to a local senior center she called, “The Site.” She had hit the point where it was no longer all that safe for her to be driving. The car had a few dents to prove it.
And so my dad did all the work to wrangle the car from my grandmother (who had to be delicately convinced that she was being asked to give up her car, not because she could no longer safely drive but to benefit her only granddaughter). He then plodded through the Registry of Motor Vehicles with me in tow to get the car transferred to my name—back then I was incapable of accomplishing even the simplest bureaucratic task, and so me doing this on my own was simply not going to happen. Thanks to his hard work, I joined the ranks of first car owners.
It took a few days for it to sink in for Todd and me that we actually had a car at our disposal. It was a spring evening, a few weeks before my summer session classes would begin, and Todd and I decided to tool around town a little and get a feel for our new mobility. We were sitting at a stop light with the windows rolled down, music playing out of the crappy dashboard radio, feeling pretty good about things—when the person in the car next to us kindly pointed out that we had a flat tire. The light changed, and screaming at each other now, in a complete panic and loss as of what to do, we limped the car through a giant 5–way intersection, and pulled into a fortunately empty Mr. Tux parking lot. We got out of the car. Now what?!
For some, it may be astounding that we would not know what to do, but let me explain. As the man of the relationship, Todd was a fantastic guitar player, but he had not yet needed to develop any mechanical or automotive skills. We had been functioning well on public transportation for many years, and were complete novices to car maintenance. Our focus was rock and roll clubs at night, and cruising through our day jobs. Neither or us was of any use to the other at that moment. We were like parents with a newborn that just started crying for the first time. What in hell’s name do you do with a flat tire?
I would call my dad.
Leaving Todd with the useless car (and this was that apocalyptic moment that one experiences as the vehicle that has been safely and miraculously transporting you a moment before—becomes a useless pieces of junk, a giant liability, and your biggest betrayer the next), I crossed the intersection to an IHOP and found a phone booth in the lobby. It was 9:30 pm. And here’s the thing: I totally expected that my dad would end up getting out of bed, drive three towns over, find us in the Mr. Tux parking lot, and change the tire for us. I completely expected him to do this as I called.
Give a man a fish, I hear, and you give him a meal. Teach a man to fish, and he will never be hungry again—or something like that. And from the other end of the phone line, my dad handed me a pole. “Look in the glove compartment,” he said, “and there should be a manual for the car. That will show you where the spare tire is located.” He went on to explain that cars all (usually) have spare tires, and often, if they haven’t been tampered with, which was likely given the car’s previous owner, it probably had a jack too. “If you can’t find the stuff or change it yourself, you may have to call a tow–truck.” In other words: the car is yours, and you (and Todd) are on your own.
I crossed back to the car, and explained to the astonished Todd what miracle we would be required to perform, and we set to our work. The manual was indeed (!) right in the glove compartment. Sure enough, it indicated that in the back hatch area, under a carpet, was, who ever would have guessed, a spare tire, and a small jack. And here’s the best part: the spare had air in it. And we struggled and toiled, but by the light of the Mr. Tux illuminated sign, we managed to jack up the car, remove the offending flat tire, and replace it with the spare. We were elated. We had snatched victory from the arms of defeat. We drove directly home and parked that thing. It would be at least a week before we’d venture out in it again.