Adriana Estrada’ Toyota Corolla Liftback

Adriana pullquoteIn 1981, I thought I was getting a car for Christmas. During the prior 2 weeks, I had noticed my parents speaking in hushed tones (something they never did) and giving each other sly, knowing smiles (another thing they never did). I concluded, therefore, that they were planning something special. So either (a) they were going to give me the car I had been asking for, or (b) they were sending my brother and me off to military school.

For an entire year, I had assailed my parents with one request on a daily basis: I wanted a car. However, my pleas fell on deaf ears. When we were out driving, I would point and shout, “Look at that cool (Jeep, Triumph TR6, 1965 Mustang, Porsche, Cadillac Hearse)! I want one of those.” None of it impressed my parents, who stared coolly at the road ahead of us.

As a junior in high school, I was horrified that I was one of the last upperclassmen still riding the school bus. Most of my classmates had already received cars for birthdays, quiñceneras, or upon some somber occasion, like the death of a grandparent. Not me. I had to ride the bus with the freshmen and sophmores. To avoid them, I would sit right behind the driver and read a book until I got a headache.

Christmas morning was the usual fun. Dad made pancakes in his robe and blasted Handel’s Messiah on the stereo. Mom curled up on the couch with her coffee insisting that we save all ribbons and wrapping paper. My brother and I handed out and opened presents, modelled new sweaters, perused new books, and tied ribbons (that my mother deemed unworthy of saving) on the cat and dog. It was all great, but no car. I was disappointed, but not defeated. I knew that there was still my next birthday, then Christmas, then another birthday…

Later that day, my dad told us to get dressed so we could go to the movies. We piled into his Thunderbird and headed for Century City, stopping on the way, as my dad said he needed to pick something up at his office.

When we pulled into the underground parking lot, my dad said we should come up to the office. Getting out, my parents came toward me and covered my eyes with their hands. Leading me further into the garage, I could hear my brother laughing. My dad yelled, “Ta da!” Uncovering my eyes, I saw before me a gray 1979 Toyota Corolla Liftback. It was not the jeeptruimphmustangporsche that I had hoped for, but it did not matter; it was cute, and it was mine.

I got in and adjusted the seat. My dad got in on the other side and said, “See, just like one of those little European sports cars!” He was right. It was. It was great.

My parents took me out driving everyday until they were confident I could do it on my own. Then I was allowed to go out – but only if my brother came with me, and only during the day.

After the New Year, my brother and I happily drove to school. When we saw the school bus, we honked and waved. Life was grand. We went to the movies, the mall, the grocery store, anywhere. All this lasted for about a year. One rainy day after school, my brother, our friend Armida and I were driving home. The light in front of me turned yellow, then red. I stopped, but the pick up truck behind me did not! We were hit so hard we ended up on the other side of the intersection. We were wearing our seat belts, so we were not hurt, but my back windshield was shattered and the back of the car was smashed in by about 3 feet. Fortunately, my brother was not crushed.

I got out of the car to see what happened. The man who hit us drove past me slowly and pointed at me as if it was my fault. I screamed at him to stop but he kept going. I took down his license plate number and drove to the nearest fire department. My mom picked us up about 20 minutes later.

A few days afterward, we found out the man who hit me did not have a license or insurance. My insurance company deemed the car “totaled” and gave us a check for about $300.00. Monday morning I was back on the bus. It was not so bad. I later heard that some guy bought the car, fixed it, and was driving it back and forth to Mexico.

Adriana Estrada, 2004

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Hisao Yatsuhashi’s Aged V

Chevy VegaThe Aged V: A Brief History

On the surface it was an unassuming economy car—another metal box on wheels anonymously cruising the streets of Massachusetts. This soulless vessel would prove to be more than a way to get from here to there. For me, it became a repository for my attention, time, aspirations and neglectfulness. After all it was my first car, and it would be whatever I chose it to be.

My Father’s Car

First of all it was my father’s car. He bought the 1976 Chevy Vega hatchback from Mirak Chevrolet of Arlington, Mass. Contrary to conventional wisdom he picked this used, runt of the litter despite its history as a rental car. Perhaps he was haunted by the intangible qualities that would later intrigue me. Or more likely, his Yankee frugality could not pass up the price.

In 1980 I was a senior in high school and spending less and less time with my family and enjoying every moment of the high school daze. When cancer quickly took my father’s life in December, I was jolted from my daze and brought closer to my family. That’s when my father’s car became my first car and in its own way helped me ease back into the world of high school, friends and young adulthood.

Great Expectations

I suppose the Vega was one of GM’s feeble attempts at providing the American public with an economy car. The aluminum engine block saved weight, but was not the best choice for longevity, since the metal was prone to warping. Besides, the ungainly mass of the side doors easily canceled out any weight savings achieved in the engine. Its gas mileage was not great and it had little power.

My Vega was painted a shade of gray that often passed for silver. The factory installed air conditioning was fading faster than its apple red interior and the sound system consisted of a stock AM radio. However, the hatchback and fold down seat were handy for transporting my other mode of transportation and backup vehicle, a 12–speed Fuji bicycle.

I christened the car the “Aged V” inspired by a doddering, elderly character, Aged P, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations—an appropriate name for a doddering, aging lemon of a car. We read in English class that the protagonist, Pip, described the Aged P as “clean, cheerful, comfortable, and well cared for, but intensely deaf”. Substitute the word “deficient” for “deaf” and you had the Aged V.

My father had transferred an old license plate number he had forever to the Vega. I thought it was the coolest random arrangement of numbers—62524. My grandfather had 62523. In one fit of madness I broke that historical chain by getting a set of “AGED V” vanity plates. Today, I wonder what I was thinking, but at the time it seemed a very sane decision. It was one way of marking the car as mine, and it gave it some badly needed personality.

Primp My Ride

In my mind’s eye I saw the “V” as a distant cousin to the Camaro Z28. All it needed was a few modifications to bring it closer to my vision. In reality it was a Ford Pinto knockoff and my feeble modifications did nothing to bring it closer to even that humble standard.

Originally, the only music that emanated from my car was from the AM radio. I bought a used cassette deck and speakers from my friend Chris. After a couple of hours of work we had “Yes” reverberating through the car’s frame like a pipe organ echoing through the grand halls of a cathedral. The only mishap during installation was a misplaced hole in an interior side panel that I eventually concealed with a makeshift poster of The Police, cut from a “Zenyatta Mondatta” album sleeve and laminated in Saran wrap.

When I was in need of a mentor, an acquaintance of mine, “O.B.”, took me under his wing. He was a proud owner of an Astre, Pontiac’s version of the Vega. Being an Astre enthusiast and therefore a proponent of Vegas, he wanted to improve upon my paltry mechanical skills enough to properly maintain my newly acquired charge. He showed me the basics like where the distributor cap was, and how to change and gap the spark plugs. Our big project was by–passing the pollution control system. Did it improve the engines performance? Marginally at best, but as far as I was concerned I might as well have turbocharged the engine.

Another acquaintance of mine, Mike, actually owned a Camaro Z28. It had a T–roof with removable glass panels, a concealed radar detector and a nice sound system. Mike had an air of mystery about him. He never allowed his picture to be taken. He also once told me that he had been in a “very bad” accident, as he stared at his faintly scarred right hand. Nonetheless, he had the seatbelts removed from the Z28. “They irritated me,” he mumbled. Inspired by this bold move I cut the irritating shoulder strap from the Aged V’s driver’s side seat belt. Ahh, the freedom!! But not too much. I was too safety conscious to eliminate the lap belt too.

What Cost, Freedom?

In the fall of 1981 I was off in the Aged V to Montréal, Québec to start university. I had drained my bank account with investments in the car—giving it a fresh set of all–season radials, repairing a damaged oil pan, and trying twice to repair a leaky air conditioning system. There was never any doubt that I would take the Aged V to school. I definitely needed the freedom to make road trips whenever I pleased.

Once again reality interfered with my ideal. The road trips did occur without incident. But because of student visa restrictions, I was forbidden to earn any money. And the bills were mounting up. I dabbled in forgery to make a fake campus parking pass, avoiding the $30 per month parking fee. But more obstacles kept popping up including high Québec gas prices, severe winter conditions and the fact that I had to attend classes, study, and take exams.

The Neglected Loved One

The Aged V spent the next semester sitting in my driveway back home in Massachusetts. It did not appreciate the fact that I was continuing on with my life 300 miles away while it stared at the same spot for four months. The V felt like it was getting punished, and it couldn’t figure out why. It became obsessed at figuring out ways to get back at me.

I flew home in April to pick up the Aged V for an end of school–year road trip. I planned to visit friends, go back to school, take my last exams, collect my things and return home for the summer. On the way out to visit my buddy Collin in Schenectady, New York, I noticed a disturbing vibration in the front wheels that the stereo system could not drown out. I added a couple of long days to my Schenectady stay while I waited through the weekend for a garage to open. The garage replaced the wheel bearings, and the Aged V had completed part one of its revenge scheme.

The next afternoon, I was back on the road to Montréal, but my car had other plans. Around Troy it decided to spew fire from its carburetor. It was back to my favorite town for another full day in the garage, more money and completion of part two of the revenge scheme. Later, after spending far too much time in Schenectady, I headed back to Montréal, worrying about the exams I hadn’t studied for. As I approached the Adirondack Mountains I read a sign, “You are entering 80 miles of the most scenic highway in America”. Great, the sun had set an hour ago.

Afterword: A New Focus

After that trip, things were really not the same between us. We enjoyed each other’s company, but I no longer showered the Aged V with attention. We kept it strictly business—oil changes and short trips only. The V spent autumns and winters at home in the driveway. In 1988 it could no longer go on. It spent its last days on the lot of a repair shop with a for sale sign on it. When there were no takers, it was towed away to the junkyard.

Now, years later I am a proud owner of a Ford Focus sedan. Contrary to conventional wisdom I picked a used, runt of the litter despite its history as a rental car. Perhaps I was haunted by intangible qualities that may later intrigue me. Or more likely, my Yankee frugality could not pass up the price. It has no nickname, it’s not my first car and it will not be my last.

But maybe I’ll spring for some vanity plates. I wonder if 62524 is taken?

Hisao Yatsuhashi
Originally posted 2005

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Ted Widmer’s Buick Skylark

Ted Widmer's Buick SkylarkI bought my 1966 Buick Skylark for a grand total of $300 cash the week I graduated from college, June 1984. It was by far the biggest withdrawal I had ever made from my bank account and put a major hurt on my life savings. I remember the bank teller wishing me good luck when I explained my purpose. ATM machines don’t do that.

She was a black beauty. Sleek, with two doors. Muscular, with rakish lines that were rather un-Buick and must have caused a long conversation at GM. A bit dented here and there, but ferocious when she wanted to be, like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate. It was the summer that Raymond Patriarca died, the New England mafia boss, and I remember thinking that the enormous trunk could easily hold two or three hostages. Even the glove compartment was bigger than the VW I now own.

I drove her all around Boston and the back roads of New England that summer, like Che Guevara in the Motorcycle Diaries, but much better protected from rain and bad drivers. I drove to Gloucester and Ayer and Fitchburg with my girlfriend of the time, Sweet Mary Rhinelander. We listened to a lot of ballgames and old-people music on the am (of course) radio. The Sox were not great but there was a lot of hope for the future, thanks to up-and-coming prospects like Oil Can Boyd and Roger Clemens. We saw many games at Pawtucket, and I had a Pawsox bumper sticker. It was a great time for skylarking. Ken Coleman’s voice made everything all right.

Reality set in that fall. Sweet Mary moved to a tiny flat in Boston’s North End, above a banana warehouse, so cold that the toilet water would freeze. On those narrow 18th century streets the Buick was like a disoriented whale that had swum into a shallow inlet with no egress. I had to look for not one, but two parking spots in a row, and that can take a toll on a man. Then one day when I was driving in Providence, the brakes stopped working. Just like that. I continued anyway (I had little choice), and after a few existential seconds, they resumed. That was a good stop. But when they failed to work the next day, I began to suspect that I had a problem. This was confirmed by my brother Matt, who went down the biggest hill in Providence, brakeless, as if the Buick had become a toboggan.

I can’t remember when I sold the Buick, or to whom, or for how much. I know that I soon bought an even bigger car – not easy to do. A 1966 Imperial LeBaron that resembled the Civil War Ironclad, the U.S.S. Monitor, both in length and unsinkability. But that car tanked as well, and I always missed my little black Buick. I still do.

Ted Widmer
Originally posted 2005

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Chris’ VW Bug

First Car quoteDuring Reagan’s second administration I listened to a lot of the Grateful Dead to escape the horrors of 80’s popular culture. I became obsessed with owning an old Volkswagen, so much so that I carried a toy bug to school that I had painted with the colors that I was going to paint my future car. I was sixteen and I finally earned enough money from selling pot to buy a 1971 Beetle for $280. You can probably guess that I didn’t sell a lot of pot.

The car ran well but it was rusted so badly that it was almost entirely held together by the Styrofoam that a previous owner had squirted into the chassis and between body panels. We slapped a borrowed plate on and drove it home, where I parked it just outside my bedroom window so I could gaze upon it before I went to bed and when I woke up.

I loved that car. In the first week, to tunes emanating from the onespeakered FM radio, I did paint it with a few cans of cheap paint and some foam brushes—blue with maroon trim. I thought it was beautiful, but I now realize that my sense of style was compromised by the decade.

Some of you might remember the big pot drought in summer of 1986. Because of lackluster pot sales, in addition to the fact that my mother thought it was a ‘death trap’ and wouldn’t loan me the money, I never actually registered the car, yet I managed to put over 100 miles on it that summer just doing doughnuts around my neighborhood when my mother wasn’t home and teaching other kids how to drive.

The car was so rusted that the floors would scrape the ground when you drove over a bump and water soaked your feet when you drove through puddles. I eventually took the engine apart to see how it worked. I could never get it running again, so I took everything else apart to see how the rest of it worked. One day I spray–painted it with hippy graffiti and gleefully beat it up with an aluminum baseball bat, though I’m still not sure why. The next day I had it towed to a junkyard that gave me $50 for it, with which I bought a bag of pot.

Now, almost twenty years and four Volkswagens later, I still own an old VW Bug, a 1969 which has its own unique ownership story. Unlike my first bug this one in near mint condition, it is registered and I didn’t buy it with money I earned from selling pot.

Chris Hamilton's First Car

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John Graham’s First Car was an Art Car

John Graham's Toyota CorollaTo most people, my first car was as mundane as they come: a 1969 Toyota Corolla station wagon. While it was the first Toyota made in America (with 30 million sold worldwide) and the most popular car line in history, my friends—who all owned various incarnations of late Sixties and early Seventies Camaros, Mustangs and pick–up trucks—were certain I was some sort of milquetoast old lady with my choice of automobile.

But it was 1977. I wasn’t even old enough to drive yet. Even then I was looking at my lithe high water booty backside of a first car as an economical choice. Oil prices were on the rise and I just didn’t want to look stupid paying a lot for gas. Also, suffice to say, I was neither a speed nor power freak. At the age of fifteen, I was a cultural man and I had the nearly astute idea that my Corolla was a kind of B–version of a European sports sedan.

I bought the car from Luigi Scanapierco, a curly blond haired Italian waiter, both wiry and wily, whom I had met while working as a busboy at the Italian restaurant in my family’s neighborhood. I paid about 900 dollars for the car and had to wait six months before I was even old enough to drive it. During that time I sat in the driver’s seat and turned the blinkers on and off, preparing for the day I got my license.

My first move to set the little station wagon apart from other cars was to paint the hubcaps white. This gave it a kind of mod flair, like the white leather shoes that Joe Jackson the singer was wearing around that time. Then I turned my sights to the inside. Since my mother had just re–carpeted the family room in a sunset–orange shag, I covered the floors and back hatch area with the extra bits she stored in the garage. Next came the stereo, which was quite modern for the day. Instead of relying on 8–track tapes, I would be modernizing and buying cassettes. The radio was AM/FM, tuned to 94.7 KMET, 95.5 KLOS and a static–ridden KROQ which came out of Orange County.

Eventually, I got my license and set out driving. The car really moved, kind of like an Alpha Romeo, kind of, sort of. But its brakes were so bad that it was dangerous to drive on the very steep hills that made up the coastal community where I lived. Traveling at sixty miles an hour down Crenshaw Boulevard towards Torrance Beach, I had developed the crafty but dangerous habit of rubbing the wheels against the center divider to slow the car down. Occasionally I would lift the hand brake in desperation if the friction of the curb wasn’t enough. After all, I was sixteen years old and fearless, kind of, sort of.

The gas tank slightly leaked. I discovered from an older car owner that you could turn a screw in the hull to prevent too much fuel loss, although the small patch of gas and accompanying stream it created did not preclude the properly tossed cigarette from turning my entire automotive fantasy into a sudden pyre.

I suppose I had a mostly good and enjoyable time in this, my first car. I only crashed it twice. Once, in a in a hailstorm, I hit a patch of ice (which as a native of the Los Angeles area I had never seen in my life) and slid into a cement light post. After multiple tries at fixing it myself over a period of months—and with the help of some numb nut self–proclaimed mechanic I had met—I finally just made a claim on my insurance and got the car fixed, only to have the axle disengage in the first week back from the shop as I made a turn into the high school parking lot. As I remember, I flew into a rage at the injustice of it all only slightly aware that I was learning about the endless and seemingly karmic infractions car ownership could inflict upon a person.

I’m not sure how many months passed where I drove the car unimpeded and smoothly. But eventually, one late Saturday night, rounding a curve on the way home from a class party, I rolled that strangely balanced shoe box of a vehicle end over end. Even the floor mats flew out. The only items left in the car were me, seatbelt–less, I might add—and the stereo, which was still blasting Jethro Tull, “Songs from the woo-OOOD!”

I had really done a number. While I had missed every car parked on the narrow residential street—a miracle worth notifying the Vatican for—the roof and the front window were crushed. Ironically, the little betty still drove. I went back to the party and retrieved my friends to follow me as I drove home with the crumpled windshield divided between the backseat and my front pocket. It wasn’t a day or two before I headed off to the junkyard to get a new windshield. I brought it home, built a frame, like a jeep’s windshield, which fit snuggly up against the wipers.

Then I cut the front half of the flattened roof off using a hacksaw and pliers. I had roll bars installed because the suspension was gone after I cut the roof off. I then painted the whole apparatus flat black.

Since my mom was having the house re–roofed, there was plenty of wooden shingles lying about. They covered a two–by–four frame, which I put together to slip into the exposed channels left from the cut–off roof. Fortunately, we were in the middle of a drought and it didn’t rain for about nine months, so it was some time before I got to formally install my clumsy, pastoral shingle roof set-up. I do remember, though, the roof worked pretty well by the time it finally rained.

As I was set to head off to college in the fall, I sold it to a guy who later became a reverend and started his own church. One day when I was home the first summer after my freshmen year, I got a notice from the State saying they had found my car abandoned in Orange County, along the side of a road. I let them know I hadn’t seen it in ten months and likely the guy—who before getting religion was a major stoner—hadn’t followed through and transferred the pink slip. They accepted my explanation and that was the last I heard of the 1969 Toyota Corolla station wagon I bought from an Italian waiter named Luigi. It was kind of a legend in the neighborhood, and I never gave up on it. It was my first car.

John Graham

John Graham is an artist and writer living in San Francisco. Additional work can be seen at

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quoteShe was named after that old horse in the cartoons that was always at the back of the pack in the race, bow–backed, buck–toothed, and coughing up a storm. I think Porky Pig was at the rails, ripping his betting slip in two and crying in frustration, once again betting on the losing horse. But just when all seemed lost, the old horse would get bit in the ass by a bee, sending her into a frenzy, winning the race, and narrowly saving her from the guys in the glue truck waiting to take her away.

Tea Biscuit.

She was a blue, 1984 Chevy S–10 extended-cab pick-up truck. I remember shopping for her with my dad, passing over all the trucks on the lots and instead custom–ordering all the options from a catalog at the kitchen table. She wasn’t going to be my car (I was 12) but I was able to have a say in the options. So she got the extended cab, the 4–speaker stereo, the cloth seats, and the sliding rear window to go along with her rear-wheel drive, 4–cylinder engine. I remember one of Dad’s fellow scout leaders commenting when he saw her that she was a “pick–up,” said with a squeaky high voice, as opposed to a “PICK–UP,” said with a booming, low voice. I didn’t care and I don’t think my dad did, either.

I learned to drive a standard in that truck, at the same time that I learned to drive at all. I had a huge Ford LTD station wagon (‘78) at my disposal all through high school, but it was the blue truck I preferred. We’d pile kids in the bed and drive into Boston, me yelling at them through the sliding rear window to get down and hide whenever a cop came in sight. A few times we went surfing down Interstate 93, a couple of kids hanging onto ropes in the back, hanging a leg and an arm off the side, being idiots and luckily not dying, the stereo blasting through that sliding rear window.

In college I’d get her for a few weeks or months at a time, parking her down a steep driveway in the back of the house I lived in, my housemates always willing to don boots and coats and come sit in the bed to give her traction to make it up the hill when it was icy.

Around then she started getting temperamental. For no reason she wouldn’t start. It probably had something to do with the engine fire she had that Dad put out with the fire extinguisher that he always carried (he regretted it immediately, knowing he should have let her go and collected the insurance). I’d begged and pleaded with her the first few times she died, but it wasn’t until I started giving her steering wheel a deep rubdown, her gearshift a walk–through, and occasionally, a kiss on her grill, that she responded. And she was usually pretty good after that. Nobody believed me when they saw me start that routine but it worked almost every time and that’s all that mattered.

She also couldn’t hold an idle. I got really good at driving with one foot on the gas, one on the brake, and one on the clutch. She couldn’t come to a stop without coughing and sputtering, jerking back and forth and often just quitting. The first time a co–worker of mine saw her (and heard her) he named her Tea Biscuit after that old horse and she was called it ever since. And she sure lived up to the name.

When I graduated from college I planned an epic trip across and around the country with a buddy of mine, camping and backpacking our way through the deepest wilds we could imagine. We had everything planned except for the car—neither of us had one. It took me almost the whole summer after college to talk my dad into giving Tea Biscuit to me. Ultimately, he knew she was mine. He had moved on to a Jeep and Tea Biscuit wasn’t going to be happy spending the rest of her life just going to the dump. She had to be with me. I bought a cap for her and took her to our mechanic downtown and told him that I wanted him to fix her up to make her worthy of my trip. He told me she’d never make it to Detroit, let alone across the country and back. I asked him to do what he could and I think he changed the oil. And we were off.

Well, she made it across and around the country, taking Doug and me on our epic trip and then moving to Montana with me for a year. She blew a hose that we couldn’t afford to repair, forcing us to water her radiator every couple of hours (a condition I lived with for a couple of thousand miles because it didn’t seem so bad). Her starter went a couple of times, but the first time it went I didn’t fix it for months, preferring to push–start her every time. This was kind of a drag in a car that stalled all the time. Gas stations and parallel–parking were challenging, but the most embarrassing were intersections, when she’d inevitably stall and I’d have to jump out and start running with her, door open, through the intersection until I got her fast enough to jump back in and pop–start her. I was lucky she was light and Missoula was flat. The scariest was the winter trip to Glacier where I parked at the top of a hill that led nowhere, knowing that I had two, maybe three tries to start her before I got to the bottom. I blew the first two but somehow she pulled off the third at the last minute, that 20–mile hike out of the woods flashing by as we did a 3–point turn in the snow, balancing that damned clutch, gas, and brake, praying she wouldn’t stall.

She took me solo back across the country when I moved from Missoula to California via Massachusetts. She died at the Mass. border in the toll booth, knowing she was home and me wondering if this was the end or not. But she managed to start again, got me home, and was treated to yet another band–aid repair from the mechanic who counted her out the year before (blown away by the 20,000 or so miles I had put on her in the meantime) before taking me all the way back to California.

In California she couldn’t pass smog with her lack of idle, and I thought (for the millionth time) that she was done. But the mechanic across the street from my house took a liking to her and told me he thought he could fix her if I would invest the money in his time to do it. He refused to tell me how long or how much but I trusted him. A hundred and fifty bucks later I had an idle for the first time in years and a smog certificate to boot.

I had radical bumper stickers on her that made her a sitting duck to vandalism in small towns and trailheads. In northern Cal. during the timber wars I covered the stickers with duct tape to avoid too much damage, and I’m pretty sure the Free Leonard Peltier sticker caused the pack of wild dogs to piss all over her (with me in the car) when I drove through Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. She had a tire shot out by a psycho neighbor in Montana for reasons that I still don’t understand but I think had something to do with me spending more time on my bike than in my truck.

She finally wore out in 1997, just 13 or 14 years old but ancient by mid–80’s Chevy standards. We gave her a candlelight funeral at the mechanic’s the night before she headed off for the junk–yard, drinking Sam Adams Boston Ale and listening to Wilco’s Passenger Side one last time through her stereo. She got a Boston Ale poured on her hood and one secretly stored in her jack compartment, and after I blew out the last candle I gave her one last steering wheel rub, one last gear run–through, and one final grill kiss.

She was a good truck and I’ve missed her ever since.

Adam Keats

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Matt Brady’s VW Camper Van

Matt Brady's VW VanMy first car was a white 1971 Volkswagen Westfalia Camper van. A Bus. The van started its life out with my family and served 3 generations before its eventual suicide in 1998.

In ‘71 my Grandparents started a European tour off with the purchase of a new VW Bus in Germany. At first the factory tried to pass a red one off on them but they waited an extra week for the white one. After a couple of months of touring they packed up the van and had it shipped home on a freighter. Once back in LA the van started its 10 year service to my grandparents.

Later that summer of ‘71 my folks borrowed the van and we used it for a family camping trip. We spent a week on the East side of the Sierra Mountains just south of Mammoth when I was four. My parents slept in the attached tent and my three sisters and I packed into the assortment of beds in the van, including the two cots (one in the pop–up and one across the front seat. One night while roasting marshmallows by the fire, my sister Carla’s marshmallow caught fire. She waved it furiously to put out the blaze but the marshmallow left the stick, flew across the camp and struck me in the right eye, sticking to my face still ablaze. I can still remember later that night that I sat in the front of the van with my mom who packed my eye with butter and showed me all the stars of the Milky Way. That was my first memory in life.

Twelve years later after many road trips with my Grandparents to places as far off as Alaska, my parents bought the van and replaced my Grandparents’ van with a new Westafalia van. When I received my license at 16 my first car was the van. As a high school surfer, a van was a very practical car. We made countless trips to San Onofre for weekend surfs. I traveled up and down the California coast visiting friends and seeking out waves. Even at home there were times that I would sleep in the van above my favorite surf break just so I could wake up and hit it at 5am. Not too many people thought the van was very special, but a few of the parents of the girls I dated were keenly aware that the van was NOT just a car!

Once during my junior year of high school a spontaneous party broke out in the van. We were all meeting at the school to go somewhere (anywhere to have some fun and drink beer). Since no one had a good idea, we just just ended up partying in the van. All 14 of us. People were pounding beers in the back while others were making out in the front. The cops even came by once but we had all the curtains closed and they did not notice that the bus was sagging on its suspension.

The summer of ‘84 I finally had real girlfriend. I took off to Puerto Escondido by myself that year to surf for 5 weeks but when I got back she was waiting for me. My magical moment (or not so magical) of losing my virginity was in the back bed of the van. I got the girl home so late that her Dad made her break up with me the next day.

In ‘85 I left for college and was van–less for many years. I owned a Subaru wagon for a few years but in 1993 when that exploded I bought the van from my parents. I had quit my job that year and was planning to travel around the world. I started it out with a trip up the California coast to Canada and Vancouver Island. My fiancé Helga and I also made many trips to the mountains in the van. There is something great about not knowing where you are going until you get there. Because you’ve always got a place to sleep, the van is a great way to travel, that is, if you don’t mind a maximum speed of 55 MPH (downhill with a tailwind) or it doesn’t bother you that a strong gust of wind can make you change lanes unexpectedly.

Helga and I liked the van so much that I made sure to tell my Grandparents that if they were ever going to sell their ‘82 Vanagon to let me know. After my world travels my Grandparents gave Helga and I the newer van and we sold the trusted old Bus. I couldn’t part with the attached tent however. It had gained the nickname Shangri la and I still have it today. We sold the van to a friend at the beach in San Francisco, named Kelso. He used it to go camping with his girlfriend and to take his Oakland inner city kids to the Mountains for the first time. When I sold the van to Kelso I warned him that the fatal flaw of the Volkswagen was that it air cooled with a propensity to overheat and catch fire.

Less than a year after I sold the van, and after 23 years in my family, the white bus caught fire on the 580 freeway in San Leandro. It was explained to me that the entire vehicle went up in flames. Even the front seats and fiberglass pop top were ablaze. To this day it is suspected by my family that, after the sadness of leaving the Brady family, the van was too sad and committed hari cari. No matter the cause, the bus has faded into legend and provides my friends and family many fond memories of my First Car.

Matt Brady

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Robert Schwarzenbach’s first car was a Ford Anglia

Roberts AngliaTony handed me a grease smudged white envelope containing 15 crisp five dollar bills. Reluctantly, I handed him one set of car keys and the pink slip to a 1962 Anglia, my first automotive purchase which had cost me $150.00. (Anglia was a British economy car made by Ford, some of which were sold in the U.S. market.)

It had been on July 22, 1971, when, arriving at my parents house from my summer job at the Shop Rite grocery store, I was greeted by a sight that to this day stirs my deepest emotions: the faded sky blue exterior interfacing with fake red leather interior, leaving me speechless. Bucket seats with “four on the floor” accented with a eight ball on the shifter: bold but not overstated. The inverted rear window had a sculptural quality that seemed to have been fabricated by the same firm that did Stonehenge. Under the hood was a blistering four cylinder engine that produced 36 miles to a gallon of gas and went 0 to 60 really, really fast—though I never timed her.

But what caught my eye the most, the real diamond in the rough is that my Anglia sported a 10″ go–cart steering wheel. This was of course illegal, but these were troubled times my dear friends and the rogue quality of the vehicle appealed to my sense of rebellion as I prepared for my senior year of high school.

As the months went by people heard about this 10″ steering wheel and were very curious, to say the least. Muscle cars and pick-up trucks began to resent that there was this foreign car that was operating under a different set of rules. “Who the hell does he think he is driving around with that small steering wheel?” they demanded. They began to resent the Anglia, distrusting its independence.

But to others it was a beacon of light in a turbulent sea. They rallied around the small steering wheel and never tired of hearing the exploits of enhanced driving capabilities that defied the laws of physics. There were tales of late nights racing through empty country roads in western New Jersey where the vehicle’s operator was driving in a condition that society would have taken an unfavorable view of, if not punitive action. But the Anglia made it back—the 10″ steering wheel held its course, and I can tell the tale.

Tony and his side kick Yazz finished securing the Anglia to the tow-hitch and looked in my direction.

What will become of the vehicle, I asked?

Tony spoke first. “Well, we were thinking of taking her into the shop and make a mini stock car out of her.”

Yazz added that they could race her up in Hazeltown or Nazereth.

“So this,” I thought, “is the fate that awaits my Anglia—the freak show stock car races of eastern Pennsylvania.”

I silently watched them pull away and as I did, I could feel my eyes water and a single tear roll down my grief stricken face. It landed on the sun parched earth of the driveway and disappeared into the depths below. When I looked up the Anglia had turned the corner and was gone.

Robert Schwarzenbach

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Mary Rhinelander’s Volvo Station Wagon

1978. A passenger in a smash
Nutcase trauma from the crash*
“I will never drive
I want to stay alive”
Became my Mantra.

*Pieces of glass still work themselves out of my
cousin’s scalp.

1988. “Can I go by subway? Bus? Train?”
So unmelodic, a tired refrain.
PLUS (Memo to self)
Additional benefit of car:
Destination near or far,
Leaving is possible.

2002. Hey! We need milk! Some nails!
A snow shovel! Imported ales!
Time/reality have interceded
Mantra goals now impeded
By everyday life.

Never too late to drive
(pushing 45)
I pay cash for a fire-breathing dragon
Okay, a used Volvo station wagon.
This baby is Venetian Red.

I’m still a nervous Nelly.
A pit of dread in my belly.
The brakes are sensitive (too much?)
Responding to my slightest touch.
Safety matters most.

Of my own volition
I turn a key in the ignition.
My hands sweat, atremble
I do not in the least resemble
A brave person.

However, 0 to 60 in 8 rocks.
The sun roof rolls.
The CD player rules.
Power and technology* the tools
that make my vehicle purr.

*My fat middle-aged ass loves the seat warmers

Strapped in back sits beloved Freddy,
Built-in car seat at the ready.
He has christened her, this car.
She’s fast, she’s heavy,
She’s  “Rock Star”

2004. I live in the sticks now
Dodging deer, the occasional cow.
Driving stress is less.
Dare I confess?
I even enjoy it sometimes.

Mary Rhinelander

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Bill Svec’s Hugger Camaro

bill's hugger camaroMy first car was technically my grandfathers old 4 door Comet—I was in college and basically used it as a means of transportation. After I received my Associate Degree, I started working (a major mistake—I should have continued my education). Money was burning in my pocket and a new car was in my dreams.

My real first new car became a 1969 and one–half hugger orange Chevy Camaro rally sport with a black top and interior. The Saturday came when I was finally going to pick it up. It was a beautiful morning and I was planning to go looking for an apartment that afternoon about an hour away.

I drove home from the dealership and pulled into my side of the garage with the anticipation that later that evening this car was going cruising for the first time. I lived near a town that had a main street that resembles the main drag in American Graffiti, and I was very anxious to cruise Broadway with my shinny hugger orange Camaro. Unfortunately when I backed the car out of my garage I noticed a pool of fluid on the floor. To my dismay it was transmission fluid and not wishing to test my luck, I pulled the car back into the garage and made for a mad dash to the phone to call my salesman at home. He said he would pick the car up on Monday and have it checked over. So much for cruising Broadway.

I got my car back on Tuesday and the next day drove it to work. That evening as I was coming home I noticed an unusual noise. I called my salesman again and he said he would pick up the car the following day. I now had a car that has gone less than 50 miles going back to the garage for the second time in its first week of ownership.

Unfortunately I received a call at work late on Friday that my new car had a cracked fly wheel and they had to order the part. As luck would have it, GM went on strike and it was about a month that my new car sat in the garage of the dealership. I was one unhappy car owner and little did I realize that this was just the beginning of some new car bad luck.

After about 9,000 miles of driving, I was coming home from night school on a rainy and cold November night and got a flat on a normally busy four lane highway. I pulled the car onto a very dark street and dressed in my tan raincoat proceeded to change the tire in the rain and dark. I was dressed in a suit under my top coat and was fumbling around in the dark and pouring rain, thinking that I had all the bolts off (after looking for the jack and jacking up the car.) My hands were already numb and wet. I was finally able to remove the tire and place the spare on it. I was cold and soaking wet. To say I had a few words for this night would be an understatement.

I had this same hugger orange Camaro when I got married. It is tradition in our family to decorate the groom’s or bride’s clothes/house/car etc. on the wedding night. My wedding party, family and relatives decided to target my car. My bride and I thought we would outwit them by taking her car that wedding evening. The next morning we discovered the damage that they had done to my car. White liquid shoe polish with drawings and sayings covered this once beautiful car. “Svec’s Construction company —Erections unlimited” was written on the side. The front hood had what appeared to be two noses facing each other with the words, “Nose to nose and toes to toes and everything goes”.

This car was very special right up to day I traded it in. A couple of accidents, my first born and high gasoline prices pursuaded me to eventually trade it in. I could elaborate on the accidents and a major blizzard I experienced with the car, in which I never made it home that night but did make it to a friend’s house by public transportation only to take a bus the next day and dig my car out from a few feet of snow drift 6 to 8 feet deep.

I still get teary-eyed thinking about this car.

Bill Svec

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