I 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.
Originally posted 2005