Friday, November 30, 2007

Your Automotive Image

When you think of a person, specifically a friend, guy, gal, doesn't matter, what car do you associate with them? On average, folks change cars every 3-5 years, so taking a mid-mark of 4 years, a person would have gone through roughly 6-7 cars by the time they're in their mid-40's.

So, what's the car you associate with when you think of your spouse, your best friend, a work colleague? Then, think again, what's the car that you think (or is that, hope) your friends, family, and spouse think of when they ponder your personality? The car may be a motorcycle or a bicycle (thanks WP for pointing that out) for some folks.
My first car, but not my first amour de la voiture, was an"Ol' 55". I bought it for a hundred bucks (yes $100, no decimals) from a friend who decided to bag the material life and join a religious order. I thought that both God and I did o.k. on his decision. He, in turn, had purchased it from an aunt for $25.00. She had driven out to the East Coast from California with her husband. They arrived in Jersey one day, two days later her husband died. Like an Alaskan salmon on its final trip upstream.

The car served me well in my trips from Jersey to college in Montreal. In its day the Chevy was like a Taurus, i.e., a fleet car a lot of the companies had in the 1950's and 1960's. It had a straight 6, a carburetor, some brakes, seats, and that's about it. When you pulled the hood up (which felt like lifting weights; most cars were hunks of good ol' American steel back then) and peeked down into the engine compartment, you could see the street. Working on the car was a dream. Oil changes, rod work, manifold changes. You could sit inside the engine area and work on the spark plugs. Your faithful dog could sit there, right next to you, wagging off tire dust from the frame. Oil changes were clean and easy; gravity was your friend. It was easy, as a kid, to see how a car really worked.

Since the Bel-air I had was from a California telephone company fleet, it did not look like the photo here. The body was the same, but there was no chrome trim. It was a 3 speed manual on the floor; since the bench seats were high, the shifter was a chrome pole, easily 15 inches long. It was on its last life cycle when I became its caretaker. The backseats were completely shot so I ripped them out and replaced the back seat area with a rug and 3 sleeping bags. At one time, I even had two small bean bag chairs in the back. Since it was a 1955 model, there were no seat belts and Jersey laws didn't grandfather them in.

The heater core died when I was in Montreal, so I drove the car with a thick Blanket on my lap, insulated underwear, a scraper (to scrape the ice accumulating on the inside of the car, and a ball peen hammer to hit the starter when it froze up on minus 20 degree Celsius days. It drove through snow and snowbanks like a plow truck. Late model cars that pulled out of side streets when they should not have bounced off of the tank-like steel. Some guy in a Toyota came out of the parking lot of the Royal Vic and hit the massive front fender. Not even a scratch on the Chevy; his entire front end was collapsed. Ski trips were especially enjoyable as the natives had never gone to Tremblant or St. Saveur while buried on the floor of a car in sleeping bags and blankets. I put in a decent sound system and car's interior, about the size of the Academy of Music, had great acoustics. The Dead, Eagles, Miles, and Alice Cooper never sounded better to this mind's ears. For a college kid with minimal cash, it was the perfect match. The biggest kick and one I'd get on a regular basis would be the "Cinquante-cinq! Non?! comment I'd get at a stop light or sign. Truly, it was a washed out reddish color with a non-jazzy body trim, but people still got a kick of seeing the car move, especially when the streets were snow-covered.

Big Red and I lived together in Jersey, Montreal, and North Carolina where I finally parted ways with what had become an oil-eating machine. The fellow I sold it to was a self-employed carpenter. He came by in a beat-up pickup to eye it over. His dog jumped out of the cargo area, sniffed the car up and down, lifted a leg, and splashed a touch of un-holy water on a rear tire.
The fellow looked at me, said "That'll do it", handed over $500 and drove it away.

No, his dog didn't drive his pick-up behind him. Another guy, who I had mistaken for a box of clothes in the front seat, woke up and toodled on behind him.

So, what's your automotive image?

***Note Bene***:
A favorite reader who would rather comment in person (and since I love the tone of her voice, I protest not too loudly) noted that the inclusion of the structure known to some of as paragraphs, would be highly advisable if I really wanted readers (i.e., her) to make it through the end of my postings.

(New paragraph) As I strive to service my small but highly enthusiastic group of readers, I will incorporate such structure or simply keep my entries shorter.

Any other structual/grammatical comments would be appreciated.
Yes, yes, I do realize that my sentences take on Dickensian length and that I use the "/" whenever i am caught on the fence between two words, thus "/"ing for both. I am working on those problems.

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Please assure me that the sound-system included an 8-track cassette player! I loved those things, particularly when we played the tapes we made at home, with songs that would cut out two notes into a guitar solo, the chunk back into place a few notes later as the deck shifted tracks.

I never owned a car until I married, and my wife reluctantly added my name to the insurance policy. Even so, nobody would ever confuse her car as belonging to me. And I don't think I ever owned a motorcycle long enough to be visually associated with it (I owned two, and reduced the first one to scrap metal just weeks after I'd purchased it. I fell off the second one just outside Monterey, California, which pretty much persuaded me to sell the thing the minute I made it back home -- if I made it back home).

No, if there is a vehicle I am associated with, it's my beloved green bicycle, which continues to serve me 20 years after I purchased it.

By the way, I share your nostalgia for the days when cars could be dismantled and reassembled with the ease of Lego-blocks. These days I'm reluctant to even check the oil on my Echo: near as I can tell, the engine would fall to pieces if I so much as looked cross-eyed at it.
The '55 Chevy does fit. My first "car" was a '55 Ford pickup truck (spray painted black) and, while my husband at the time did most of the driving and mechanical work on it, I could and did in fact climb inside under the hood and stood on the ground next to the engine block while assisting with the maintenance and upkeep.

But my car persona would have to be a VW Beetle, preferably the old classic (although I love my New Beetle almost as much). I've owned three, but my favorite was the '67 convertible inherited from my grandfather not long after selling the '55 Ford.
Sorry to disappoint you, but no 8-track for the Ol' 55. A friend had an 8-track in his suspension-challenged vehicle and it was quickly determined that jostling on a road and consistent sound were mutually exclusive. The tracks on the 8-track tended to bleed into each other. Fairport Convention's albums tended to sound like a jig and a dirge. Simultaneously.
So, no, I went with a Kenwood FM/Cassette deck with the speakers wired such that I had a headphone jack dangling from the dash that I used on long trips.

Ah, the VW Beetle. Great-sounding 4 speed mixer engine, flat-faced dashboard, battery under the rear seat. A buddy had one that we tooled around on the beachs of Jersey. Great for parking, as the four of us could just lift the car and place it in any/every tight space we found. He thought the car was so light that it could float in the ocean, a fact that he learned was not exactly true. Even the Bug couldn't survive the rusting agent that is the Atlantic Ocean; the floorboards went first, followed by the front seats falling through the floor.
Ah yes, rust. The enemy. We joked that we were better off without the floor anyway since our feet were needed to move the car uphill, a la Flintstones. ;-)
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