My Family (a long time ago)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nothing Wrong With An Old Car

I was talking to my daughter about how in the fall we may be getting a newer car for my wife and that her current car would become the kids’ car. Our 2001 Toyota Camry has about 150,000 miles on it and a few nicks, dings and dents. However, I think it would make a great car for my son and daughter. Then I realized that it is 11 years old and that’s even older than the cars I used to drive when I was a kid.

When I first had my license I thought our car was so old, and it was, compared to a lot of my friends. I got my license in 1978 and we had a 1968 Chevrolet Impala that had seen better days, but hey it got us around. Of course, I couldn’t just take it whenever I wanted. My older brothers all had their own cars, but my sister, who is a year older than me, and I both wanted to use it at various times. A year later, my younger brother got his license and there were three of us looking to use it. Luckily, my best friend Tony had his own car and the other member of our trio, Jeff, was usually able to use his father’s Caddy.

As my parents did with the other kids before me, when I first started driving and was able to use the car I had to run an errand or two for them before I could do what I wanted. So I’d pick up Tony and/or Jeff, go to the store for some milk or bread, bring it home and then I could go about my business. While it was a bit of a nuisance to have to do it, I figured it was worth the extra time so that I could get out of the house with my buddies, cruise through town, see people and be seen. There were just a few rules I had to follow: put gas in the car, no alcohol in the car and don’t be late. My parents were very big on being home on time. It was a responsibility and a respect thing and I didn’t want to break that trust.

There were a few little quirks about the car that I had to learn when I began going out on my own. One was that you couldn’t accelerate too quickly, especially starting from a complete stop. If you did, the car would bog down, sometimes stall out, and not go fast. That was kind of good for me because I didn’t take chances when pulling into traffic so I didn’t cut people off or have any accidents. Tony and Jeff used to tell me I drove like an old lady, but I was just being careful and taking into consideration the condition of the car. Probably related somehow to the same issue, you couldn’t take corners too quickly either, especially sharp turns, or the car could stall out on you. Before you think it was all bad with the ’68 Chevy, it wasn’t. When you took your time driving it ran pretty well. 

The quirkiness of the car will always have a special place in my heart because it actually saved me one time from getting a ticket and possibly losing my license. I didn’t have my full license yet, but had what was called a “pink slip”, which was like a probationary driver’s license. I was coming home from the other end of town and was going to be late if I didn’t get home quickly. I was going home on the main road, North Main Street, and was going about 50 mph in a 35 mph zone. It was dark so I didn’t notice the police car coming from the opposite direction until he was right next to me. I started to slow down, looked in the side mirror and noticed he was turning into a parking lot and was going to come back my way – I knew he was coming after me. I saw that he had to wait for traffic, which partially shielded me from his view, so I made a quick right turn onto the first street I could.

I’m sure you know where this is going. Because I turned so quickly the car stalled. I put it in neutral and tried to restart it but it just wouldn’t catch. I was losing speed so I quickly pulled over in front of the fourth or fifth house down, turned the lights off, jammed it into park and ducked down a bit so that I could see out the side mirror but couldn’t be seen from behind. My heart was pounding in my chest and I was starting to think of the trouble I would get in when my parents found out and how disappointed they would be. I figured I wouldn’t be able to drive again until I was 21.

Then I saw it, the police car at the end of the road slowing down and looking down the road. “Don’t come down here, don’t come down here”, I was saying out loud as I tried to will the cop to keep going. It felt like it was taking forever for him to decide if he was going to come down the street. I was starting to sweat and I think I even made one of those bargains with God that people make when they’ve done something stupid to get themselves in trouble. “God, if you let me get away this time, I WILL NEVER SPEED AGAIN! I PROMISE!” Much to my surprise, and relief, the police car did not turn down the street and kept going along the main road. I sat there for a moment to compose myself, figured out an alternate route home, turned the key and the car started up right away without a problem.

I somehow got home on time that night, my parents none the wiser and my bargain with God already forgotten. More importantly, I now had a great story to tell my friends, of how I had beaten the cops. Most of them thought it was because I had performed under pressure and outwitted the cops, but I knew it was all because our car would stall if you took a turn too quickly. From that night on I loved that old jalopy! 

So I think it will be OK if my kids use an 11-year-old car. It didn’t hurt me to use an older car and it actually saved me from trouble. The key for my kids will be to follow the rules of the road, especially the speed limit. Because unfortunately for them, if they’re trying to lose the cops, the Camry isn’t going to stall out if they take a turn too quickly. 

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