Thanks, Donna, for posting about the cars of your life. It inspired me to do the same, as I was only just thinking fondly about my old cars the other day.
When I was a little boy my favorite toys were Matchbox cars. I liked Matchbox better than Hot Wheels because the latter were just too unrealistic. Cars that looked like lizzards, school buses painted blindingly silver, rocket ship cars, no thanks; I've always preferred verisimilitude. I used to fantasize about the type of car I'd get when I was a teenager. I remember being in love with VW Beetles, and right around the time I was getting ready to get behind the wheel, the New Beetle was introduced. I wanted a green one so badly, I could taste it. I remember telling my aunt when I was around 14 how I wanted my first car to be a New Beetle. She just scoffed. "You'll get a rattle trap piece of shit, just like we all did," she said. Boy was she right. I started driving in October 2000 when I was 15. My first car was a 1989 Toyota Tercel.
My Tercel looked exactly like the one in the above picture: 2-door sedan, mud flaps, maroon. It had a carburetor instead of fuel injection, and the damned thing took forever to warm up. I was the first of my friends to have a car, and I was on top of the world in this little Dr. Pepper can. I loved driving around listening to low-quality home recordings of my angry girl music c.d.'s on the Tercel's tape deck and pumping my own gas. Momma bought it from a used car lot in Nesbit and it had an amazing new car smell, mixed with the satisfying stench of motor oil. Daddy made me keep a half a quart of Penzoil in the trunk because the Tercel "only burned a little oil."
Sadly, my love affair with the maroon Tercel was short-lived. After being a licensed driver for a mere two weeks, I totaled the car on my way to school one foggy morning. I couldn't see a thing, swerved into the left lane, and hit a mini bus for Phoenix Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church head on. To make matters worse, I was dressed as a Spartan cheerleader for costume day during Homecoming week at school. Luckily, the only thing that got hurt were my feelings, and I went on to school late that day after the car was towed and my mom and step dad lectured me endlessly about being a responsible driver.
My next car was a 1986 Toyota Camry. Unlike the zippy red one above, mine was the color of dirt and it went dead in the rain. Daddy found the car for $2,500 at a used car lot in Memphis, and upon discovering its low mileage and that it had only had one owner, he lovingly scooped it up for me. I hated that car at first. I remember when I got it. It was the first of November my 10th grade year, and Momma made me ride with her down to Daddy's house, but she didn't tell me why. When we got there, he was standing beside the ugliest car I had ever seen. Boxy. Dirty. Old womanish. My heart sank, because I knew this was to be my new car.
My response to the car was not as joyous as he had hoped for, especially since my father had spent his afternoon washing, waxing, and scrubbing its tires. At times, I could be a bratty teenager.
I learned to love that Camry, though, and I still think about it fondly. I loved the way its gear selector fit the palm of my hand, and I haven't had a car since that has fit as well. The damn thing had a leaky distributor cap and it would go dead every time a hard rain came. Even when I was driving down the road. More than once I was certain I would be killed when my car stalled out in the fast lane with a redneck in a pickup truck zooming up behind me. Luckily, the only incidents I had in that car were minor. Once, it went dead on me on I-240 way out in East Memphis because the timing belt broke. Once I had to have the muffler replaced. Jeffrey backed into the driver's side door early one Christmas morning on his way to the deer woods. But it was only a minor dent and the door still opened. I drove that car until almost the end of high school, when after working and saving for 3 years I bought this beauty out of a man's front yard for $4,500:
This beauty is a 1996 Geo Prizm LSi. Mine looked just like that one, those same hub caps, that same beautiful baby blue. It was the car of my dreams when I was 17. That Prizm had everything: power locks and windows, a factory c.d. player, cruise control. I had the nicest car of all my friends until Candi's daddy bought her a brand new Pontiac Grand Am, but I always rectified the situation in my head by saying at least I bought my own car. I burned up the roads in this baby. It took me to New Orleans and back twice. I got my first speeding ticket in that car. And my second. And my third. All within the same month. It got me through my first two years of college, making the 180-mile trek across I-40 from Horn Lake, MS to Conway, AR many, many times. Only mishap I ever had in it (besides the speeding tickets) happened the weekend before I was to move away to college. I was 18 and always in a hurry. One night, I was leaving the tennis courts at the park by my old high school and backed right into a lamp post. It knocked a big dent in my bumper and broke out a tail light. Daddy got the light fixed, but he made be pay for it.
Dent and all, I loved that car and was really sad to let it go. But Muffy made me a deal that I couldn't pass up. She told me she'd sign one of her cars over to me if I let her sell mine to my aunt. Muffy's car was older but in better shape with less miles and no body damage. So I switched, but I still hate to see my aunt in my old car when I'm back home. She doesn't keep in clean or love it the way I did.
Which brings me to my current car, a 1992 Honda Civic hatchback. Mine's white, and that's the single thing I don't like about it. I can't keep the tree sap off of it, I can't keep the fenders clean. But I do love the zippy little car. I have been driving in since 2005, and it has been an invaluable asset in moving me from all the apartments and dorm rooms where I've lived. Seriously, y'all: fold down the backseats and you can fit a small island nation in the back of my car. My Civic is sixteen years old and only just now has 100,000 miles on it. It gets great gas mileage and has low emissions. That car has pedaled me all over I-40, West to East, from Conway to Knoxville and back again. I recently had to put a new muffler on it, but the folks at the shop gave me a deal because I told them I teach at UT. People really do bleed orange up here, and now so does my car with its Volunteers vanity plate, courtesy of my father. I plan to drive this baby until it absolutely falls apart, which might be a while because I hear Hondas last forever. Which is good, seeing as how personal cars are an endangered species, or so I hear.