When I was in high school, I drove a sky blue Chevy Citation. The paint was peeling in places, but my dad assured me we could fix it. We sanded each of the spots smooth, wiped them clean with a damp cloth and sprayed on primer. While it was drying, we went to the auto parts store to get model-specific paint to match my car.
When we returned, we found that the paint all around the edges of the primer spots had curled into little ruffles.
My dad said, “Huh.”
That’s how I came to drive a polka dotted car. It also had a headliner that rested on top of my head when I drove, unless I scrunched way down in the seat. And the hatchback had to be propped open with a broom handle.
I didn’t care. It was my first car, and I loved it. (Until it started backfiring, but that’s a different story.)
In my circle of friends, sometimes one of us would leave school to pick up lunch and bring it back for the others. I had just gotten my car that past summer and was thrilled to be able to volunteer to make the lunch run. I was idling in line in the drive-thru at Arby’s when my engine gave an ominous sputter. My heart jolted and started racing.
“Please, no,” I whispered.
The engine sputtered again and died. I frantically tried to restart it, glancing over my shoulder at the three cars in line behind me, but the engine wouldn’t catch. A nice guy in a pick-up pulled out of line and parked, then came over and offered to push my car out of the way.
I would like to thank all the nice guys in pick-ups who have helped me over the years when I’ve had car trouble.
Once he had me tucked out of the way in a parking spot, he advised me that I had probably just flooded the engine trying to restart it, so all I needed to do was give it about ten minutes and the car should start right up. I thanked him and waited until his pick-up was out of sight.
What he didn’t know was that the needle on the gas gauge was pointing to the little “E.”
There was a Winchell’s nearby and I knew they had a payphone inside, so I walked over to it and called my brother. Luckily, he was home. He showed up about five minutes later with the gas can we used for the lawn mower. I thanked him and waved as he pulled away.
As I poured in the gas, I wondered if it was enough to allow me to still get the food, rush back to school, and wait until class let out that afternoon to fill up my tank. I didn’t want to have to call my brother again from the school parking lot.
The car door was locked. I dug in my purse for my keys, but couldn’t find them. With a sinking feeling, I peered in the window.
Sure enough, they were hanging from the ignition.
I walked back to Winchell’s. I didn’t have another quarter so I had to get change from the counter girl. There was a line, but I was in no hurry. I had to wait long enough for my brother to make it back home before I could reach him again.
To his credit, he didn’t laugh at me. It’s all funny now, but at the time I felt like the dumbest person in the world.
My brother came back with my spare keys. This time he waited to make sure my car started, and that I didn’t back into a Dumpster or anything.
I arrived at school with just enough time left in the lunch period to return everyone’s money. I was too embarrassed to admit what really happened, so I just said I’d had car trouble. As I handed back Pam’s five dollar bill, I apologized for causing her to miss lunch.
“Oh, no! It’s fine. I’m just glad you’re okay!”
That still makes me cringe.
I drive a hybrid now, with a low fuel indicator and keyless entry, but I will never love another car as much as that first one.