Monday, February 18, 2008

I’m not old, however, I am no longer young - and that takes some getting used too. The other day, I realized that I’ve been around long enough to see change. When I was in high school I owned an ‘85 Monte Carlo and, though it was a wreck from the get go, I loved it because it was my second car.

My first car was the old family truckster, an ‘80 four-door Plymouth Volare powered by a gutless but indestructible 225 cubic-inch slant six. This poor, brick-shaped sled had been through more family vacations than Chevy Chase. And, it showed. The interior, once a pristine mix of baby blue vinyl and cloth was, by the time I received it, a grayed and cracked shambles. The car’s mechanical condition was no better. The windshield wipers worked - when they wanted to - the headlights brightened when the gas-pedal was depressed and - unless the driver threw the transmission into neutral and feverishly revved the engine - the poor thing would stall every time it came to a stop. Now, under no circumstance was it alright to let this car stall, because once stalled this old beater required a ritualistic procedure to get it restarted. It went something like this: insert key into the ignition, pump the gas pedal twice(fast on the down stroke and slow on the up stroke), hold your breath and turn the ignition to start. If this didn’t get it going, well, there was a second phase: confirm that the vehicle is in park, depress the gas pedal to the floor, invoke the car gods and turn the engine over until it roars to life and black smoke issues from the exhaust pipe.

All these gripes aside, the car would have been perfectly acceptable as a first car had it been painted a nice pea green or fuchsia. Of course, this was not the case. Instead of olive drab or Barbie pink, my fist car was done up in two-tone police livery. This was great for my mother who enjoyed the cover while speeding on her way to work. I once remember her bragging to my father about how she scared a fellow motorist on the interstate. The poor sap was in the process of making an illegal U-turn when he mistook my mother for a trooper. Figuring the game was up, he pulled his vehicle to the side of the road and put his head on the steering wheel. What may have persistently entertained my mother during her daily commute was a bane to my social life, for no teenage boy ever wants to pull into a kegger looking like the fuzz.

It didn‘t take long for me to realize that I needed to buy myself a proper ride - something that had sport, class and a complete dissimilarity to anything that Jake or Elwood might drive. When I was a freshly licensed driver, the Corvette was the ultimate performance machine. I didn't have that kind of money so I bought an '85 Monte Carlo equipped with a landau roof and hubcaps designed to imitate wire wheels. It is an understatement to declare that a Monte Carlo is not a Corvette, however, I didn't care because a Monte Carlo is also not a Volare. Besides, I now had amenities such as bucket seats, electric windows and a cassette tape deck with auto rewind. I soon forgot about Corvettes - or Volares for that matter.

I eventually parted with the Monte Carlo for - of all things - a Chevy Celebrity. This car, in turn, was exchanged for a Chevy Cavalier followed by an Astro Van and so on until the conveyor belt of time had carried my memories of that larger-than-life coup into the hinterlands of my conciseness.

That was, until last week. While on the way to the grocery store, I spied an '80s Monte Carlo by the roadside. In it’s window was a big “For Sale” sign. I heaved the family station wagon to the curb, rapturously sprang from the driver seat and embraced my long lost automotive love with a strange sort of caress that made my seven-year-old daughter sink into her car seat. That's a total exaggeration - really.

What I did do, was observe the sag in the rear suspension, notice the cancerous rust forming along the frame rails and witness the brutal mark of time upon what had been supple cloth and vinyl. In fairness, these are the typical maladies of this breed, however, as I drove away - with my fanny nicely warmed by the heated leather seats that come standard in my fully-galvanized, all-wheel-drive station wagon - I glanced back at that battered survivor of another automotive age and thought, “boy, they don’t make them like they used to.”

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