My First Car


Racy Red; mine was Grandma Gray

My first car was a two door 1971 Toyota Corolla. I paid four hundred dollars for it, which in 1981 was, I believe, four hundred dollars. Even back then, for that kind of money you took your chances. Mine was gray in color, with a couple of dents here and there, some rust, beige over peach plaid upholstery, and the right headlight aimed strangely upwards and to the right. At night it looked as though you’d shined your flashlight in the face of Billy Ray Bob as he hunted bullfrogs in the swamp. Being at the time completely ignorant of east Asian language or culture, I named her Wang (this is a Chinese name, not Japanese; it was, at least at the time, a vague reference to one’s manhood, however, and so I thought myself most clever). Being also at the time very poor, in college and devoid of any sense of responsibility,  I resolved to drive her maintenance free until she died.

Wang simply refused to quit. Sure, she had her idiosyncrasies. If she hit a bump in the road at a speed over twenty five miles per hour, Wang would start to shake violently and uncontrollably, as though she were having a grand mal seizure (judging by the horrified stares of fellow drivers, this was noticeable from outside the car as well). Once, while driving in a driving monsoon, she inexplicably turned three hundred sixty degrees, ending up in the same lane, traveling in the same direction and at the same rate of speed, as though nothing had happened; I was merely along for the ride . The gear shift shroud was torn; I didn’t notice until I hit a very large puddle at thirty five miles an hour and a two-foot geyser of water shot up between the seats. Soon after I got her, the upholstery on the driver’s seat tore; various springs and wires poked through like germinating weeds. On several occasions I was alternately gaffed scrotally or violated in other unmentionable ways; I regarded these incidents as Wang merely being playful. She was the beer-soused bar wench, drunkenly prodding you as you walked by.

Wang loved me unconditionally, though I treated her horribly.Trash soon filled the floorboards. Once, a friend pulled some newspaper from under the back seat and, pretending to read, feigned surprise and yelled, “Japs bomb Pearl Harbor!”… Well, I thought it was funny.  Wang developed a nasty goiter on her right front tire; this blight seemed to exacerbate the shaking issue. It grew and grew until one day the tire exploded, right in front of a bus stop. Wang shortened the lives of at least ten bus passengers that day; I could see some of them encouraging me with shaking fists and extended fingers as I rode on the rim to a tire shop one block up (she would never have inconvenienced me by blowing her tire in the middle of nowhere). There I made the only equipment purchase in the four years I owned that car: A used tire, decidedly cheap and of a slightly different size than the other three.

One day I took Wang to the local “Iffy” Lube for her only oil change in the four years I had her; the mechanic came into the lobby. Strangely, he seemed to instinctively know to whom Wang belonged.

  “Sir, I went to drain your oil; I pulled the drain plug, and nothing came out.” In retrospect, this may have been an attempt to embarrass me in front of the other customers.
  “Sweet. Then don’t charge me the waste disposal fee.” Keenly aware of my own poverty, I was only able to seize upon that which was most relevant (to me). I showed him. No one embarrasses me but me. Wang, faithful as always, had never complained by flashing on her oil light; she was content to make do with whatever oil she had gummed up inside her.
  Eventually, I got a newer, slightly less crappy car, and Wang was relegated to the far side of the driveway. There she sat for the next two years, until someone came to my door one day and asked if I wanted to sell her. I had to jump the battery, but when I did, unbelievably, she started. I took her for a few laps around the block and, after a few farts and shudders, I felt better and she started running the way she always had. And so to reward her for her faithfulness, I sold her for four hundred dollars which, in 1985, was still four hundred dollars.
  I think that in a way, Wang and I are a lot alike (though I’m older and weigh only slightly less). I’m getting grayer every year, I too look bad in beige and peach plaid (but I can’t wait to wear shorts of this pattern when I retire, along with long black socks and sandals); I’ve got a couple of dents here and there, and like her my upholstery is stretched to its limits. More importantly, however, like Wang, I think I’m  faithful and dependable. Though I’m down to one speed (mosey), I almost always come through for those that rely upon me, at least in my own good time. Hopefully, they’ll be more faithful to me than I was to her and won’t replace me with a newer, slightly less crappy guy.
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About Thestrugglershandbook

I'm a middle aged (if I live to be 100) guy, married, father of three, from Tucson, AZ. I'll write about almost anything. Though somewhat bent, what I write is always true(ish). It won't change your life, however. Unless that would preclude you from reading...
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