Tuesday, June 1, 2021

My First Chariot

Some of us can’t forget our first kiss, our first girlfriend or our first time. Then there are others who can’t forget the first car they ever owned. Growing up, mine was a ‘no car’ family, increasingly rare in the late 50s. I had no buddies with cars and I was embarrassed to admit I was a vehicle virgin.

Then after six years of semi-hard labor, I was able to purchase the first car in our family. It was my first taste of freedom and the exhilaration of the open road. Of course, along with that freedom came the accompanying headaches, temptations and expenses of my first chariot.

My first set of ‘wheels’ turned out to be a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere convertible; white with green cloth interior and a dirty white top. In retrospect, it was really a pretty neat car with its white fins, clean lines and, of course, it was a rag-top! The car was my reward for six years of a paper route and various summer jobs. Unfortunately, my immaturity didn’t allow me to feel the pleasure of accomplishment. Instead, I listened to my asphalt advisors.  Turns out, it was the right car but the wrong driver.

At that time, there were only three car brands in my little corner of the world: Ford, Chevy, and Pontiac. Unfortunately Plymouth, made by Chrysler, didn’t make the grade. Not if you were 20 years old, car crazy, and didn’t know zip about automobiles.

Unfortunately, I listened to the loud mouth kids who talked a lot of car smack and convinced me that Ford was built tough, Chevy was cool, and Pontiac was the ultimate pick-up machine. Of course, their encyclopedic car knowledge wasn’t based on mechanics but instead on the fantasy ads running in Playboy magazine at the time. But they convinced me. Just looking at those ads in Playboy told me everything I needed to know about cool pick-up machines and my rag-top wasn’t one of them.

Despite this lack of appreciation for my own wheels, I did enjoy my chariot during my fractured college years, impressing the girls, playing it cool, and worrying about gas prices.

Then Uncle Sam came calling and my mother got to enjoy my wheels for the first time in almost thirty years. The first trip she took was back up to her small town in Northern Minnesota to show off for the few relatives still alive up there.

After the service and several more years of winter driving, my car was a tired old hulk that I sold to someone for a song before I left for Europe. About a year later, I did run across it by the U of M, parked south of Dinky town. It was rusted, neglected, and missing me a lot.

After Europe, I graduated from my convertible to a VW bug and was perfectly content to drive one quarter the car I had before the service. From the bug I moved on to a combustible Pinto, Mini-vans (for the family), and my beloved 2000 Ford Escape.

Now I’ve graduated to Toyota’s here and there. The cars are reliable, comfortable, and stable. Granted, there’s no flash of steel and chrome anymore. Reliability has replaced subtle ego-enhancement. I’ll admit I sometimes miss the rush of the wind through my hair and a hot chick at my side (more imagined than real.)  Maturity has edged out imagination.

But it’s still fun to remember my first love, dirty rag top and all. It was still my first set of wheels and all mine. If only in my imagination.

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