Friday, May 11, 2007
Baby Blue Blues
Yesterday, Joel Achenbach blogged about the terrors of having a teen driver, which is a very blogworthy topic I will get to someday, but like anything in the Boodle, it veered slightly of-topic into tales of learning to drive and first cars. The first car I drove regularly was a pumpkin orange VW Super Beatle I discuss briefly here and here, but the first car I owned in my own name was a 1979 Toy-auto Corolla.
I had gotten a co-op job in Atlanta but needed some transportation to get back and forth to work since freshman. My dad in sincere generosity (that’s you, flyboy) found me a car and told me to come and get it. I took a sixteen hour bus ride to Tampa and drove it back to Atlanta, the first of many times that car would make that trip.
It was a two-door with a 1200cc engine, black vinyl seats and no air-conditioning. The black-seat/no-AC combo always made a trip to Florida a test in logistics. I either traded fatigue for daylight and drove the eight hours at night or built in extra time to stop at every Dairy Queen on I-75. Several times I investigated adding AC but I think you had to have at least 1.6 liters under the hood to have enough spare horsepower to drive the compressor.
That car went all over the place. I took it to Cherry Hill, New Jersey one year just to mooch some Thanksgiving turkey. It wore ruts in I-85 going back and forth between Atlanta and my wife’s college in western North Carolina. It was on these trips that I learned all the words to every track on Hotel California. One time I ferried four other people at my wife’s college up to an away football in eastern Tennessee. Going up hills on I-40, the speedometer would sag until it bottomed out at about 45 miles per hour. The eighteen wheelers would downshift to pass and honk at me.
After about a year of owning it, I noticed another Corolla in the parking lot whose roof had faded through to the primer was beginning to rust. I got proactive and took the car to Earl Scheib for the any-car any-color special. The dirty secret at Earl’s being that ninety-nine dollars didn’t include colors found on cars in the wild. I picked baby blue, which made my car very easy to find in parking lots.
With the engine being so small and simple, I did most of my own minor repairs. I dutifully changed the oil, distributor cap, and spark plugs as needed. Once right before leaving work for the swingshift run to Tampa, it threw a fan belt. Amazingly, I happened to have a spare in the trunk. I changed it in the parking lot and didn’t even lose any time. For bigger jobs like the water pump, alternator and brake master cylinder, I found a shade tree mechanic that worked for cash. The car was nearly bulletproof.
After three years and 100,000 miles on top of the 50,000 it came with, my beloved car came to an ignoble end. On a rainy morning I was cruising in rush hour traffic to get to class and I hit a huge puddle on I-85. The car bounced off the median jersey wall and spun 540 degrees at it slid across four lanes of traffic and landed facing backwards on the shoulder. The only person I nearly hit was an eight-month pregnant lady on her way to the doctor. She gave me a ride to a pay phone and I had the car towed to a dealer.
They wanted nearly a thousand dollars to replace the bent axle. I made the sad decision to take the car behind the barn. A junk dealer gave me two hundred dollars in cash and a ride back to campus. He claimed he was going to have to break it for parts since there was no market for the nearly indestructible Toyota engines. Three months later, at a traffic light on Buford Highway, I saw a baby blue Corolla with a distinctive rust patch by the trunk key hole. I had been lied to by the junk dealer, but I was glad to see my car back on the road.
Cars hold a special place in a guy’s heart, somewhere between faithful pets and old girlfriends. They may have faults, but they always bring back fond memories. Mine are colored baby blue.
BlatantCommentWhoring™: What was your first car and what happened to it?