Sunday, March 30, 2008

Cars - A Necessary Evil

When Jasia announced the topic of this edition of the COG, I'll have to admit that I cringed a bit. Cars have never been a "big" thing in my family. They were pretty much seen as a necessary evil, a utilitarian object required to get from one place to another. So much so, that I don't think that I have even one photograph of any of our cars. Well, that is, except for the one below, and several others of cars that were involved in accidents in which the cars were totaled. Those pictures aren't pretty and my brother and I were fortunate to walk away from the accidents uninjured with only a few bruises and scratches. I had a love-hate relationship with many of my cars. However, several other, more favorable, incidents involving cars and my family came crawling out of the recesses of my mind.

One of the earliest cars that I remember my family owning was the Nash Rambler. And, of course, we all absolutely adored the song "Beep Beep" when it came out in 1958. I wonder if that guy ever got his car out of second gear? It was a nice car though a bit small for a growing family. It was a bit crowded when we were all riding in it at the same time.

We lived out in the country, about 10 miles from the largest town (Warsaw) and nearest movie theatre. All of us (Mom, Dad, and 4 kids) would drive into Warsaw every Saturday to get groceries and once in a great while we would be treated to a movie. The Saturday Matinee at the Lake Theatre was a special event. We'd get a big bag of popcorn and a large pop to share. On this particular day it was "101 Dalmatians" that was showing, the original animated version, so it would have been 1961. Don't know why but that has stuck with me through the years. It is really irrelevant to the story. Anyway, the movie was over and we left the theatre. It was early evening and the street lights had just come on, shedding an eerie green light over everything which changed colors so they didn't look like they usually did. We were all excited and talking about the movie as we piled into our car. Dad put the key in the ignition and turned it, but nothing happened. The car wouldn't start. It was then that we started noticing that something wasn't quite right. We had gotten into the wrong car! We quickly got out and strolled down the block a little ways where we found our car, right where we had left it.

When my brother got out of the Navy in the spring of 1968, he bought a Chevrolet Corvair convertible. I don't remember the details but one day, for some reason, he wanted to go into North Webster, probably to hang out with some friends, and didn't want to leave his car in town. So he wanted me to take him in. Mom was at work so his was the only car available since I didn't have my own car at that time. Problem was, the Corvair was a stick shift, and I had only driven cars with an automatic transmission. No problem, he said, he'd teach me! And so he drove the car to the field out back of the house, I slid into the driver's seat and we chugged and jerked our way around that field until I could smoothly get the car out of one gear and into the next. And that is how I learned to drive a car with a manual transmission.

The first new car that I owned, and subsequently fell in love with, was an American Motors Hornet Hatchback. I spent the year 1973 in Iceland, at the Keflavik Naval Air Station, and one of the "perks" that I took advantage of at the end of my tour of duty was a discount on the purchase of a new car. I remember spending hours going over the various brochures that were provided. Sure, I wanted a car that looked nice, performed well, was dependable, etc. But most of all I wanted something that I could travel well with. Something that would even allow me to sleep in the car, if necessary. Billed as "a sports car with room to travel in" the AMC Hornet Hatchback seemed to fit my needs and also happened to fall within my budget!

The car was delivered to a dealership in Elkhart where I picked it up while I was on leave in January 1974. It was metallic blue, and beautiful. Over the next three years that car, dubbed "Old Blue," and I criss-crossed the United States several times. From northern Indiana to Florida, then to California, then to Rochester, New York, back to Indiana, back to California, and various places in-between. I just couldn't bear to part with the car in 1977 when I was transferred to Japan so it was put in storage for two years. The car was paid for. It had a lot of miles put on it but had been taken care of quite well and was in good shape. I figured it would be cheaper to pay for storage than to have to buy a new car when I returned.

A friend stationed at Point Mugu retrieved the car from storage and prepared it for my return. When I picked up the car in May 1979 it was as good as new, better even, since I didn't have car payments to make! That summer was, without a doubt, the best summer of my life and a journey I'll always remember. After a quick trip to San Diego to visit friends I headed north, along the coast highway, taking plenty of time before finally reaching friends in the Seattle, Washington area. To say that I took advantage of the fold-down back seats for sleeping would be an understatement. I lived in "Old Blue" that summer. Eventually, I made my way back to Indiana in time to start the fall semester at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.

Old Blue got me through school and held up well for a few more years. But during the winter of 1984 the heater quit working, which meant the windows couldn't be defrosted. And with winters in northern Indiana being what they are, I really needed a heater and defroster. When I took it in to get it checked out I was told that it would cost more to repair than the car was worth. So, it was with great sadness that I traded in Old Blue and purchased my next car. When the dealer looked at the odometer and saw that it said a bit over 80,000 miles he was impressed. "Wow, a ten year old car with only 80,000+ miles, and in great shape." For a moment the thought went through my mind, maybe I shouldn't tell him the actual mileage. But then, honesty, or perhaps some thoughts of bragging rights, came over me and he was astounded when I told him it actually had 180,000+ miles. Needless to say, the trade-in value plummeted, and I got next to nothing for Old Blue. Nothing except a lot of very good memories. And those are priceless.

I tend to hang on to cars until the very end. I'm on my third vehicle since Old Blue, a Chevy Cavalier, also a hatchback style, but without a name, that I've had for eight years now and it's getting close to 140,000 miles. It too has been a good, faithful car but the miles that have been put on it haven't been nearly as much fun as those with Old Blue.

Somewhere in my boxes of pictures I would like to think that I have a photo of Old Blue, but I haven't found it yet, and a picture isn't really needed for me to remember. But this picture shows what she looked like.

While trying to locate a picture on the 'net I discovered that in the 1974 movie "The Man with the Golden Gun" James Bond drove a red AMC Hornet hatchback special coupe. And, if you are a collector, for $39.99 you can actually purchase a 1/43 scale die cast model of the car. Cool, yes, but not really something that I want. The memories are sufficient.

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