When I reached driving age, at 16, I lived in a suburb of San Francisco – Sausalito, California. Public transportation there, as in most suburbs to this day, was almost nonexistent. A car was a necessity and I was as excited as any 16-year-old new driver when, in 1957, I got my 1947 Chevy coupe.
It was in terrific shape having previously been owned, literally, by that proverbial little old lady who drove it to church on Sunday. Now I’m that little old lady. The only difference is that instead of church, I drive to the market and Home Depot with an occasional 100-mile-trip here or there.
When I married, we bought a new, 1965 Mustang unaware, then, that it would become a classic.
Over the years, I came to dislike owning a car, even that little beauty. Cars always want something: gas, oil, tires, window washer juice, anti-freeze, insurance, inspections, etc. and something that is costly to fix breaks with regularity. There is an old saying that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money. I felt that way about cars.
So when my then-husband and I moved to Manhattan (where a car is a liability and public transportation choices are many) and sold our car, a great burden was lifted. I remained happily car-less for the next 40 years, renting when there was the occasional need.
From time to time, particularly when I was in Los Angeles where people are defined and judged by the kind of car they drive, friends showed off their Mercedes, BMWs and other even more exotic cars to me. I’m sure I disappointed them by exhibiting little interest. That the car would get me from here to there without incident is all I cared about.
In all those 40 years without a car, the only one I could identify was a Volkswagen bug. All the rest looked alike to me – and still do. Then, I few years ago, a new car began turning up on the streets during my walks around Greenwich Village – a unique, classic, gloriously retro shape that turned out, when I tracked it down, to be a Chrysler PT Cruiser. Wow! I told a friend. If I ever have a reason to need a car again, that’s what I want, never thinking it would come to pass.
Still, it was disheartening, as I planned my move to Portland, Maine, in 2006, to realize I would need to own a car. All those irritations of ownership – gas, oil, tires, etc. – would again become part of my life so as long as I would need to endure that, I determined to get the car I wanted – and I wanted that PT Cruiser in red.
With the help of a friend, Neil Thompson, who knows everything there is to know about cars, it happened – and even in the color I wanted which I hadn’t dared hope for.
And guess what? Those ownership irritations are not as bad as I remembered. Cars have come a long way in 40 years; they are easier to care for and although I miss the 24-cent-a-gallon gas of my youth, not so expensive that it breaks the budget.
I'll never have the kind of love affair with a car that I've seen in friends and the next car I buy will undoubtedly be a hybrid or whatever energy-green invention has come along by then. It is unlikely to be as cute as a PT Cruiser, but that is several years off and for now, I have to admit that I love tooling around town in my little, red retro car. It's just my size, just the right color and it's fun to drive.
If anyone had told me I’d ever feel that way about a car, I’d have sneered. But you never know - in life and even in old age - how your attitudes will change.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ronni Prior has a short, little tale of teenage transgression titled The Skeleton.]