Wednesday, June 18, 2008

blog #109 >> my first love

(My senior picture... with my Hornet.)

Funny... I always fall in love with odd things. And these things tend to break and/or cause many problems. My computer for instance (Little Lappy)... I love it, but it makes me furiously angry on many occasions. It crashes when I need it most. It doesn't always do what I want it to. I sometimes struggle just getting it to do simple tasks. But it's a wonderful work mate, and I know it works just as hard as I do... sometimes more. I've invested a lot of time, money, energy, thought, care, and love into that little slab of white plastic. And when its hard drive died, I mourned over it like I had lost a part of my brain. (Then I took it to MacForce, got a new hard drive, and started all over.)

My relationship with my first car was very much the same, only with less crashing. It seemed to be not running as much as it was running. It went through: break pads, rotors, a transmission, a couple of carburetors, a radiator, radiator hoses, batteries, tires, and some other things I forgot the names of. And of course, when it was working it had its little quarks. Such as, the knob would come off in my hand whenever I pulled it to turn on the lights. It had a radio, the original, AM only, and the tuner was broken, and it was stuck on Sunny 1550. The defroster was broken, so I had to rub all the windows down with a towel before taking off. When I went to the car wash (which was rarely) instead of putting down the antenna, I would pull it out, put it in the car with me, and put it back in place on the other side. And about once a week the the carburetor flue would stick causing it to not start. So, I'd have to get out, open the hood by pulling on the wire under the hood. (The hood release was broken.) I'd then take off the air filter, hit the flue open with a screw driver, put the air filter back on, close the hood, and hope I hadn't flooded it earlier. Ah, it was a great car! I mean yes, the trunk was a death trap without those things to hold it up. But it was really a beauty.

It was a reddish-orange '73 AMC Hornet, with a blue stripe and Levi's denim upholstery. To complete it, it had Levi's buttons and a little red tag. The side pockets on the door were even shaped like little denim Levi's jean pockets. It wasn't sluggish either. With its 6-cylinder engine and a lot of torque, it could go anywhere... inside the Portland-Metro area. Ah, all the stories I can tell about that piece of machinery. I got it (or rather I should say my dad got it) when I was 13. He said I'd be driving soon enough so I'd better have a car to learn on. He bought it for $100 from someone he knew through his work. Then he got it running for me. I remember the day he brought it home... I took one look at it and thought, "That's the ugliest car in the world." It was ORANGE! Bright orange at that! But everyone insisted it was red. "No, that is not red." I said. "I'm going to be stuck driving an ugly bright orange car." Ah, how my tastes changed.

In the next two years, I graduated in my driving skills. First, I tackled the lawn mower. I hated the lawn mower. Mostly because learning to drive it meant having to mow the lawn as well. With hay fever, that is NEVER fun. After that, I mastered the tractor, and finally, the boat. The boat was so much more fun to drive than the lawn mower. Driving the boat meant sunny weather, the wind in your hair, and no roads. The years passed quickly, and before I knew it I had gotten my permit, and passed driver's ed. I passed my driver's license exam with a happy 90%, only I was slightly disappointed because my brother got 95% an he liked to rub that in. After that I had what ever teenager wants... freedom.

Freedom didn't get me far. I forgot freedom had a price, and it was gas. In fact, I had forgotten that cars need gas at all. Two weeks after I had gotten my licence this reality came streaming out, when I consequently ran out of gas. My dad had been filling it up and I had simply forgotten cars needed gas. Unfortunately, living in Boring also has its disadvantages. I remember I ran out of gas on 190th, off of Tillstrom Rd, when I had just gotten over the hill. I was lucky enough to cost down and stall at the one and only part of the road that had a place to pull off and not a three foot ditch. However, I was 16, cell-phoneless and no one would be missing me for quite some time. I was left with only one option... knocking on doors. Knocking on doors early on a Sunday morning, begging to use a telephone, is quite the experience. The houses on that street weren't closet together or close to the road. And of course the creepiest of these I left alone. So after finding a safer looking house and successfully procuring permission to use their phone, I made the call home. It began... I don't actually remember what I said, but it was something like this, "Um... I ran out of gas... I know I'm really stupid... will you come and get me???" Surprisingly, my parents were quite forgiving, and they weren't nearly as angry as I imaged them to be. So after waiting in the car for my dad to bring me a gallon of gas, I was on my way. That was the first of many times my dad was to come save me on the side of the road.

After that incident I learned the importance of gasoline to the running of automobiles. And although I'd like to say that I learned my lesson and have never run out of gas again, I cannot. However, I have visited many gas stations since then. Gas stations have always been an interesting place for me. I love to sit and watch all the different people who all end up there at the same time. It's like an African water hole. People from all over gathering in one place for one purpose. And soon I learned that other people did not find my car ugly, and most importantly some of those other people where cute boys my own age. People would stop and look at my car. Ask me questions I did not know, but I pretended to know about my car. They would turn their heads and watch my car. Other people in old '70s car would do the old car wave which I happily returned. Cute boys in fast cars would want to race my car. And once a gas station attendant asked me, "I'll date you if you let me drive your car?" Oh, why was I so shy then?!? I blushed and drove away... quickly.

(James Bond in "The man with the Golden Gun" jumping over a bridge in an AMC Hornet.)

Time went on. I actually learned the questions I before just pretended to know about my car. I took care of the car, washed the car, polished the car, added a quart of oil to the car every week. (It leaked like a sinking ship.) And I grew very attached to the silly old thing. However, that did not stop the silly old thing from breaking down on me from time to time. Once the hose to the radiator broke. Steam poured from the hood so thick I could hardly see. I nursed it along to the nearest gas station. I was lucky enough to be in town at the time. And then I went across the street to Denny's for a huge strawberry milkshake to cheer me up while I awaited rescue. The waitress there was very sweet and she could see that I seemed sad. And she said... actually I don't remember her exact words, but they were something like this, "Well, it could be worse you know. Just today I saw that car across the way there pull off in a cloud of steam and smoke. At least you're not having a day like that!" I laughed a little and said, "Actually, that was me." There was a long awkward pause... "Would you like another milkshake?" she asked. "Yes." I answered, "Yes, I would."

Overtime though my Hornet began to take a beating. I drove it a lot, and although cars don't like to just sit, it was getting worn down. It no longer had a perfect body. It now had dents. Neither were my fault, I'd like to add. One I got at the parking lot at Fred Meyer's. Someone backed into me and left a huge dent, and not a note or a word. And the other time was at a gas station. A big white SUV slowly started to back up. I was parked. And thought, "Hey, she's getting really close." But by the time I honked it was too late. "CRASH!" She hit me and it crushed the front fender around the headlight. I got out of my car with a look of fiery anger in my eye. And she got out as pale as a ghost with fear... Which actually made me kinda laugh to think she was afraid of me... Well, actually, she was probably just a little shook up from the shock. But she ended up being quite nice. She explained that it was a brand new vehicle and she wasn't used to the blind spots yet. Fortunately for her, there was no damage to her car. Being taller, she had hit me with her bumper and that plastic just bent right back leaving a little reddish-orange paint on it. We exchanged phone numbers and insurance info... I never did get it fixed though.

Which brings me to the climax of my story: The day my car caught on fire. Yes, it caught on fire, leaving it with the nickname Fire Bird. It was a hot summer day. I got home parked it as I always did and went in the house. A few minutes later my mom comes out and wonders where all the smoke outside is coming from. I look outside and, "EEK!" it's coming from my car! I grab the fire extinguisher and run for the car. My mom calls the fire department. I go to open the hood, (Thank goodness the latch on the inside is broken and I can only open it from the outside.) but it's too hot to touch. I grab the garden hose and hose down the outside 'til it's cool enough to find the wire latch. I open the hood, and FLAMES leap up into the sky. If you have never used one, fire extinguishers work really well. And it's always a good idea to have one around. Even after the I used all the extinguisher it was still kinda smoldering. So, I continued with the garden hose. Just when I got the fire out, the fire department pulls up. Too late. However, they were very impressed with my fire-putting-out abilities. And jokingly asked, "Have you ever considered being a volunteer fire fighter?" "No!" I said, "I never want to do that again!" It was not the last time I used a fire extinguisher though, but those are other stories. The fire started in the carburetor, the air filter went up and caught all the oil and grease on fire. But I had caught it before it went to the gas tank. Surprisingly, that was not my car's last drive. My dad replaced the air filter and a few of the wires and other things that had melted. And it ran as well as ever. I drove it for probably a year or more after that.

But by this time my poor car had see a lot: fires, large SUV bumpers, mechanics, wet dogs, coffee stains, trailers, nasty weather and many different roads and parking lots. It seems like sometimes, my dad wanted me to get stuck in bad weather, just so he could come and get me. I'd say, "Hey, it's snowing pretty hard this morning. I think I'd better stay home from work. I don't want to get stuck." and he'd say, "No, you'll be fine. You'll get there alright." Oh yes, I always got there. But it seems I rarely got back. And I'd call and he'd get to drive out in the ice and snow and bring me back. He just loves the challenge of cold weather driving. I think it's his true element. And truly the elements took it's toll on my poor little Hornet.

After awhile it was not as perky as it once was. It leaked more oil, it had more dents, the new transmission started going out, the engine started going out, that weird part that I can't remember the name of was getting worse too, the flue of the carburetor got stuck more often... nearly every day. Then one day it started spewing gas, not a leak. Like it was vomiting up, with pressure, a gallon at of gas a time. It would not go anymore. My car had died. My dad came and trailered it up for the final time. I mourned its lost. Begged to fix it, but it would cost more than I made in two years at the time. It was no more. I cried and it sat in the back behind the hedge waiting to be junked. How sad it looked out there all alone.

I procrastinated. I did not want to call the donation center. And I always found some excuse around to get around it. Summer had passed and winter had come, and with winter came Christmas. What did I want for Christmas? My car fixed. But it was not for me. I was in college now and needed a car to get me where I need to go and not break down half way there. But my cousin... he was turning thirteen. Hmmm... a thirteen year old needs a car. And the Hornet is a very good first car. I should know. It was my first car. And if you get a car for free, you don't feel bad having to put some money into it to fix it up. And it is such a nice car. So for Christmas that year I gave wrapped up the owner's manual and gave it to my cousin. He liked it. He was the only thirteen year old at school to get a car for Christmas. They started to fix it up... but it's not there yet. Who knows maybe someday when I have all the money in the world, I'll buy it back and it will be my car once more. But until then, I can get to where I'm going... and I guess that's what counts.

If you are still reading this... WOW! I am amazed! I just wrote entirely too much. I must be really tired. So, if you managed to survive it. Let me know by leaving a comment saying, "Hey, I read your entire story. My, you're long winded!" or if you didn't read any of it let me know that too, by leaving a comment saying, "You idiot! Don't post such long stories on your blog. It's just too much to read." And then next time I'll condense it to a couple of paragraphs.




Anonymous said...

i told you you have fantastic car stories. :) so glad to have another in my life who has had their car catch on fire. :)

Anonymous said...

What a beauty!! :) I love your senior picture too! So much fun! :) I'm sorry about the fire!! That's crazy and scary!

You are a great writer!! Way to get me attached to the car first! ;)

Anonymous said...

What memories. I kind of feel like crying. LM

Betsy Jo said...

So cool! A stinging red hornet!!