My first car was a 1973 Pontiac Firebird, candy apple red with a white roof and a black interior. My father gave it to me for Christmas in 1972 as a reward for my pending college graduation the following May.
The vehicle became my passport to freedom.
After graduation, I loaded all my worldly possessions into the Firebird: a blue metal trunk full of clothes, a few boxes of books and term papers and my $25 guitar from Sears. I inserted a Carly Simon cartridge into the car’s eight-track tape player and drove away from the University of Idaho with the idealistic enthusiasm of a 21-year-old woman who had no debt, no boyfriend and no job. I felt liberated.
As I drove, I sang along with Carly Simon’s song “Anticipation.” These are the good old days. A few hours later, I switched the tape to Elton John and warbled my best “Rocket Man.” And I think it’s going to be a long, long time. By the time “Your Song” played, I was vocalizing with full projection worthy of a small-town variety show. How wonderful life is while you’re in the world! Singing aloud in my car is a habit I’ve never broken, much to the chagrin of passengers and other drivers.
Reality brought my Firebird freedom days to an end. I started a full-time job, got married and had to part with my car. My husband and I made a total of $1,000 a month so we bought a sensible Mercury Comet and shared it getting to and from work. It was brown. I was blue.
After a year, it was apparent that we needed two cars. A friend sold us a rusted 1970 Ford F-150 pickup truck, but it was a good deal. I drove it to work and parked in a distant lot and walked so no one could see it. Though it had a gear shift, there was no frantic lovemaking on its frayed, faded bench. It didn’t have a radio or tape player so I sang sad songs, out of tune and out of luck.
As careers and salaries improved, we upgraded our means of transportation and bought a used, maroon Chevy Chevelle that I proudly drove to work and parked in front of my office. Unfortunately, a hit-and-run driver damaged it in the parking lot, so I traded it for a bright yellow Volkswagen Super Beetle that was easier to park. The interior became too small after I got pregnant and could barely wedge my burgeoning body behind the wheel. The next upgrade brought a new white Pontiac Phoenix – with a car seat.
After the second child, it was necessary to purchase a full-sized Ford Bronco because we needed the extra cargo space for family stuff: football uniforms, dance costumes, crates of Girl Scout cookies and assorted baskets of clothing that remained unsorted. I drove the Bronco to work until the cost of gas equaled our family grocery bill. It was time to trade again to a maroon Lincoln Continental. It was used and had numerous mechanical problems, but I had arrived because I was driving a Lincoln.
Near my 40th birthday, I fell in love with a new, white Pontiac Grand Prix touring car with all the latest gadgets, buttons and accessories. I happily drove it for six months until an irresponsible punk ran a stop sign and smashed into me. I woke up in the hospital with a broken collar bone, cracked ribs, bruised legs and a serious whiplash injury to the back of my head. The uninsured loser wasn’t injured and skipped town. The car was a total loss.
My next car was a sturdy, safe Jeep, and I drove it with the serious focus of a military officer. Being in a bad car accident tempered the impetuous enthusiasm I once had for driving. Now that the kids are grown and gone my vehicle of choice is a sturdy SUV. I’ve used it hauling boxes through various moves, taking my mother and her wheelchair to doctor’s appointments, peddling my books and chaperoning my grandkids on playdates.
Every now and then, when traffic is light, the roads are clear, and the weather is perfect, I’ll turn on some music from the 70s and take a long drive. I’ll remember that feisty college graduate who was eager for the open highway and didn’t have a care in the world. When the Beatles begin their Let It Be album, I’ll sing along and marvel at the splendid journey. But still they lead me back to the long winding road.
Do you remember your first car? How have your vehicles changed over the years? Do you think you will ever go without a car? Do you remember when you children got their first car? Please share in the comments.