Ahhh, my first car and the open road… Whoa. Hold on. Wait a minute. Uh oh. Oh no. Hmmm… Whelp, that can’t be good.
Welcome to a typical trip in my first car. Hop in. Let’s take a ride down memory lane. No doubt we’ll stall out along the way, but what’s the rush? We’ll eventually get to where we’re going.
My first car was a 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier.* No, not the convertible that the girls would have admired. Nope, not the coupe that the gearheads would have wanted to get their hands on. And no, not even the wagon that kids in rock bands would have hauled their equipment in.
My car, affectionately named “D.D.” by a friend who said it looked like a good candidate to be used in a demolition derby, was a run-of-the-mill four-door sedan. Sensible. One could say it was a wise and prudent vehicle choice for a junior in high school. (Just don’t tell that to a junior in high school.) In fact, if you saw a picture of it, the first word likely to enter your mind would be “practical”.
Yep, on the surface D.D. was the epitome of practicality. She was petite and unassuming. The body was angular and compact like a metal IKEA armoire with wheels. Legroom was scarce. Headroom was lacking. It was a real claustrophobe’s nightmare and a daily struggle for any human over six feet tall.
In what was probably a design response to the economic uncertainty of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, she was the antithesis of flashy, excessive or extravagant. The goal was to blend in and not draw attention. Mind your own business and stay humble.
This attitude was most clearly exemplified by the exterior paint color – a peculiar hue of brown that unapologetically stated, “I couldn’t decide which color to be, so I just mixed them all. Trust me, it’s for the best. You’ll learn to love… ahem, well, you’ll learn to tolerate me.”
So, I tolerated. What choice did I have?
Yet, despite her flaws, she was my gateway to freedom. You know the feeling, right? Cruising down the open road. Singing along to your favorite tunes. Laughing with your best friends. Doing that airplane thing with your hand out the window.
Ahhh yeah, life was good… Whoa. Hold on. Wait a minute. Uh oh. Oh no. Hmmm… Whelp, that can’t be good.
Glad you’re here to keep me company while we wait.
You see there’s one more (quite major) flaw that I forgot to mention. Sometimes my Cavalier was inclined to just… stop.
Yes, stop. While moving! On the road with other cars!
She would travel for about nine miles or so, depending on speed, temperature and idle time, before shutting down and demanding to rest. D.D. wasn’t merely a brown metal box with wheels. She was a rolling science experiment.
With the knowledge that a sudden shutdown was imminent, I learned to stay alert and perfected my breakdown-preparedness protocol: use the right lane near the shoulder, steer clear of highways if possible, go under the speed limit, obsessively watch the odometer, and reach for the hazard light switch faster than Doc Holliday would reach for his revolver.
Getting to the side of the road and out of traffic safely was the first step. Next was trying to get going again.
The first time D.D. broke down on me, I thought it might have been due to overheating, or that I was out of gas and my gauge was faulty, or that it had simply kicked the bucket once and for all. So, I completed a comprehensive diagnostic assessment, which included looking for smoke, checking fluids and ignorantly examining other stuff under the hood. After each little adjustment made to a spark plug or battery connector, I was convinced that I had fixed it. But each time I tried to get her started again… nothing.
So, after tinkering to my heart’s content, I gave up. There I sat on the side of a country road. No cell phone. No gas stations. No help.
I spent some time contemplating what do to. Which direction should I walk? Where’s the closest house? I formulated a plan and figured I should get going. But before I did, I needed to turn the key one more time. One last shot. A Hail Mary.
Lo and behold, D.D. started! I felt victorious! And I went home as quickly as possible.
Several breakdowns later and after much trial and error, I determined that the ideal rest time was 21 minutes. No less! If I tried to start it sooner, I’d have to wait a little longer. Like I said, she was a rolling science experiment.
So why did my light beech wood (i.e. brown) tin can with wheels break down every nine miles or so? We tried to diagnose the problem, but due to either lack of knowledge or lack of funds to hire a decent mechanic, we never found the source. Oh well. I’ve embraced the mystery. After all, it makes for a good story.
Well, we’re ready to get her started. It’s time to pop in a cassette tape, do that airplane thing with my hand out the window, and get home as quickly as possible. Thanks for keeping me company.
* If you’d like the complete list of specs and features on this wonder of modern machinery, all you really need to know is this: she was most likely the base model, she had most definitely clocked some miles, and she was probably stripped for parts at one point in her life and then put back together by high school students in a class called “Intro to Autos”. I give them a D+.