I’m in the process of buying a car this week. Let me start by saying that I’ve never been a “car guy.” I’m not into having the latest or greatest in self-transportation… I just want to get from point A to point B reliably, and it helps if it’s comfortable. And the stereo is loud.
I learned to drive in a big, yellow Jeep Wagoneer. We named it “Jaundice.” (I knew another guy with a green one that he named “Algae.”) Jaundice was indestructible… it used to belong to my Grandpa and had navigated many rough Pittsburgh winters, with its high wheel base and AM-only radio. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t get KDKA from northwest Ohio.)
I loved driving that Jeep and would have happily done so for years. My buddies and I used to go out terrorizing in it during my high school years, as did my brother later on. But it was the family car and I would need one of my own to drive back and forth to college every day. So what did my dad get me to drive in the face of the brutal northwest Ohio winters?
A 1976 Honda Civic hatchback… Front wheel drive, 5-speed manual transmission, manual choke knob, baby-shit brown.
It looked just like this, except for the color. Although Jaundice was painted a slightly paler version of this color.
I’d never driven a stick before, so Dad had to take me out to teach me. I think I set a world record in Greatest Number Of Times a Car Can Be Stalled in Twenty Minutes. By the time I stalled it out in the middle of our area’s busiest 6-lane red-light intersection, Dad had enough.
“Drop me off at home and go work on it yourself. You know what do to, just practice.”
I got the hang of it fairly quickly after that. It’s easier to concentrate when your passenger isn’t grasping at the armrest, pawing at the non-existent passenger-side break pedal and yelling, “Clutch! Clutch!”
I do admit to a bit of panic the first time I drove it in the snow and failed miserably in attempting to perform a maneuver called “a left turn.” I turned the wheel, the car continued moving straight ahead. I don’t know how I even got home.
I convinced them to let me drive the Jeep to school for a couple more days, but eventually I had to solve this problem l if I wanted to make it to school again. (The solution? Slow the hell down. But where’s the fun in that?)
Later, we had the car painted red, to match the Olds 98 my mom was driving. It was quite a sight seeing us getting our of our respective cars… her being 5-foot nothing in her enormous 4-wheeled yacht and me being 6’4”, unfolding myself from this little roller skate. I could have parked my car on top of hers and it would have looked like a hood ornament.
I think it was just after I graduated college that my little Honda broke down for good, so Dad got me another Civic, I think it was a 1980. This one, he put in my name and onto my own insurance. I was on the hook for this one.
That meant trouble because I was just starting out in life and pretty much piss-poor broke. That car did NOT get much in the way of maintenance. My buddies would always bust my chops about changing the oil. I’d be like, “Why? I just checked and there’s still oil in it!”
To me, you changed the oil when the oil light came on.
I drove this car for my first years in Cleveland and that was a real adventure. That’s when I learned that you didn’t actually need wipers to drive in the winter. My wipers just quit. I drove it as long as I could but eventually I took it into a garage and they fixed it in about 10 seconds, and showed me how they did it. They didn’t even charge me, which was good because I was still pretty broke.
There were 2 moving parts… Imagine your arm making big pot-stirring motions. That was one part. Then there was another arm that had kind of a cap on it, that went over what would be the “elbow” joint on the first piece. That 2nd arm drove the wipers. My problem was the cap would pop off. So I learned that when the wipers quit, I’d just pop the cap back on.
The trouble was, after enough times with the “on and off” the cap barely stayed on at all. It got so where I’d get 1 wipe out of a reset and I’d have to plan it carefully. I’d get it set before I left the house and try to get at least half way to work. (Remember, this was Cleveland during the winter... there was always snow and slop on the ground.) When I couldn’t see, I’d try to follow a truck or some other car that was throwing a lot of road spray. (My washer fluid never worked in the first place.) Then I’d trigger the wipers. One swipe and done. I never had time to pull over and reset on the way, plus I was usually on a freeway. I’d just have to make it to my destination the best I could.
Round about 1988, I could sense that the old Civic was about to give up the ghost. I was having all kinds of problems with it and while I was able to have a number of smaller problems fixed, I knew the Big One was on the way. I knew I’d have to get a new car but I had neither the time nor the know-how about how to do that (without getting screwed). In the meantime, Dad had bought a Honda CRX; a little 2-seat car with some zip. Then my brother bought one. So I figured, why not make it a complete set.
I summoned my buddy Rik to come out from Toledo and buy one for me. I said it would be like you’re my “consigliore”. I told him what I wanted and what I could afford, and sent him out to make me a deal while I went to work.
When I came home that day, he had a deal in hand; I just had to go in and sign stuff. We made the deal but it pissed me off because they still wanted me to have a co-signer on the loan. Dad was willing to do it, but I didn’t like it. I was like, “I’m on my own, have my own place and a full-time job! Why the fuck can’t I do this myself?”
(Answer: Because you’re a 27-year old putz and still don’t make squat.)
But I got the car and paid it off in the required time… Dad never had to worry. The biggest problem was getting there to pick it up. I think my Civic sensed that its days were numbered and began doing a lot of choking and wheezing during that last week. I was totally sweating that last ride to the dealership. I was sure that even if I made it, the car was going to fall apart like the one at the end of the Blues Brothers movie. But I made it, and hey, I got $50 for it as a trade-in!
I loved my CRX. You’d think a car that small wouldn’t fit a big guy like me but that was never an issue. I had plenty of room… the only drag was that I sat about 6” off the road.
My little red roller skate, back when it was new.
The car did surprisingly well in the snow and there was a lot of it. After Cleveland, I drove it for my entire time in Albany. I beached it once, due to the low clearance. I thought I could get up my driveway but that ridge of snow left by the last plow pushed the wheels right up off the ground. Luckily, the car was small and light enough that I was able to free it without having to summon the Future Ex from the house.
The thing that always bothered me was that about 6-months after I bought it, some motherfucker gouged their key around 3 sides of it, while it was in the parking lot behind my apartment. Pretty much broke my heart. I never knew who or why, leaving me with a great deal of rage and nowhere to direct it. And worse, I never got it fixed. I had a guy paint over it once, while the was in the shop for something else, but I never had the money to have it done right, nor the time to be without a car. So every time I saw those scratches, it would piss me off all over again. This is why we can’t have nice things.
Regardless, I drove the CRX for 13 years. I definitely got my money’s worth out of it. I drove it until I moved to Maryland and found I couldn’t get it to pass inspection without a major overhaul.
I’ll continue the story with the next post, which will include 2 Neons, a Maryland Transit Authority Sting Operation and the car I’m buying now. Stay tuned…
As I recall the finance girl was SMOKIN HOT with an onion BUTT !!!!!
Right... the kind a butt that brings a tear to your eye... I remember her. But mostly I remember you sweet-talking her like it was last call.
I got a new car in March--like you, I drive my cars as long as I can stand to, because I hate the process of buying a car and I hate the payments even more!
Once you've paid the car off, it's tough to undertake payments again. I paid off my current car just over a year ago, and I've been banking what used to be my car payment ever since.
This new (used) car, I'm paying for outright, but I'll get into that on Wednesday's post.
DUDE....i had that same Honda, same color even. all decked out with racing wheels and louvers everywhere. even had a bra on it.
God, I think we all have horror stories about our early cars. I remember I was so proud of my "sporty" Geo Metro convertible. It was a 5-speed 3-cylinder. Hee hee. Tore that baby up. All the way up to 75 mph, which was its limit. I didn't know how to drive a stick when I bought it, either, which made for a fun test drive. The sales guy wanted OUT of that car by the end. Haha! It was a 2-seater, but we stuffed our entire martial arts class (8 or 9?) into it when a rain storm interrupted our session once.
I was driving my sister's Pontiac Sunfire when we had to rig the transmission so it wouldn't slip. Scary stuff for that to go out in the middle of Dallas traffic. I was lucky it was night time, but it was still scary.
I have tons of stories of my mom's Oldsmobile Cutlass that had nonworking power windows, a stolen radio that left a hole for hot engine air to flow into the car, which made it no A/C in 100+ Texas summer PLUS no defrost for hard Texas rains. Fun times. Lots of "you steer, I'm gonna' wipe off the windshield" moments. That thing was so sad.
Honda FTW! The day I bought Fiona Fit was one of the happiest of my life.
Hey, I didn’t start with the odd names… My parents have always named our cars. And I already knew about “Algae” so I just ran with it.
Sticking a car-bra on that car would have been like putting a silk bib on a chimpanzee. What I really wanted was a giant wind-up key to stick on the roof that would rotate whenever the car was moving.
I’m sure it was quite a looker in its time, but I still can’t see how anyone could think that painting a car that color was a good idea.
We have similar stories with a family car we had when we were kids… It was the early 70’s and this was 1960 Rambler, tail-fins and all. Was a little darker hue of baby-sht brown. (What was it with my family and THAT color?) We called it “The Bomb”. It also had wipers that would only work occasionally and when riding shotgun, I would have to hang out the window and un-stick it in the rain.
My little sister also fell out of it once, from the back seat. My dad was picking me up from 4th grade football practice and as he made the bend out of the parking lot, my sister just rolled right out of the car and onto the street. Knowing my brother, he was probably telling Dad to keep going. But we picked her up, no worse for wear though… although not to hear HER tell it…
We ended up selling it to a neighbor, for $1. (The car, not my sister.)
For a while there, we were a total Honda family… we had about 5 of them. They always served us well. Dad still has his little Honda Del Sol in which he and mom tool around Pensacola with the T-Top off.
I'm laughing at the series of roller skates you drove--I can see why you'd have missed Jaundice! Your family does seem to have bad taste in car colors. But I can't say anything...
My first car, I got from a government auction when I was 19. It was a mail truck that I spray-painted kelly green--I mean, with cans of Krylon that were probably meant to patch up a John Deere. I cleaned out three hardware stores' worth of those cans. And installed a stereo. Couldn't go as fast as I wanted--remember, I'm a NASCAR fan--but it worked for a couple of years. When it finally broke down, I went through a phase where it was cheaper for me to buy a new-to-me beater from the want-ads than to maintain a car--I went through four cars in two years.
I bought better rides and learned to maintain them by the time I was 25. (Not to drive any slower, though. WHen I have speed, I use it.) I had a really nice truck when I was 30 and moved to NYC to be with L'Ailee. Unfortunately (as I just now shared in my blog!) it was a total PITA to have in the city, so I sold it, and boy, sometimes I miss it. Now I rent cars and scare the hell out of my passengers.
Oh, man, I LOVE the idea of cruising around in a freakin' mail truck! You could get all your friends AND a keg back there!
Jaundice served us well though... she was most adept at Lawn Jobs, with her 4-wheel drive. But it was the old kind of 4-wheel drive where you had to get out and unlock the hubs on the front wheels.
I have SOOOO many comments but will just leave it to one... You didn't know to change the oil?! Your parents failed you lol.
ok, 2 comments. I totally giggled at the left turn failure... and the baby poop brown thing...
Well, hell, you just make me laugh anyway. Which is good b/c I needed a laugh after the events of today (see blog) :)
My dad wasn't a Car Guy either, although he did change his own oil. I don't think they had any Jiffy Lubes out where we were. I probably saw how much of a pain in the ass it was and blocked it all out.
I don't think I ever recovered from the one time I did something "automotive." I was ambling by the garage one day, minding my own business, and my little brother called me over by Jaundice. He handed me a can of oil and said, "Hey, can you pour this in that hole? I can't reach."
Always glad to help, I obliged. Only later did I figure out I just poured a quart of oil in the transmission fluid reservoir.
Oops. That's why I go to Jiffy Lube.
Glad to see you surface again. I'll go check out your alibi...
My mom taught me all about car maintenance. I, of course, was fortunate enough to just say "hey mom, I need an oil change. it's been 3k miles" but I knew it needed to be done. I also checked it daily b/c it was old and leaked a lot.
I'll never forget being a freshman in high school and walking out of the school to my friend saying his car had a flat. I told him I'd change it but I'd miss the bus so he'd have to bring me home (20 miles away from his house). He said OK.
So, here I am, 14 or 15 years old, changing the tire while my 17 year old guy friend stands idly by watching. I also taught him which fluids looked like what, the viscosity etc. I'm honestly surprised his car survived him.
Butt !!!!! you got the car and price you requested and she got away .... her loss !!!!
My dad once had a 1953 Chevy which he was trading in on a 1956 Ford station wagon. On our way to pick up the Ford, the Chevy broke down. Cars know when they're being dumped.
Keep them as long as you can. I'm still driving my 1995 GMC truck. Original clutch, original shocks, 224K miles and counting. Kinda fucked up the tailgate last weekend but I bungeed it shut. An inoperable tailgate is no reason to buy a new truck. Besides I messed with it some more on Tues. and now it closes without the bungees. Keep on truckin'!!
I used to have a Civic. I loved that little car. My parents' delivery boy (they owned a business) cracked it up one day. I think I cried.
And I learned on a 5-speed stick. It was the only way to roll (literally) in Erie, PA.
Damn… I wish I had someone like you back then, upon whom I could pawn off all my maintenance issues… At least I knew how to change a tire and have done a couple in my day. I wonder if your friend was really that lame, or was he just seeing how much he could get this little freshman to do for him…
Yeah, she missed out on the best 5 minutes of her life… I think I got the better part of the deal… Thanks buddy!
There’s a lot to be said for just driving a car until you can’t any more. Sounds like you’re getting your money’s worth out of that truck.
I’m glad I learned on an automatic. Learning the stick itself was traumatic enough without worrying about traffic laws and stuff. By the time I took on the stick, the rest of it was better ingrained.
The thing I loved with the manual transmission is that it felt like I was “One with The Car.” I felt more in control and more attuned to what was going on. Driving the automatic again, I feel like my own passenger.
Jaundice? That certainly is a unique name for a vehicle! Some car owners have their own way of naming their rides. Some call them by name to add some personal touch. And some name their car based on the auto’s characteristics – just like what you did!
Thanks for commenting.
We always named our cars when I was growing up, but this was the first one I named.
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