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…