I’ve enjoyed learning about people’s first cars in recent Farmer File columns. For example, I had no idea how many people have deep and detailed memories of just about everything connected with the cars in their lives.
Some can recall every oil change in their first few cars. Others not only don’t remember such details; they couldn’t change the oil if they had to. Me included.
For years I thought the phrase, “10W-40” was some category of the Selective Service draft system. I never was sure why the gear thing was called a stick shift. I just knew it took longer to learn to drive a stick. But in my formative years, a stick was way cooler than grandpa’s automatic transmission.
Cars can be, depending on the owner, romantic, cosmetic, quixotic, even athletic, all of those things and more, if, that is, your ride is not a ’46 Plymouth.
Not having a decent car led to some of my most memorable moments with cars, mostly other people’s.
The day I graduated from college, a friend and I got a ride out to the nearest highway and stuck out our thumbs. Our plan? To hitchhike across the country and back again. My car would not have made it to the next county and my friend’s beater was on life support.
Somewhere in Kansas, a couple of guys gave us a ride. They stopped for gas and suggested Jerry and I should stay in the car. They went into the gas station and minutes later came out at a full trot, jumped in and drove off.
“Hey, want a beer? Some chips?”
No thanks, we replied, having lost our appetites realizing the driver and his front-seat friend had just robbed the gas station snack counter. And maybe the till too.
We politely bailed not far from Aurora, Colo. After a few cars passed by, another flashy vehicle slowed and pulled over.
The cop informed us that hitchhiking in Colorado was illegal. He told us to get in his squad car and took us to the Aurora Police Department or the Colorado State Patrol, I don’t recall which.
“We’ll let you off with a warning if you have someone to come pick you up.” an officer said. My friend Jerry had in his bag a directory from an all girl’s college in the town where we went to school. He phoned a coed, convincing her they had met at the school a year ago.
Her parents sprung us from the slammer, let us stay overnight in their “rec” room and drove us to the next county.
Jerry’s little black book came in handy a few days later in Portland, Oregon. This time he knew the girl he called and arranged a drive-in movie double date for her, her friend, and us, in her dad’s car.
During the movie, either Jerry or his date dropped a cigarette between the seats and started a smoky, almost-fire. At midnight in the middle of a drive-in theater, the parked cars mostly were bumper-to-bumper. How could a fire truck get in there?
Our only option was to drive carefully out of the drive-in and to the nearest fire station, where I awoke a snoring fireman who put out the car fire with an extinguisher and went back to bed annoyed. The daughter of the man whose car was smoke-damaged was petrified. We didn’t wait around to meet the dad.