Old

 

 

This past week, I was out and about when I noticed a liquid trail leading to my parked car. I knelt down, touched the substance and thought it looked (and felt) like oil. I looked beneath my car and there was a sizable puddle. I hopped in the old gal and drove straight to my mechanic.

 

The next day I called the dude and the news was not good. Yes, there was an oil leak. But there may be other leaks. Other problems. And then my mechanic said something that just about made me cry: Maybe it’s time to consider making this car into a garage queen, driven only on the weekends.

 

My old car is older than me. She’s put in a lot of good years. In all honesty, she probably deserves some rest. But she is also my only car. I don’t have a second vehicle for getting around (unless you count my bicycle). Yes, Mister has a car. But he’s driving that one. And that guy has places to go, too. We’re not a 3-car household. We’re just not.

 

And now I have some serious thinking before me – about whether or not to keep my car. I love the old gal. I do. But L.A. is a big town, with spotty public transportation. Not having a car – for me – is unrealistic. Not having a car payment has been pretty awesome. Just thinking about new debt gives me the willies.

 

I always knew my old car wouldn’t last forever. I just thought she’d hang in there a few years more. Bummer.

It’s a Difficult Responsibility…

 

 

For those who don’t know, I drive an old car. A 1966 Volvo 122S, to be precise. It is uncommon and it is darling. It is also a bit of a responsibility.

 

When I return to my parked car, be it in a lot or on the street, I often encounter admirers checking out the old gal (the car, not me). And those folks are always, always, always wrapped up in the moment. When they see me approaching, they want to share their admiration for my car. They want to ask a few questions. Some want to share their own experiences and memories of Amazons (the common name for my type of car). They absolutely do not care if I’m in the mood to chat (as I experienced this week while suffering the Blahs). And they’re not concerned with my schedule, either. If I’m in a rush, it doesn’t matter. To them, it’s Car Time.

 

That’s how it feels to me anyway. And I’ve accepted this. Because at the very least, my old car forces me to engage with human beings. And it forces me to say Thank You when a compliment is paid. I had no idea what I was getting into when I bought this old Volvo so many years ago. But I’ve decided I’m grateful for all she offers. Long may she reign.

Woo-Hoo!

 

 

I got my car back yesterday! Woo-hoo! (She’d been in the shop since early last week.) The old gal ended up needing new brakes and engine mounts. Basically, the transmission was one pot-hole away from just falling out of the danged thang.

 

When I picked her up, my mechanic and I chatted about the car and life. He was telling me how much he loves his job. I asked if that was because he gets to work on cars each day and he said no, as he doesn’t really care for cars. I was visibly taken aback, so he went on to tell me that what he loves most is the interaction he gets to have with his customers. He said the people inspire him to show up for work on time, and that the people keep him going.

 

I love that my mechanic has found his niche in this world. He’s pretty freakin’ awesome. I and my car are blessed to know him.

Very Cool Car

 

 

I came out of a store the other day and found this note on my car’s window. In case you can’t make it out, it says, “Very cool car!!!” At the bottom, printed, is “operationbeautiful.com”.

 

I do have a very cool car. And my very cool car is very flippin’ filthy. But that dirt didn’t deter the kind soul who left the note. And the note inspired me to go online to see just what the heck “Operation Beautiful” is anyway.

 

This appears on the website’s mission page: “The mission of Operation Beautiful is to post anonymous notes in public places for other people to find. The point is that WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL. You are enough… just the way you are!” It seems to be geared toward girls, aged 8 to 14, and everything I saw was beyond positive. Super cool, huh?

 

I happened to have been in the middle of a perfectly fine day when I read that note. I was pretty smiley already, and the note just broadened my joy. I’m mighty grateful to know there are folks out there whose sole purpose is to spread soul sunshine. And how lucky am I to have received a golden ray.

 

Smiles for all my friends!

Looking Back – Living Forward


“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

(1813 – 1855)

 

 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with old cars. So when my friend Fifi asked if I wanted to go for a ride in her 1960 Ford F100, I was halfway out the door before yelling “Yes!”

 

Old cars are hard to drive. No automatic steering or brakes. They make a lot of noise and rattle incessantly when they’re allowed to run free on the open road. They guzzle gas. They pollute the air. When an engine part is needed, it’s hard to come by and often expensive. And there’s no guarantee the necessary part will be found at all.

 

 

But I swear! There’s just something about an old car that gets me revved. Maybe it’s memories of Little Papa’s Pontiac, with fins. I loved that car, even though I only rode in it once or twice. Or maybe it’s the ’57  Chevy where I became, well, a woman. Then again, maybe it’s something completely different, like the comfort that comes from things older than ourselves. That comfort that says, “Life was here before me, and it will go on after.” Maybe.

 

No matter what the reason, my love-affair with old cars is as heated as it’s ever been. I hope it never fades. I hope I always do a double-take when I see suicide doors. I hope I am always in awe of honest-to-goodness chrome. And I hope I’m lucky enough to always have friends with beautiful, old trucks, just stopping by to see if I want to go for a ride…

 

Road Kings

 

 

Mister and I went over to a fantastic car show on Sunday. It took place in Burbank, CA at Johnny Carson Park (located on Bob Hope Drive). Is that specific enough for you?

 

 

This particular show was sponsored by a group of car enthusiasts called “The Road Kings.” This group has been around since 1952 and the gathering celebrated their 60th anniversary. These guys are all about rodding and racing, and have been from the get-go. It is my understanding that the club now focuses more on hot rods than racers, and several of its members are active competitors. Walking around the big celebration was super cool. I was digging on the old cars, man. I guess it’s just something in my blood. Spectacular machine after spectacular machine, I was in heaven. And then I saw it

 

 

A Woody! It was beyond beautiful, folks. From every angle…

 

 

I couldn’t believe the interior ceiling!

 

 

The engine was about the smoothest I saw all day.

 

 

The hood ornament was definitely the monkey’s eyebrows!

 

 

And the boards on top? Gorgeous.

 

 

Mister then pointed out a rather interesting fact: this particular Woody is for sale. Where do I sign up?!?

 

 

And it’s only $75,000!

 

In the end, I didn’t take the seller’s number (um, duh). I took only pictures. But it was a gorgeous ride. And it was a gorgeous day. Those Road Kings really know how to throw a Sunday shindig!

 

My Hoopty – Update

 

 

As some of you know, my car has been sick. Real sick. It’s been in the shop for two whole weeks, during which time I’ve bummed rides, used public transportation, borrowed Mister’s car and gotten a lot of exercise on my bike. I’ve made do, and that’s just fine.

 

But L.A. is hard without a car. (It’s hard any way you look at it, but that’s another post.) And these last two weeks had me worried. What if my mechanic – awesome though he is – couldn’t repair my ride? What if I had to break down and buy a new-to-me car? What if I had to say goodbye to my old Volvo?

 

The last time I needed a new car was over a decade ago. I had finally admitted to myself that Mister’s old Honda wasn’t doing the job and needed to be put to rest. The very day I accepted this truth, I was sitting on a park bench, near a couple of elderly ladies. One was saying how her friend had recently died. The friend had named this lady as the executrix of her will. I overheard her say how everything had been handled, with the exception of selling her late friend’s car.

 

“I need a car,” I said. “What are the specs?”

 

 

She told me all about it: a 1966 Volvo, one owner. I asked if I could see the car and take it for a test-drive. We set up a meeting.

 

I knew right away. As soon as I saw her, I knew she would be part of my life. The smooth curves. The chrome. The Jesus paraphernalia spread across the dash. After a short drive to a mechanic and his subsequent thumbs-up, I made an offer. We haggled for all of 7 seconds and the deal was struck. I bought myself one heck of a hoopty.

 

 

A beautiful thing about owning an old car is the lack of monthly payment. I can’t tell you how much my frugal soul appreciates that. And even with repairs (which have been necessary over the years), I’ve never put out enough money to equal car payments.

 

This last round of repairs frightened me, I won’t lie. Converting my car’s engine from its original generator-regulator system to an alternator broke my heart. I think it broke my mechanic’s heart, too. But it had to be done. And so it was.

 

My struggles during this car-less period were primarily due to transportation woes. But there was more. As I wrote a while back, I couldn’t help but see the Volvinator’s problems as metaphors for life. For my own aging process. And, to be perfectly honest, there was one more problem: I just wasn’t ready to let the old girl go. I’m still not.

 

As of yesterday, she’s back and running beautifully. I even had her washed and she turned quite a few heads at the car-wash.

 

 

“One owner before me.” “1966.” “Only 114,000 miles.” “Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.”

 

I’ve made a lot of memories in my car. But one of my favorite memories is of the car’s life before me. On the day I bought her and was about to drive home, the lady who sold the Volvo to me gave me a picture of the original owner and told me a bit about that woman. She said the late owner’s name was Gertrude. Apparently, Gertrude’s husband had bought the Volvo for her when it was brand-spanking-new. Gertrude loved her husband dearly, and couldn’t bring herself to tell him she simply did not like the car. After a few months of driving it and being none too happy about it, she decided to come clean. But something happened before she could tell him: her husband had a fatal heart attack. After her devastating loss, Gertrude simply couldn’t part with the car – a gift from her beloved husband. So she kept it all those years. Right up to her own passing. Bless her heart. I love that story. And I love the photo of Gertrude.

 

 

And I love my old car. Long may she reign.

 

My Hoopty…

 

I’ve been without my old car for a full week now. Parts for that engine are getting harder and harder to find. I have an excellent mechanic and he’s doing his best. Still…

 

I’m trying not to think of all this as a metaphor for aging. And life. But it’s just too easy for my brain to go there. And until I get my car back, well, I don’t know.

 

In the meantime, please be kind to the girl on the 3-basketed, Elvis-horned bike. She’s pedaling all over town. And she’s trying to figure some things out.

 

Little Papa’s Filling Station

 

 

The first car I ever owned was a ’68 Chrysler Newport. It was aqua with a white top. It sat 8 with room to spare. I was its third owner.

 

The next car I bought on my own was a ’66 Volvo 122S. I had seatbelts installed in the back, as there were none. The original, factory-installed seatbelts in the front attach to a bolt in the floor. Presently, it has 114,000 miles to its credit. I am its second owner.

 

My fondness for old cars isn’t new. And while I don’t necessarily believe it’s been with me since birth, I may know from whence it came.

 

 

When I was a kid, my grandfather Charles – “Little Papa” – owned a Phillips 66 station in Griffin, GA. He and Granny Nita would sometimes watch us kids there. Granny would sit on a stool behind the glass and aged-wood candy case, where she chain-smoked while ringing up any sales that weren’t gasoline. The service part of the station wasn’t her domain. Maybe that’s why she always wore so much jewelry there – to distance herself as far as possible from any grease-monkey status that might attach itself to her.

 

Little Papa would stand behind the register, unless he was out pumping gas or in the repair bay, working on a vehicle. He wore no jewelry, but he did wear a dark blue uniform bearing the Phillips 66 emblem. And he also chain-smoked. He and Granny shared that pastime.

 

My sisters and I loved the filling station. Papa always let us get a cold drink from the big, metal cooler (I was a fool for Strawberry Nehi), and Granny would begrudgingly give us each our choice of candy (Snickers, thank-you-very-much). There wasn’t much to do there, as we couldn’t really run around and play in the path of cars. Mostly, I remember sitting around and listening to the old men talk.

 

I don’t know why, but old, Southern men used to gather at service stations and general stores every danged day (and maybe still do). Little Papa’s station was no exception. Instead of huddling around a pickle barrel, the old men leaned against the candy counter. Once in a while, they’d stand around in the service bay and opine about whatever mechanical quandary was testing Papa’s knowledge. “You gotta flush dat cah-buh-ray-tuh, Challs.” “All it needs is a little ol’ patch on dat radia-tuh – not a new one!” When those men were looking at the underbelly of a vehicle up on the rack, they all became experts. And I hinged on every word.

 

 

 

Back then, engines were simple. And though I couldn’t tell the difference between a spark plug and a canuter valve, it didn’t matter. For some reason, I sort of followed along with the mechanical conversations. And I was sincerely interested. Go figure.

 

Anyway, one of the old men who hung out at Little Papa’s station often brought his son along. The boy’s name was Richard, and he was probably 19 or so, twice my age. Richard was what we would now call “mentally challenged.” He was nice enough to be sure. He was just a little slow. And in that day and age, in that town, Richard was never to be seen as having any value.

 

As I’ve said, I loved that old gas station and the hours I spent there affected me immensely. I grew to love the old cars brought in by the customers. And to this day, the smell of gasoline makes me smile. But I digress…

 

Papa sold the station some time during my early teen years. Granny divorced him not long after. There was never any reason to even drive by the station after that. I don’t have a single photo of the old place, and I desperately wish I did.

 

 

When I was about 16, I was with my friends one night at one of the two movie theaters in Griffin. It was in a pretty sizable strip-mall, with 20 or so stores. It was dinnertime, and a familiar face walked into the record store where my friends and I were wasting time before the movie started. It was Richard – that sweet, slow boy I’d known years before. He wasn’t shopping. He was there on business. You see, Richard went from store to store at mealtimes and took food orders from the shop employees. There were a couple of fast food joints at the edge of the strip-mall’s parking area. There were a few more across the street. I heard Richard say, “It’s a dollar to get you some food from this lot, a dollar fifty to cross the road.” Richard had set up a food-delivery service before any of us had even heard of such a thing. As the clerks placed their orders, I smiled. So Richard had become an entrepreneur.

 

Before leaving the record store, I walked past Richard and smiled at him. Busy with his business, his hazel eyes looked right through me. He didn’t recognize me at all.

 

Flash back to one of those hot, heavy, summer afternoons at Little Papa’s filling station, the air thick with cigarette smoke and small-town politics. There I was – hanging out in the service bay with Richard. He asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “Maybe a mechanic.” Richard smiled and said, “Me, too! Maybe we can both grow up and be mechanics. Then we could get married and have little mechanic babies.” I didn’t say anything in response. There was nothing I could say. I didn’t tell anyone about that conversation either, because I knew Richard would have gotten in trouble for the implications, no matter how innocent his intent.

 

No, I didn’t respond. Instead, I just smiled and the moment passed. All the way into memory, where the filling station is alive and well, along with Little Papa, Granny Nita, Strawberry Nehi, a little girl who loves old cars and nothing but time…