I could probably write a short story about all the cars I have had to drive growing up or even as an adult because my father loved to buy cars. Growing up in Lakewood back when dinosaurs roamed the earth there was every car dealer you could think of on Detroit Avenue, and my father made sure he was on speed dial with all of them. It felt like we had a small fleet of vehicles at one point. I learned how to drive in my oldest brothers Dodge Challenger. It was red with a white vinyl roof and interior. It had rear wheel drive. This meant the most logical time to teach me how to drive was during a snowstorm. Big brother didn’t care. Let me be clear. The weather conditions would have to have been perfect for my father to get in a car with me. Even after the state of Ohio issued my license I believe he did not think I could drive a car perfectly and his goal was to correct me anytime I was at the wheel. He never stopped until one day I looked at him and said “Dad, the state of Ohio gave me a test. I passed it and they gave me a license to drive. I’ve got this.” He laughed at me…..and then continued to tell me how to drive until the day he died. He brought home some special cars for me to drive. Some did not last long because my mom would not allow it. I even sent a few back because let’s be serious, a Renault LeCar? I explained that I didn’t want to drive a death trap. Followed by a Buick Regal with T-tops (mom sent that one back after 1 week), a Pontiac Trans-Am (with T-tops) which I sent back because it wasn’t practical. I think he was trying to live vicariously through me with new car choices. In high school I drove two cars. The Stroh’s mobile aka Peugeot Station Wagon and my favorite, the Jeep Grand Wagoneer! That sucker hauled at least 10 people. We could take it to the valley and hang out at the green barn and tan on the roof. That Jeep was one of those “story” vehicles. Some will never be spoken of anywhere. Haha. My parents told me later in life that when I would back out of the driveway with the Jeep they would run out with a broom and sweep up the rust. Waiting, wondering all the while if it would fall apart while their daughter was driving it. And then along came the WORST car I ever had to drive. He brought home my college car, the Chevy Citation. Honestly, it was the worst car ever. It was literally put together backwards. He bought it obviously used but because the car salesman said it was great on gas. That was the first lie. It got about 5 miles/gallon and that’s no joke. All I did was put gas in that car. The window cranks were also installed backwards so in order to roll the window down you had to crank it in the opposite direction and the radio had to be left on at all times with the volume button turned up to the highest point because if you turned it down the radio blasted you. Backwards I tell you. It was a college car and it would only be mine for a short time because I left it behind when I headed to California. Daddy sold it immediately and I remember talking to him on the phone shortly after that and he said that the same car salesman sold it to a large family looking for an economy car. That man that purchased it called to complain that it was the worst car he had ever owned. Not our problem anymore.
So what kind of car will I end up with in beautiful, sunny Southern California? A convertible? A 4 door sedan? A jeep?
Wait for it………………..
A 1976 Red Chevy Chevette.
Yes. That is what he selected for me to drive. He didn’t want to spend more than $1,000 on my car so he bought me this. It was a stick-shift on top of that. Never in my life have I driven one so now I was beginning to think I may never drive a car again. How many of you even know what a Chevy Chevette is? I want you to google it right now. I’m not sure if there was a high end version of this car or not because mine was as basic as a car could get. It only had an AM radio. Obviously crank windows and no carpeting. That’s right. NO CARPETING on the floor boards. Just metal. Hmpf. Alright then. Teach me how to drive it.
He told me it would take about three days to master the stick-shift and he was right. All we did for three days was make right hand turns around the block so I wouldn’t have to cross traffic or drive through intersections. I will say this. Learning how to drive that car was one of the best things about driving because all I drove for many years to come were sticks. This car did not come without its problems though. Before I discovered its biggest issue I needed to spruce it up a bit. I went to the flea market in Santa Ana and found the carpet vendor. That was a priority! I bought carpeting, brought it home and covered the floor boards. It instantly became more quiet. Imagine driving a Folgers tin can of coffee on the 405 freeway. It’s very LOUD. I couldn’t hear the scratchy reception of the AM radio (insert sarcasm). Then I drove to the Union 76 and got a Union 76 ball for the antenna, because every beach bum had one on their car and if I had to drive this around, I needed to blend in. This car taught me many things. Obviously it taught me how to drive a stick, but more importantly, it taught me that you can start a car by popping the clutch.
One day after work I could not start the damn Chevette. My co-workers were standing their suggesting all sorts of things like “open the car door, stand on the door frame and jump up and down.” I tried that and nothing. It was finally when Kit (my manager) said “you are going to learn how to pop the clutch.” And so began a regular ritual of closing the bank, waiting to see if the car would start and then my coworkers lining up behind my car with me behind the wheel and pushing my car through the parking lot to give me enough momentum to pop the clutch and get it started. The visual is actually hysterical. I have to say that I ended up loving that crappy car. I could drive it anywhere and never worry about it getting stolen. My Union 76 ball was more valuable then the car itself. I could also drive to the beach and park it anywhere because it fit in “verytinyspaces”.
I will not forget the one and only time my mom came to visit and I drove her up the 405 to Rodeo Drive in that car. She took the road atlas I had and covered her entire face because all she kept saying is “I don’t want to see us die when it happens.” I challenged every six figure vehicle on Rodeo and lost. That was a fun day. We ended up at the farmers market nearby and watched a woman order a scoop of cottage cheese for lunch. That’s all she had on her plate. We were convinced she was existing on just the air she was breathing.
That car became my lifeline. Time to explore sunny California!