THE TROUBLE WITH CARS: ROCKET FIRE


I have driven practically every car I owned into the scrap yard. Some have died, some have been sold while still clinging to life, and one actually burned to the ground. The point is that I have always been known as a person who does not take good care of his cars.

But that’s not necessarily my fault. As a matter of fact, I’m going to lay the blame right down upon the feet of my LOCD (Lackadaisical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), because I do take good care of my cars. That is until something happens to them. Something that I can’t either fix myself, or can’t come up with the money to have someone else fix. Once that’s happened, regardless of how small the problem is, the car becomes, in my mind, completely ruined. The honeymoon is over and I can’t make myself care enough to continue caring for it.

I have never in my life owned a new car. I’ve always owned used cars. That’s never mattered much to me. As far as I was concerned, it was a vehicle I’ve never driven, thus it was new.

My dad bought my first car for me when I was sixteen. It was a yellow, four-door, 1970, Oldsmobile Delta ‘88, and Dad paid a staggering $400.00 for it.

The 1970 Delta ‘88 wasn’t just a car, this was a boat. With its front and back bench seats, it was big enough to hold at least ten people, and don’t think that it never did.

This was at a time in my life when all of my friends were naming their cars. Bob, the oldest of our crew, had a ‘67 Mustang he called “Bob’s Toy”. Mark, another buddy, had a crap brown station wagon he named the “Battle Wagon”. My car had a Rocket 350 under the hood, so she became “The Rocket”.

As far as tunes went, all the Rocket had in it was an AM radio, so I was forced to ride with my boom box next to me if I wanted to listen to a tape or FM radio, and because of the bench seats, the boom box rode by my side so that I was able to use it as an arm rest.

Like all boys with their first, I loved that car. The honeymoon was short however, lasting only three days. The magic died the same day I learned how to properly wax a car. This was a lesson, like most in my life, that I had to learn the hard way.

I was a nice sunny day and I wanted to do what all first time car owners want to do . . . make the car shine. I parked the car in the driveway, gave it good wash and scrub, and then pulled out the car wax.

There seems to be one basic rule to follow when waxing a car:

DO NOT COVER YOUR ENTIRE CAR WITH WAX IN THE HOT OPEN SUN BEFORE YOU BUFF THE WAX OFF

Apparently it’s ideal to wax your car in a garage, or in the shade, and to just do little bits at a time like Ralph Macchio did in the Karate Kid. Wax on, wax off, you know the routine.

When you cover your entire car with wax in the hot open sun, you are giving that hot open sun just the right amount of time it needs to bake all that wax into the surface of your car and leave behind, if you want to take the Rocket as an example, swirling orange streaks all over it. And believe you me, that doesn't look good.

So there it was, the Rocket was ruined in my eyes, and so from that point on, I failed to take care of it. The car still gave me a couple of good years, but I then it died and that was that. It was eventually towed to a salvage yard.

My next car was a Pontiac. I don’t remember the year or model because frankly, I didn't own the car long enough for such things to imprint themselves on my brain. I only recall that it, like the Rocket, was from the 70's, my uncle gave it to me, and it overheated and died on my the day I tried to take it home from my uncle's.

You see, I only had the Pontiac for a week or two, and what it liked to do, more than actually drive, was to overheat and die on me, and one afternoon on the way home from work, it did just that, leaving me stranded on the side of the road. Luckily, someone I knew drove by and gave me a lift home and as my parents were in town for the day, I decided to take a shower and mess with what to do with the car after Mom and Dad came home.

I was just getting dressed after my shower when the doorbell rang and I answered to find my friend Will standing there.

“Dude,” He tells me, a sense of calm in his voice. "Your car’s on fire.”

“No it’s not”, I laughed. "It just overheated.”

I had assumed that as Will was coming into town, he saw the Pontiac on the side of the road and mistook the steam that was emanating from under the hood as smoke and sped over to tell me the news.

“No, Dude,” Will says, even more calm than before. "Your car is on fire.”

“That’s steam, not smoke. The car overheated.” I said confidently, the laughter still in my voice. “You wanna come in and play Super Mario Brothers?”

That’s when Will grabbed me by the shoulders and directed his piercing gaze into mine.

“Dude," he pauses for emphasis. "You car," another dramatic pause as he takes my gaze fully into his. "Is on fire."

“It just . . . overheated . . .” My voice trailed away as I looked off into the distance to see a plume of dirty black smoke rising up from the horizon over in the direction that I left my car.

After that I drove a Plymouth Sapporo.

It was a pretty sweet ride that looked and felt practically brand new. It had a parking brake lever right between the bucket seats, and I always enjoyed speeding down back country gravel roads or on wet pavement behind big department stores and then yanking on that break lever to make the car spin. Oh what times that car and I had. Then some poor misguided reprobate broke into it and cracked the dash while stealing my stereo and the car lost its luster for me.

After that I drove a blue GMC Safari Mini Van.

It was the early 90’s, I was a year or two out of high school, and I considered myself something of a musician to the extent that I was playing drums in a local rock band and we needed something in which to haul our equipment around. Hence the van.

But more on that later.

In other words . . . to be continued.

Post image taken from photograph by Bruce McAllister, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 3823134) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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