February 19, 2010
Our Family Cars
Not every family owns a car. In the United States it has become a rite of passage for youth into adulthood. To own a car is to be independent and adult. Owning a car has been known as a sign of status and the nicer the car, the higher the recognition of having arrived at the big time.
But as I said, not everyone owns a car and some families own only one car for multiple drivers and they take turns. Now there are even car-share programs where you rent a car hourly. That's a cool idea if you primarily walk, ride bike, motorcycle or take public transportation. Sometimes you need to carry bigger stuff from point A to point B.
Before I go into talking about the cars my family had as I was growing up, and the meaning that had for me, I want to talk about the period in my life when I gave away my motorcycle and my car to ride a bike. In 2004 I started riding my bike everywhere and when winter came around I bought a 'winter bike' to ride all year. That showed me I could and did live without a car. Of course my wife still had her car, but my primary mode of transportation was bicycle. I realized I wasn't using my motorcycle and car so I gave them away. I felt wonderfully energized and much more fit.
I did that for a couple of years before switching jobs and facing the nightmares of a commute over an hour long and bus rides that were one and a half to two hours long with multiple transfers. And then the job was really demanding with a lot of late hours, so I decided I needed more sleep and I bought a motorcycle, then a car. Now I am right back where I was before 2004. And my health is much worse for it. It was a great experience that taught me to think about owning a car in much different ways.
But this kind of thinking is not at all what I experienced as I was growing up. There was great nostalgia around our cars. There was romance and drama and great adventure. We took long trips in cars, some of them I was too young to remember. And one of the greatest adventures in a car was the drive-in theater! There we watched such wonderful classics such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! and the Love Bug. Cars had their own personalities. My dad was even part of the dirt-track race scene with a 1955 Chevy named 'Wiki-Wiki' number 99. "Wiki-wiki" means "hurry quick" in Hawaiian. It also refers to a type of fish native to the islands. Not to be confused with the short, very rapid back and forth movements of a record called affectionately 'wicky wicky'.
But back to the nostalgia of our cars. I remember getting into our jammies and heading out the drive-in theater and watching our cars dramatized in all their glory. They were the heroes of our stories. And later general Lee was born on the back roads as the dukes of hazards made it glorious to drive fast away from the law. I don't drive like that, thankfully. But we sure loved our cars and loved the thought of speed. One of my brother's first cars was even a Charger, which I drove only one time at 110 mph. The whole front end of that thing was a shakin' and that was the end of my desire to drive fast.
And we learned to drive in our parents cars. Then we drove our parents cars on dates and to our first jobs. My dad taught me how to drive in a pickup truck with a manual transmission. I remember the long rod in those trucks reaching down into the floor and the large plastic bulb on top. My first car was not a stick, but my second one was. The first car I had was a tank. My dad traded a freezer for it. It ran only so so and my dad had to fix it for me, which he was good at. I wasn't so much. In fact my dad has fixed a lot of cars in his life time. So there was more than nostalgia going on in our house. There were also project cars, like the 1963 corvair monza spider with rear engine. That was a cool car. I think that was even turbo charged.
When I graduated from high school, I went into the army, went through training and then was stationed at Ft. Hood in Texas. Then I needed a car. So what did I buy? A turbo charged ford mustang! Yes, I got a ticket driving that thing. And I wore out the turbo charge unit and my dad helped me take it out because I couldn't afford to fix it. Then the little engine just couldn't jump past other cars when passing.
Like every new parent that has to haul kids around, we quickly discovered that it was a real pain in the but to get a car seat in and out of the back seat of a two-door car. We had to buy a family car then. So we got a four door plymouth reliant k-car. And that brings me right back to the cars we had as a family when I was growing up. We had station wagons, four-door sedans and trucks. And we always had multiple vehicles around. Basically we were a family-car family. And most of those were Fords, because my dad found that working on those was easier and they were fairly reliable. There was a little bit of brand loyalty going on there too I think. I probably should not even joke about the meaning of the word F.O.R.D: "Found on the Road Dead." I tried that line on the last Ford dealer we went to and the salesman wasn't amused. He said something like, "Oh yeah, I've heard that before. People sure like that old joke."
Now I'm thinking about spring already and it's not my car I'm dreaming about. When it went above freezing the other day, all I could think about was, "If it wasn't for the ice on this road, I could be riding my motorcycle. When winter subsides, my car once again will sit in the driveway all summer, and I will be either on the motorcycle or on the bicycle. Last year I rode my bicycle to work only three times, but I'm thinking that I might enjoy the fresh air a little more this year and bicycle more and use it to help me get back into shape. See how I managed to turn this story about cars into one about bicycles? And fitness related to getting out my cars? I think I'll name my bicycle "Wiki-Wiki" after how fast my heart beats when riding it.