Almost all of us have ridden in a car, but each of us has very different experiences. It’s easy to forget about the 99% of the time when nothing happens, which is generally what we want to happen, but it’s the 1% that you tend to remember.
My first memories of a car occurred when my parents were trading in their blue station wagon for a brand new 1984 Caprice Classic. I was 4. I still remember my little brother’s black vinyl car seat, it’s skin cracked from the sun, exposing the yellow foam underneath. There were three of us in the back seat, all boys. I was the middle child, but preferred the back, right seat as it had the waist seat belt easiest to undo without my parents noticing. My big brother and I both knew this and fought vehemently over the spot. Eventually I figured out how to do it with the other side, but it was shortly after this that we got the 1988 Suburban.
My parents used to buy new vehicles anytime they were going on a big vacation. In 1984 we took the only two week vacation my family ever had. We took the Caprice Classic from Missouri, where we lived at the time, through Kansas to Nebraska, down through Colorado and New Mexico to Texas, and back home again through Oklahoma. In 1988 we went to Walt Disney World with the girl with the necklace and her family. They had a luxury van so my dad must have figured we needed something bigger too. They had four kids, two older boys and two younger girls. I remember us stopping at rest stops and Cracker Barrel together on the way down, but once we were there, we hardly saw each other.
The first car my dad ever bought new was a 1977 Monte Carlo. My grandpa claims he painted it while working as a paint supervisor at the GM Leeds Plant in Kansas City. He’s the one who helped get my dad a job there and the reason why we got to cut in line at the Epcot Center in Disney World. It’s also the reason we had to move to Indianapolis when GM decided to close the plant in Kansas City. He held on to the Monte Carlo until around 1994, rarely driving it, selling it to a co-worker for about $1700. It had a giant rust hole in the right door and metal fell off anytime you opened and closed the door.
My dad taught me most of the things I know about cars. He actually built his own car in high school from spare parts from a junk yard. It wasn’t street legal, but it did give him street cred. He was known at school as “the guy who built his own car”. He became student council president his senior year when the more popular person he was running against got his girlfriend pregnant and dropped out of the race. When I turned 16, the 84′ Caprice Classic became mine to drive. It was 12 years old then and had about 120,000 miles. The ceiling felt was falling and the speedometer meter fell off, but it was a good (and powerful) car with over 300 horsepower in a V8.
I tended to drive the car as if I was always being chased. Sometimes I was being chased, so the practice came in handy. I would even practice learning how to recover from a fish tale by going out to country gravel roads and whipping the car around. One time I was late to work washing dishes after school, cut a corner too close and spun the back of the car into a mail box. I had to drive to town to withdraw money from the ATM to pay for the box before making it to work on time. I had such a mastery of this car’s dynamics that I was able to slide the car down a hill sideways and recover. Looking back, I’m not sure how I was able to do this, but I know I did. One thing I look back on with horror is the time I got bored driving up to camp in Michigan. I thought it would be okay to get in the back seat while driving, but once I got there I realized I had no way to stop the car if I had to. My heart started racing pretty hard, which had the added affect of waking me up, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
The Caprice Classic was with me when Stephani ran backstage on Audio Adrenaline, it was on my first date with Jessica and there when she broke up with me, and it drove Sarah around when she was trying to figure out who she wanted in her life. While I was up in Michigan working at camp, the radiator went out. I should have known something was wrong after it overheated taking a hitchhiker to Chicago one day. I took it to a mechanic to have it repaired and he said I could buy the parts and get someone to do it for less. My boss at the camp said he could do it for me, but he forgot to reconnect the transmission fluid lines that run through the radiator to cool. When the liquid ran out of the transmission it seized up and my dad had to tow it back at the end of the summer. We stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way back though. He donated it to the blind for a $800 tax deduction.
Despite my bad management of the Caprice Classic, my dad let me take his 1999 GMC truck to Tennessee. I was still driving this truck when I met Suzanne, but by the time I was engaged to her two months later, my dad had swapped me out with his 1994 Chrysler van. After my job in Muncie relocated to Indianapolis I transferred to school there and shortly after purchased my first vehicle, a 1999 Chevy Silverado. It was the largest mistake of my life at that time. At 13.5% interest, I would pay more for it monthly than I would rent. I made the decision without the advice of my dad or my soon-to-be wife and it crippled us financially for years. Soon after having our first baby we traded the truck in for a Pontiac Vibe for an overall loss of $10,000. The actual cost of owning the vehicle for the time I had it came out to $1000 per month.
Our first son was born the day Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008 and soon after all of our credit cards were unusable. The banks decided to lower our credit limit to our current balance, rendering them useless. We had foolishly been relying on credit each month to pay our daily expenses, but suddenly we were forced to pay for everything with cash, check, or debit card. We didn’t make enough money at the time to pay our monthly expenses as we had been living outside of our means since before we were married. For the next year I did odd jobs on the side and we cut expenses, but the time came when we couldn’t reduce our expenses any more and we had to raise our income. In the fall of 2009 my wife decided to get a paper route.
After running the paper route four months, another route opened up and I applied. I started running the paper route Feb 1 and ran it every morning until November 30. For ten months my wife and I would get up at 3 AM, be at “The Shed” by 3:30 and be done delivering papers by 7:00 in order for me to be at work at my day job by 8:00. I’d get home, change my clothes, and jump back in the car. When Suzanne started the paper route, the Vibe had 180,000 miles. By the time we both quit the route, it had 260,000. In the mean time, my parents gave me another car they inherited from my grandma. It was a Oldmobile Alero. This was the car that coined the term, “Rat Life” which is a unit of measurement for how dirty your car is based on how long a rat could survive in it. The Oldsmobile or “Oldsmosex” as it was called, maintained a steady rat life of around 2 weeks, sometimes higher. After I quit the paper route, we sold the Oldsmosex to my little brother’s friend who had high, high socks.
I still drive the Vibe, which now has over 280,000 miles on it. My wife traded in her 2007 Saturn Outlook for a 2003 Pontiac van. We’ve learned to live within our means, pay for things with cash, and be thankful for what we have. You would think I would have learned from the truck purchase before purchasing a home or learned from the home purchase before purchasing new windows and doors, or learned from the windows and doors by not buying the Saturn Outlook, but at some point if you can’t stop – you will be stopped. That’s what happened to us and we couldn’t be happier.