Santa Maria Sun / Humor
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 36
Beep beep, yeah!Cars that made me thankful they didn't drive me crazy!
BY ARIEL WATERMAN
Thanksgiving gives me pause to reflect on the many things for which I am thankful. One of those has been reliable transportation. Now, I know you may be thinking to yourself: “Whaaat?” But I have lived my entire life in places that were not transport-friendly unless you had access to an automobile.
During my childhood in Spokane, Wash., I rode the city bus to school, which was a God-send in a rainy town where people don’t tan—they rust. I did the same when we moved to Hades, I mean Phoenix, Ariz., when I was 9 years old. Air-conditioned buses were a God-send in a town where people don’t brown—they fry.
Last time, on this page, I wrote of the cars from Hell that vexed my early years of getting from here to there. But I did own a few vehicles that, though not exactly heavenly to drive, would have been saints had they been people.
My first car got me through my senior year of high school, college, and then some. It was a magnificent gold beast, a 1965 Ford Galaxy 500 Ltd. with a white landau roof! This thing was huge, and my best friend, who drove a Dodge Charger, and I referred to it as The Mothership. Her car was the shuttlecraft. Clearly we spent too much time watching Star Trek!
This car was so huge, it was like driving around in my house. In fact, my house key was also the key to start the car! (Just kidding.) The front seat was like a living room, and, in fact, the passenger seat had its own zip code. If I wanted to change the radio station while driving, I had to slide across the seat. It was akin to performing a moon walk!
I didn’t truly realize how mammoth my Ford Galaxy was until one day when I parked at a university loading dock. Later, I happened to see the car from the level above the loading area and commented to a friend, “Wow, look at that battleship someone parked down there!” He laughed out loud, “That’s your boat, Admiral!”
He was right! I almost needed a docking license to park, and you could land planes on it. The only things missing were gun turrets and, believe me, in Phoenix traffic in the summer I wished I had them! What it did have was air conditioning. That thing blew air as cold at the North Sea wind as I sailed along the Black Canyon Highway—the only “freeway” that existed from Phoenix to Tucson.
And just like a battleship, I used a form of signal flags because the brake lights never worked. I had a cool pillow that looked just like a stop sign. So when I stopped in traffic, I just held my pillow out my window for the motorist behind me to see. I also had an awesome, large, official-looking shield sticker on the passenger door that read “Mafia Staff Car—Keep-a You Hands Off!” People respected that car.
Unfortunately, all good cars must eventually go to that giant junkyard in the sky. One day the Galaxy coughed, sputtered, and gave up the ghost due to ring and valve failure. I sorrowfully sold it to a wrecking yard for parts but, you know, I swear I’ve seen it since. Some collector restored it to its former glory, and the USS Ford Galaxy proudly cruises the roadways again!
I managed to save up enough money to buy a neon green Honda Express. It was similar to mopeds, which had become quite popular in the late 1970s, but it lacked pedals. It was kind of like riding a stingray bike with a lawnmower motor attached. It was also just as noisy. I could travel 30 miles before having to fuel up with a liter of gas, which filled its tank. It was cool, breezy, and zoomed along at 28 miles per hour—30 if I didn’t take my purse!
However, practicality and the Phoenix monsoons made me long for four wheels and a protective chassis, so in 1982 I bought a red 1975 Ford Pinto hatchback from a co-worker. It had a manual transmission, so I had to learn how to drive a stick. This was one of those infamous Pintos that had been recalled to have a guard plate installed so that if I was hit from behind the gas tank wouldn’t ram into the engine and explode. My license plate read “BACKOFF” and people stayed off my tail and out of my way in traffic.
I loved that car. My little Pinto had a modified Mustang engine that growled through traffic at such a pace I once blew the doors off a Porsche! It had 4-40 air conditioning—I rolled down all four windows and drive 40 miles an hour.
Once I had to drive several members of an all-male dance company to an event. Another driver’s van had stalled and we needed to be on time. The guys were game for an adventure, so I loaded everyone into my hatchback—all 11 of them! Some sat on the floor in the back, some sat on laps, three squeezed into the front passenger bucket seat, and two more rode in the hatch. Long legs and arms dangled out everywhere, and we looked like a jar full of pencils rolling down the street, but that car got us there and on time, to boot!
When I moved from Phoenix to Los Angeles to attend graduate school, Mom refused to let me take my Pinto: “No way are you driving that thing on the L.A. freeways!” So she helped me buy a new Ford Escort. I left the Pinto in her huge garage, hoping I could eventually bring it with me, but it was not to be.
It sat for eight months, its leaf spring and shocks were shot, the motor needed work, the headliner and upholstery was in tatters, and no organization would touch it for a donation. But before I parked it for the last time to be hauled away, I wanted to take it for a final drive—a sort of goodbye and thank you.
I came for a visit and asked my brother Mikey to see if we could start it. He reconnected the battery cable while conveying his doubts. “There is no way this beast is going to start up,” he said. I turned the key, and somewhere from the depths of that old horse came a rumble. Mikey stared in stunned disbelief, so I turned the key again and the rumble turned into a roar and a growl.
Yep! That old Pinto was ready to roll one more time. “Get in!” I yelled. My fearless, member of the U.S. Navy, God-fearing brother vehemently shook his head. So I took that final drive alone, windows down, my hair in the wind, and the song “Wildfire” blaring from the radio. Wahooo!
Ariel Waterman still drives a 1995 Nissan Altima because her husband still won’t let her drive his 2008 Versa. Send more gas money via her editor, Ryan Miller, at .