Sunday, June 18, 2006

A History of Fine Rides

Or, 1978 must've been a good year...

Now that I've got the last vehicle I'm going to have for the next several years (knock on wood--I remember when I bought my condo back in Phoenix in 2000, I told my dad that it would be the last address he'd have for me until I got a P.O. box somewhere in the Caribbean... and we saw how that turned out), I've spent some time reflecting on all of the different vehicles I've had in the past.

Like Goose said to Slider, the list is long and distinguished.

I didn't have a car when I first turned 16--I was one of those kids bumming rides or begging to borrow the car until my sister Nancy went away to college, leaving behind that spiffy burnt orange 1976 Datsun F-10 'sportwagon' I mentioned in a previous post. It was ugly as sin, with off-white vinyl seats and a 5-speed transmission that needed a little extra attention when shifting into third gear. As a bonus, the front axle made an awful clicking sound whenever the wheel was turned all the way to the left. We never quite figured out what that was about. And I'll never forget listening to my dad's Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass 8-tracks on the top-of-the-line stereo system.

I guess you could call that my 'first car'. But it's not the one I took to my drivers license exam in. I learned to drive in my sister Cyndi's 1978 Mazda GLC sport, but it wasn't available when I went to take the exam, so I took my mom's Ford (Fairmont?). It was a mid-sized sedan but still had a manual transmission. It was impossible to parallel park that thing, which was my undoing, leading to a big red 'FAIL' stamp on my first attempt.

My dad took pity on me, and let me use his big-ass boat of a car, his company Chevy Caprice Classic. It was easy to drive with the automatic transmission and power steering and such, but it was so huge that when I drove back into the lot after passing the driving test, I hit the bumper of another car while trying to park the thing. Automatic fail.


To a 16-year old, failing the driving test is like a prison sentence. Nothing is more devastating. Of course failing it twice provides comedy fodder for all of your buddies. Yeah, I took some shiat the next week.

Finally, on the third try, I passed the driving test with a 97. Hell yeah, I was legal--I just didn't have a car. Nancy and I were supposed to share 'Spedly' (the name she gave to the F-10), but reality being that the older sibling always gets first dibs. Once she went off to college and was out of the picture, it was mine, all mine--until the day that the engine decided that it just didn't want to run without oil anymore... Dad wasn't too happy about that, as I recall.

So I was without wheels for about six months, but managed to save up enough for a small downpayment and talked my dad into co-signing for another car before my senior year in high school started.

My next car was a 1978 Mazda GLC, kind of like Cyndi's, except much uglier. It was a great car for a high-schooler--four doors, cheap on gas. Unfortunately, I never quite got around to getting license plates on the thing, so I was constantly getting tickets. On the plus side, it was the car that that provided most of my high-school memories. At some point, the starter died, and instead of replacing it, I just made sure I either parked on a hill or had buddies with me to help push so that I could pop-start it. I swear I went over a year without a starter in the damn thing, much to the entertainment of all my friends.

Of course, not having ever gotten license plates on it irritated my dad to no end, so he made me park it on several occasions, but of course I'd get the keys back whenever I needed to go to work and such.

Not wanting to take a chance on getting pulled over during my senior prom, I borrowed my brother-in-law's second car, a complete junker--a 1972 Caprice Classic with a 350 Corvette engine. It ran like a bat out of hell, but looked like a rusty hulk of a ship abandoned on a reef somewhere--it was two colors, green and rust, and the interior was a real treat to behold also. But it was legal, so I used it to take a little hottie named Angie from Parkway North to the prom.

She didn't care about the car at all, so she was my kind of gal... Anyhow, after the evenings festivities were winding down, we were parked out under the trees at Creve Couer lake, getting ready to give those long bench seats a proper christening, when out from a speaker hole in the rear deck popped my cat, Benson. Scared the shit out of both of us and pretty much ruined the moment. It seems that after we'd gone back to my dad's house to have all of the pictures taken, the cat had gotten into the trunk through one of the huge rust holes in the rear fender to take a nap, and had accompanied us to the prom. No longer scared by the noise or the movement, and hearing my voice, he decided to make an appearance.

Damn cat cost me some good lovin'.

Anyhow, I drove the Caprice around a little bit that summer, but still had the GLC until I totalled it later that fall, driving down Hampton Avenue in St. Louis, a Honda Accord turned left in front of me in the rain. It was 'driveable', but smashed up beyond recognition. After that, I was without a car for a couple of years.

I didn't get another vehicle until I was in college--this time a 1978 Suzuki GS 750 motorcycle that I paid $400 for. I bought it from a guy on my softball team and just rode the hell out of it for a couple of years. Of course, I never got a motorcycle license (and actually, in Idaho, where I was at the time, I don't recall that I even needed to get a motorcycle endorsement). At the same time I also picked up a 1978 Honda CX 500, and a buddy and I pooled our cash and bought a 1978 Honda Accord--and the story of that car is a topic for another post in and of itself.

Before leaving Idaho, I divested myself of both Hondas, but kept the Suzuki. I went to Alaska for six months to be a whitewater rafting guide, and my friend Matt offered to keep the bike at his parent's house in Salt Lake City. I got back later that fall, spent a couple weeks in Utah with my buddies, and then loaded five duffel bags on the Suzuki and headed for the next chapter of my life in Arizona, taking the back roads all the way on some romantic old-west adventure.

Boy, was my ass sore after that.

The Suzuki was a good bike for about a year or so, but developed a compression problem that got too expensive for a poor college student to fix. One night it broke down on the side of the road about two miles from my house, so I just walked home. My roommate at the time raced motorcycles and had a truck and bike trailer, but when we went back the next day to fetch it, some redneck had shot a hole through the gas tank and exhaust manifold.

I was without a bike for about two weeks, but another guy I went to school with had the exact same bike--another 1978 Suzuki GS 750 for sale, and by way of a small miracle, I was able to buy it from him.

That one lasted another two years before the compression problem happened again, and I ended up selling it for $200, riding the bus for almost a year. That was a depressing time...

After that, I managed to pick up a 1980 Nissan 280 ZX for about $1200 from a neighbor. That was a sweet car for a long time. I drove that for years, and loved it. It had a cool stereo, t-tops, black paint, nice wheels, and lots of power. And it looked hot, too. Unfortunately, once it started to fall apart, it was like an avalanche. The front end developed some sort of unfixable problem that caused it to chew through tires like Homer Simpson going through a box of Krispy Kremes. I had to replace stuff like the driveshaft and fuel injectors, and even the ignition box on the steering column. The windshield wipers stopped working, which wasn't much of a problem, living in Phoenix, but when the air conditioner went down, I knew the end was near. And then came a stretch there where the car was in the shop every month to the tune of $500+.

It was time for a new ride.

Luckily my fortunes had improved to the point where I'd gotten a new and decent-paying job at Schwab--no more punching the clock and living paycheck-to-paycheck for me. I managed to buy up a ton of company stock from the years spent at my previous job, so once I got the job with Schwab, I cashed it all out, paid off all my bills, bought a new guitar, and had $3000 left for a downpayment on a new ride.

That's when I got my favorite vehicle (until now), a slightly used 1995 electric blue Nissan extra-cab pickup truck. The story of how I got that one is an entertaining tale, which I'll write about very soon, but suffice it to say that it was a great truck and I wished I never would've sold it. I kept it for just over three years, and one month when three or four of my buddies all got new cars, I got the fever and traded it in for a brand new 2001 model bright red Frontier.

Worst mistake I ever made.

Not that it was a bad truck--it was actually really nice. But it caused me more unnecessary financial distress than anything I'd ever done before. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with my other truck. I just felt like I 'needed' a new one at the time and I'm still paying for that mistake to this day.

I mentioned in an earlier post what happened to that new truck, but that led me to getting the Ghetto Sled a few years back. It was a decent ride, but I spent more on repairs than I spent on the initial purchase, so I wasn't too sad to finally say goodbye. I'd purchased it under duress, it served it's purpose, and died doing it's duty. What more can I say.

Now I have my new Dakota.

It's a beautiful, and affordable, new truck that I've always wanted. And everywhere I've stopped this week, some complete stranger has complimented me on in. But my first payment is due on July 15th, so lets keep our fingers crossed that I still have my job when that date rolls around.


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