I remember the night we bought my first car. My dad and I had been looking at a number of cars over a period of several months but none had met his specific criteria for an acceptable vehicle for me. Looking back I think he was bound and determined to make sure I got the un-coolest car in Southern Alberta in order to keep the women away from me. (He need not have worried, I was doing fine on my own in that department!)
We responded to a classified ad that had been posted in the newspaper – that’s how it was done in the days before the Internet. The ad listed a 1974 AMC Hornet for $750 – FIRM. Well, the price was right anyway. I remember pulling up to a house just off Stafford Drive in north Lethbridge and I saw the car parked in the driveway. She was an ugly green colour with red primer spots on the back fender. However, she met my first criteria in that she only had two doors. (Someone had told me that four door cars were only for old married dudes and if you ever wanted to become an old married dude you needed a car with just two doors.)
We poked around under the hood. Well, he poked around under the hood while I stood by nodding as if I knew what I was looking for. We started it up and it turned over right away without belching smoke. Criteria #2 had been met for me.
Dashboard of a 1975 AMC Hornet. This brings back a ton of memories even if this is from a blue car. Licensed under Creative Commons.
After a few minutes my dad looked over at me and gave me a silent look I hadn’t seen before. I was mostly accustomed to seeing him give me a look somewhere between indigestion and horror, something that said “Let’s get outta here!”. This time the look was more of an understanding nod. It was time. I nodded back, trying not to tip our hand and ruin the negotiation process I knew was about to begin.
Turns out it wasn’t much of a negotiation. “So, your ad says “’firm’, but will you take $550?”
The fella selling the car practically jumped out of his skin. “Deal!” With that I was a car owner.
Well, I was “sort of” a car owner. We had no plates and no insurance. We also didn’t have a problem. My dad said simply: “I’ll drive it home tonight. You follow behind in my truck. Just stick close enough so a cop doesn’t get between us and see the plate is missing.”
That summer night in 1989 my life really began…
Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The first vessel that I served on as captain was called Stargazer. It was an overworked, underpowered vessel, always on the verge of flying apart at the seams. In every measurable sense, my Enterprise is far superior. But there are times when I would give almost anything… to command the Stargazer again.
Scotty: Ah, it’s like the first time you fall in love. You don’t ever love a woman quite like that again. Well, to the Enterprise, and the Stargazer – old girlfriends we’ll never meet again.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, from the episode “Relics” (1992)
After a couple of days we had plates and insurance sorted out. I could actually take it off the driveway (and discover the oil stain which is probably still on the concrete in front of our old house) and go cruisin’. OK, so in Coaldale “cruising” is a relative term. What it really meant was I could drive down to the Mac’s for a Slurpee. Regardless, I turned the corner onto 13th Street and turned on the radio, a single speaker AM radio no less. The window down, my arm resting outside, I was getting my first taste of true freedom.
That freedom lasted until I approached Main Street and the four-way stop. I stepped on the brakes. I felt a little bit of a grab but not much in the way of deceleration. Yep, I rolled right through that intersection – it appears my dad failed to mention that the car did not have power brakes! I quickly learned I would need to plan my stops better if I was going to live to enjoy my newly found freedom.
This white Hornet is the right style and year but in MUCH better shape than mine was.
That car was symbolic of my senior year in high school, in every way. We would go to hockey games, race it down the jail road (top speed was around 100MPH – it was hard too tell because it vibrated so badly once you got over 90), and do coffee runs before Social Studies class would begin. Lunch runs to Lethbridge, shooting pool during our spares – it was all enabled by that car. I probably would have used it for Grad had my mother not stepped in — “There is no way you are taking your date to Grad in that car.” she warned me before offering me the use of her car.
I loved that car.
That first love was a fleeting one, much like a summer crush you have at summer camp. I would drive the car for about a year or so before selling it when I moved away and went to university. Every once in awhile someone would spot it somewhere, often parked at the sugar factory in Taber. I don’t remember the last time I saw her, but I knew she would always be the standard to which all other cars I own would be compared.
My dad didn’t make it long enough to see how much that car meant to me as he would die just a few short months later. All the plans I had made about how he was going to teach me mechanics never came to fruition. For awhile I still had his garage in the back of our house in Coaldale, I had all of his tools, I even had the ability to charge things at Graham’s Garage – but I didn’t have him nor those moments on the driveway when I would frustrate him to no end when I couldn’t find the tool he wanted me to fetch.
We may tie memories to physical things like a car, but in the end it isn’t the hunk of metal that brings meaning to those experiences, it is the people we share them with. My dad, my friends who were there riding around in that ole green Hornet – those are the things that matter and the things that will last as long as we remember them.