It is written in The Annals of Teen that one’s first car must be a sexy beast*. My first car fit this definition to a tee. It was a 1981 dark brown diesel Mercedes that already had 300,000 miles on it when my dad picked it up for me for a grand. It weighed no less than nine tons and it rattled like a junkie when it idled. Its paint was chipping and all but one of its speakers were blown out. But it had a sunroof.
*Book of AC Slater, Chapter twelve, verse twenty-three. It’s there.
We named it The Turd.
News that The Turd was purchased for me came one spring evening. I saw it parked in my parents’ driveway and turned my nose up because it looked like the kind of car a cigar-chomping businessman would replace with a tiny red number whilst in the throes of a midlife crisis. But it was wheels, and once I sat down in its tan cracked leather interior, felt the violent rattle of the steering column in my hand, and took in the aroma of diesel fuel and stale tobacco, I knew I could make it mine. I slapped a Smashing Pumpkins sticker on that thing before the day was out and took it on a spin to my Geo Metro-driving boyfriend’s house.
My friendship with The Turd grew fast that spring, even if the car couldn’t go over 70 MPH. It was my weird friend that announced my arrival a mile before I reached my destination with its puttering rattle. I felt a touch of pride whenever I pulled in to my school and the freshmen looked up from their gel pins to see my giant brown boat settle in among the standard Explorers and Civics in the junior parking lot. I whispered sweet nothings to it as I filled it up with diesel at the one gas station in our town that sold it. Occasionally, when we were livin’ wild, Turdington and I would go to a local head shop and buy semi-obscene bumper stickers for it. This is before Pimp My Ride, before we could rely on Xhibit to put a Jacuzzi in our backseats.
My first summer with that car promised to be an amazing one. It would be the first time when I could be free from the shackles of my parent’s cars and my boyfriend’s erasermobile. Whenever my friends wanted to go anywhere within a 30-mile radius, I volunteered to be the one to drive because I loved the way I felt behind the wheel and the power that mobility gave me. For this reason, I hung out with a lot of rising sophomores that summer who knew no better than to be jealous of my big brown car.
It was during one of these early summer days that I was driving two younger friends across town to a coffee shop where we likely wouldn’t actually buy anything, but laze around all day and talk about bands as teenager are want to do. I was drunk from the power I gleaned from these fifteen-year-olds who trusted me to guide them through the elements of coolness that only a seventeen-year-old could impart. As I zoomed down the major boulevard of our city, I pointed out a music store that I had on good authority sold instruments to B.B. King’s band. I liked the idea of my proteges thinking that I had an in with the Memphis blues culture, but in actuality I had no idea if B.B. King even played with a band at all, as I was busier taping Third Eye Blind off the radio.
It was at the moment that I gestured to the store that the three of us felt a violent jarring crash that I couldn’t blame on The Turd’s nervous tendencies. I had crashed into the SUV directly in front of me so hard that the force of the collision had propelled my crashee into the car in front of it. I was mortified and scared, not because I was afraid that anyone was injured – what’s bodily frailty to a teen who believes she will live forever? – but because my sweet innocent Turd had been ruined and I was about to look like an idiot in front of kids who hadn’t even been exposed to a world beyond Algebra I.
As all my human victims lumbered out of their compromised vehicles, I realized I was going to have to call my parents and tell them about my error. After the police were summoned to properly assess my inability to drive, I called my parents on the cell phone of Car #1, who was a really nice lady who actually told me she could get me a job at Kroger if I wanted it. I know. I was relieved that my mom picked up the phone because she was better at dealing with her children’s major gaffes than my dad was. She came to fetch my friends and me and shuttled us back to the suburbs in silence.
My friend The Turd was left to spend the night along the roadside, and my dad arose earlier than his usual 5AM to have it towed and to ground me from my precious car that wasn’t even running for the remainder of the summer. I’m sure this pained him as much as it pained me because he wasn’t a fan of the idea of me relying on my boyfriend to cart me around for the rest of the summer in the sticky Memphis heat.
But what’s a first car if you don’t crash it? All the extra thousand dollars laying around in the world only exist so that teenagers can spend them on cars doomed to be loved with the same fervency as they are destroyed.
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