My First Car
(Or, Am I Really That Small?)
In 1984 I was 18 years old, living in Southern Indiana with my dad. I had only been there for a little over a year. My dad, originally from that region, moved back there shortly after leaving me outside San Diego, to live in a tent.. –He had done this sort of thing before. Before leaving me in San Diego he left me, my brother and friend in Ensenada, Mexico for a few weeks with nothing more than a case of Squirt soda, a small bit of food, two bottles of tequila and forty dollars to get more food…..five miles away, without a car! I was in need of a change and stability and called my mom and step dad if I could move back with them in Massachusetts. In a couple of days I was on a plane to Boston to a life of relative safety and comfort.
I had only been there for a couple of weeks when my step dad got me a job as a security guard at the now defunct Wang Labs, his employer. What could go wrong?
It was an unarmed position. In retrospect this was a good thing for two reasons: 1. It only paid minimum wage (under $5.00 per hour) 2. At that time in my life I had a bit of an anger problem, the kind that does not mix well with firearms. However, I did have a really cool two way radio and a five pound Detex clock. The latter is a precursor to a man purse with absolutely no marsupial qualities. It did have a paper tape with pre-printed times on it. As a security guard I would walk around a certain route where there were little Detex boxes at specific locations with Detex keys in them. I would take the key, insert it in the clock and turn it to make an impression on the paper tape, thus giving them printed proof that I made the rounds and that everything was safe.
My only goals for this job were to stay awake and earn enough money to buy a car. Coffee and the Detex clock ensured that I would stay awake. Borrowing my mom’s 1980 Dodge Aspen kept me on the savings path.
I had worked for three months and was able to save a thousand dollars, more than enough money to buy a car back then. I found a few cars that I could afford, but didn’t like. I found a Pinto. Not wanting to die a fiery death I passed on that gem—another was a sweet late sixty’s Impala that I drove thirty miles to see only to find out it didn’t have an engine. What I bought was a Maroon, 1976, Chevy Cogsworth Vega. It had a five speed, aluminum engine block and an aftermarket forty watt Craig stereo system. (I blew the speakers out the second day I owned the car blasting Black Flag’s My War) Alas, it was to be a short love affair with General Motors Engineers hurried, cocaine and booze filled answer to produce a sports car known as the Vega. Its namesake, the brightest star in the constellation Lyra, didn’t have an effect on this car.
At the time I thought it was a good car.
The first two weeks I owned the car had a dramatic effect on my weak time management skills. In that time I was late for work at least six times. I had just finished a meeting with my supervisor at the end of my shift, which ended with him giving me my last warning before being fired. So, being the responsible man boy, I went home and did what anyone in my shoes would do: Get ready to go out for the night.
That night I went to a show in or near Boston. I think it was Jerry’s Kids, Gang Green or some band like that. I knew that I would be home late, but working second shift meant that I could sleep until one or two in the afternoon with plenty of time to make it to work at 4.
I got home late as planned, went straight to bed and to sleep. I dreamt of whatever disturbing stuff that eighteen year olds dream of. That night we had an unusual round of thunderstorms that woke me for only a minute. The transformer behind our house took a hit from a bolt of lightning, knocking out our power and my alarm clock. I do remember hearing an explosion and the later repair crews, but I figured that it was part of my dream and went back to sleep until 4:30pm.
I roll out of bed, head upstairs, start making coffee and hear the front door open. It’s my mom coming home from work. “Early day,” I ask.
“Nope. You not working today?”
Not realizing that she hadn’t come home early I replied, “Getting ready now.”
“Hmm, late start?”
“Why would she ask that?” I thought to myself.
I turned around to look at the only battery operated clock in the house…. 4:45!
I rushed downstairs, grabbed the nearest uniform off the floor (the one from the day before, complete with cucumber sauce stains from my Gyro dinner) getting dressed as I ran out the door yelling to my mom, “I may be home early!”
I looked at my watch. It was 4:50. Normally my commute was ten minutes. Of course there is always the traffic issue that plagues Boston and places close to Boston. I could make it there and only be an hour late. Surely my boss would understand and not fire me.
I am flying down the road. My bright and shining star is running great, Henry Rollins is screaming fuzzy nothings over the speakers; I think about love, maybe hate. No, definitely hate. I am thinking about possible excuses for my tardiness, not really paying attention.I am on auto pilot.
I had taken this route on Boston Road in Billerica many times. I coming up to a McDonald’s on my left. I say that the corner is a blind corner, when in actuality it is a pretty straight road at this point. There wasn’t a center turn lane and a few of my friends had accidents that involved rear-ending someone trying to turn left into McDonald’s.
I saw a couple of friends eating outside and yelled a testosterone fueled greeting, “Hey pussies!”
I look forward in just enough time to hit my brakes and suddenly heard the sound of screeching tires (mine) and metal hitting metal at forty five miles an hour. I slammed into the back of a full size Caprice station wagon, wedging my grill and hood underneath his back bumper. I also hit my head on the steering wheel, cutting my head right at my widow’s peak.
I looked up, sort of dazed and saw the back of the Caprice. It was a rolling billboard for Jesus.
Jesus Loves You!
God Is My Co-Pilot
Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend
In Case Of Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned
And so on…
As I collected my thoughts and searched for a cigarette, Uber Christian tapped on my window, “Hey little buddy, you okay?”
First of all, pal, at 5’ 6” and 115lbs, I am not little! And secondly, when did we become friends?
As I got out of my car I noticed that Uber Christian was tall. Like 6’ 3” freakishly tall!
Maybe I am little…..
The conversation that followed was between me, Uber Christian and my friends.
UC: Are you okay?
Me: Yeah, I’m fine.
Friend #1: Hey Charlie, nice driving Mario! Ha!
Me: Shut up douche!
UC: You have a cut on your head (he lays a hand on my head) Father God….
Friend#2: Hey Charlie, doesn’t look like you’re going to burn in Hell now!
Me: Again, shut up douche! (pulling away from Uber Christian) and get your hands off me dick!
UC: In Jesus name, Amen.
This went on for a few more minute, ending with me telling Uber Christian that if he didn’t stop preaching at me I was going to jump up and hit him in the jaw. To which friend #2 yelled, “I don’t think you can jump that high!”
Maybe I am short….
The cops finally showed up, took all our information and called a tow truck. The wrecked shining star became a faded memory of its old self in my mom and step dads back yard, eventually being sold for scrap while I was in the Army fighting the Cold War.
There are a few things I learned from this episode in my life:
1 1. Vegas aren’t really that cool.
2 2. A car accident is a good excuse if you are not habitually tardy.
3 3. I need to pick better friends.
And I may indeed be small.