I know that cars are getting a bad rap these days, mainly because they are a major factor in destroying the planet we all call home. But I do have to say that cars have played for me, as they have, for so many of us, an important role in my life. And it’s nice to remember back to my first car. I have read that some parents like to give their teenagers an expensive new car for their first one, but, as far as I’m concerned, that would take all the fun out of the “first car” experience.
I remember when I turned 18, and my parents and I began looking for my first car. In New York City, you had to be 18 to get a driver’s license. Silly New York City, thinking that you had to be that old in order to drive; every place else knew that 16-year-olds were plenty mature enough to get behind the wheel. Anyhow, I couldn’t wait, and as soon as I was 18, I asked my parents for a car.
We looked at the classified ads. Before we found my beauty, I do remember seeing one ad that definitely caught our attention. It was for a car with “standard shift,” except the “f” had been left out.
What my parents bought me was a six-year-old Buick convertible. A convertible! Sure, this was 1961, and I’d be driving a 1955 car, but who cared? In my convertible, I’d be king of the road!
Of course, not being very mechanical (nor were my parents), it took me a while to get up the nerve to try to put the top down. I decided to do it when I was a few miles away from my Queens home. I think I had in my mind to surprise my parents by pulling into the driveway with no car roof over my head, looking like, without question, the coolest dude in the neighborhood.
So I did whatever I thought you had to do in order to get the top down, but it didn’t work. It’s not like it didn’t work at all; that would have been okay. It worked halfway. In other words, the top of the convertible stuck way up in the air, but I was unable to get it to go all the way down. And I couldn’t get it to go back up either.
So there I was driving along on Northern Blvd., one of the busiest highways in Queens, with the top of my convertible sticking straight up into the air. Yes, I was indeed king of the road!
But this wonderful car provided other fun experiences as well. For example, there was the day I was driving along an avenue near my home, and I noticed it kept slowing down, no matter how much I pressed down on the accelerator. It wasn’t really stalling out; it just seemed to have no oomph at all. The car became more and more sluggish, and I realized I’d have to get off the road. I turned onto a side street and pulled over to the curb. I got out, intending to open up the hood (yeah, like that would give me any idea of what was going on), but there was no need. I looked down and could see that both front tires were pointing outward at about a 45 degree angle.
Ah, but my 1955 Buick did provide at least one wonderful moment. I was on a date with a young woman named Julie, who seemed to like me in spite of my car. We went to the movies, and then I figured I’d do what teenagers most needed their cars for, I’d “park.” Julie was quite amenable, and since it was obvious we weren’t parking just to chat, I quickly leaned over and kissed her. Hard.
“No,” she said, gently pushing me away.
Oh shoot, I thought, I’ve blown it.
She went on. “Not that way,” she said, “this way.” And then she leaned over and kissed me with one of those soft beautiful kisses that you remember for years. And we went on for many minutes of what was in those days called “necking.” I was in heaven.
My beloved Buick continued to play a role in our relationship. Not only did it provide the perfect place for that wonderful make-out session, but it got us to Jones Beach one Sunday, where, so besotted by Julie, I lay on the sand with her for hours, not even thinking about sunscreen, and wound up with the worst sunburn I’ve ever had.
Okay, the relationship only lasted a few weeks, and maybe if I had a fancier car it would have lasted longer (it also might have lasted longer if Julie didn’t have the boyfriend she already had when she started going out with me). But there is something about that first car. You can talk about walking, bicycles, and public transportation all you want. Did you ever try making out on a bike? Or a crowded bus? Or while you’re walking? Yeah, try that sometime.