It was just my birthday a week and a half ago. Yes, I am celebrating my 18th birthday for the 25th time. For all you non-mathletes out there, I just turned 43. When I was 18, 43 sure seemed like it was a long way away and very old. Now that I’m here, I realize that it’s not. In fact, most of the time, I feel like I’m still 18 in many ways. My mind anyway. My body may have different ideas. Like Toby says, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
Thinking about my birthday, I stopped to think about cars. Sure, it seems like a stretch, but bear with me here. When we all turned 16 we were all about getting our license and driving a car. I know I was, but it was about a year before I got my actual license. I couldn’t get my license until I could afford my own insurance and my own car. I was not allowed to drive my parents’ vehicles. I’ve still never driven my dad’s truck. (That’s a story for another article.) No. This time I want to talk about the cars I’ve driven and owned.
The first time I drove a car was when I was 13 or 14. I got to drive my grandmother’s Cutlass into her garage after being out for the day. I had no idea what I was doing, but I didn’t put it through the back of the garage or put a scratch on the car. I used to do that whenever she needed to put the car back in the garage. When she needed me to mow the lawn, she used to let me back the car out of the garage, too. Driving up and down the driveway at her house was the first real driving I ever did.
The first car that I actually owned was a green, 1979 Ford Pinto. That car was a piece of crap. I bought it well before I had my license and kept it at my other grandmother’s house until I was ready to pay for insurance. The car cost me $100 and came from a junkyard. It should have stayed there. I literally drove it from Meme’s house in Lyndonville to my house in Lockport and put a “for sale” sign on it when I got home.
The only thing I can remember about that car was that it smelled like an old lady’s attic and that the heat barely worked. It was cold on the ride back to Lockport. And the thing dog-tracked terribly. The back wheels did not line up with the front wheels. My dad complained about it. He followed me all the way home. Apparently it smelled bad, too.
The next car put me on the “calendar.” The calendar was on the fridge and it told us how much each of us owed mom and dad. My second car was a 1983 Cutlass Supreme. Or maybe it was a 1981 model. It was a big, blue beast. And it was awesome. I think it cost me $3500. My dad will know for sure, and if he reads this, will tell me for sure.
Despite my dad’s best efforts to prevent the car from being used to haul my friends around, it ended up being my car that was used for transportation. Until Matt got his Grenada, the Cutlass was the way we got around. I put a lot of miles on that bad boy. One night on the way to Barker for pizza, Matt and I raced on Quaker Road. Sure, we barely broke 75 miles an hours, but we were “rebels.”
I kept that car until the day of my graduation. I bought my mother’s 1989 Cavalier. I sold my Cutlass to my sister and used that money to put a down payment on mom’s car, plus some money I had saved. I was still on the calendar for the balance, but now my sister was on the calendar, too. Thankfully, that was the last time I was on the calendar for major purchases.
I thought I was pretty cool. I was driving a fairly new car rather than a car picked up from someone’s front yard with a homemade sign. Most importantly, at least in my mind, I borrowed money from my parents, but I paid them back. I was not handed a car by mom and dad. I had to work for that car. I wasn’t going to let anything happen to it, and I took great care of it. (I won’t tell you what my sister did to it after I sold it to her a couple years later.)
It was my parent’s anniversary in November, 1994, that I made the big plunge to buy a new car. It was going to be my first brand-new car. I was working full time at Kwik Fill and had a steady income. So, we went down to Moore-Nesbitt in Albion to test drive the car I was looking at. They had the model of the car I wanted, but not the color or package I wanted. In those days, when you wanted a specific car, you’d order it, make a down payment, and then wait for it to come in.
On February 14, 1995, I finally got my new car. It was a 1995 Chevrolet Beretta. I know a lot of people had problems with their Beretta’s, or didn’t like them, but I loved that car. I got fantastic mileage with it and it really had no issues at all. Of course, by the time I got rid of it 13 years later, there were a few issues. I think I replaced the shocks, and of course the tires. I had to get a new thermostat (which ended up dying very shortly afterwards) and the air-conditioning no longer worked. When I sold it in April 2008, the original muffler was just starting to go. That car was a beast.
In April 2008, we got a check courtesy of President Bush. We used that money to put a down payment on a new car for me. Back I went to Albion, although by then it was called Daniels. I bought a gray Chevy Cobalt. That may have been the worst car I’ve purchased since the ill-fated Pinto 27 years earlier. I liked that car for all of eight months before it went on the naughty list. We needed a new car, and we bought what we could afford at the time. We did keep it for six years, but it was a rough six years.
Finally, I had enough of the car. We were in a better place financially, so we made the decision to get another new car. Actually, Wendy probably was more insistent than I was. Considering she was the one stuck driving my car back and forth to work, she had quite a bit of input. So, I called my old friends at Hartway in Medina (ironically, the guy I bought my cars from in Albion now worked at the Medina dealership) to see what they had. I took one of my daughters with me to test out some cars. I kind of had something in mind before I even got there.
Now I drive a 2014 Malibu. This car has everything on it except the sunroof and heated seats. I absolutely love driving this car, although I don’t put a lot of miles on in. Since April 2014, I’ve only put 9,000 miles on it. Some people make fun of me for that (I’m looking at you, Frank), but I live in Lockport. Everything is within walking distance. The best part of that car? I don’t have a payment on it. And it emails me when it’s time for an oil change. In fact, I need to schedule one now.
What are the stories behind your cars? Did you have a beater when you were growing up that still brings back fond memories? Or one you hated? Cars have defined several generations of America. They helped us get from Point A to Point B. Sometimes, they helped us get to second base, or third. Those particular stories we don’t need to hear, but the rest of them could be fun. Please feel free to share.
Craig Bacon is revved up about his cars. He has another car that he didn’t talk about. That’s a story for another time.