Cars that are a verb: Dodge, Dart. That sort of thing.
When I was twenty I spent every cent I had (I think it was around $600) on a tan 1969 Dodge Dart and drove myself and a friend of mine back up the 5 from San Diego to Berkeley in it. In Downey, we got a flat tire. I was so flustered, I left the old tire by the side of the road and had to go back to get it. Somewhere in the central valley, I discovered that the motor mounts had failed because every time I turned it off or on, the engine would lurch back and forth under the hood like I had trapped a very ornery mule under there. It was scary. A week or so after I got back to Berkeley, I gave a girl I was trying to impress a ride to Walnut Creek (the car, for all of its mechanical faults, was quite impressive to look at and to ride in). I managed to get her there no problem, but as I was pulling off the 13 and back into Berkeley, the brakes locked up. I nursed it back home, slowing realizing as I did so that I had probably just escaped serious bodily harm. If that had happened a few minutes earlier, while I was still on the freeway instead of coming down the off-ramp, I’m pretty certain the car would have gone out of control or even flipped over. That settled it. I drove the thing up the driveway of the house I was living in, parked it, and never drove it again until a year later when I backed it slowly down the drive again and sold it “AS IS” (in caps, underlined twice) to an Irishman who called me not more than an hour afterwards and informed me that the distributor cap had exploded on the 80 as he was taking it back to San Francisco.
A sickness, I’m told, something endemic to the nature of the car-cultured Californian. Here begins the tale of woe: the little old lady—a mystical second owner—tired of its lack of power steering, she lets the ‘66 Dart go for a song after setting it up with a rebuilt straight six. From radiator to exhaust manifold, everything else would get torn out as I cursed and tried to cure myself of the love of that red-interiored beast.
But so practical! A sizable Christmas tree could fit neatly into the trunk, not to mention a modest library moved hundreds of miles. Cars nowadays feel like they drive you places; this, you drove, tamed with a measure of upper body strength and an eye toward peculiarities of mechanics.
Of peculiarities, there were many, but wasn’t that the point? People asked how you were doing, and you’d tell them not about your feelings but the catalytic converter.
And lo, what was lost: brakes were lost in rush hour traffic, brakes were lost at the top of Jones, even on the most prosaic part of Lombard. The exhaust pipe lodged in the rear axle made for a different kind of braking, some dramatic event between semis on 5, from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
It ended as all good things must, and in this the loss was two-fold, the ever-corrosive effects of sea air on steel and a move downtown.
Never forget, always forgive, remember the good times, and so what if the car almost killed me? If I’m lucky I’ll never own another car again, but always have an eyeful of chrome.