I heard the squeak of the screen door and then a knock. There stood a disinterested father with a very excited son. They followed me up the spindled staircase to the room that housed the Marine Pearl Ludwigs. I was about to replace one storied treasure with another (one that was your given right when you turned sixteen). We legally tendered the deal and packed up the drum kit. I had been saving for a year and just acquired the last installment needed.
It was parked in the driveway of a ranch house in a wooded community not far from where I lived. Talk about enthused, I was high on anticipation. I was about to purchase the vehicle that would, at least temporarily, end all of my teenage angst. It would have damsels in distress flocking to the two-tone interior, dudes envious of the swarming beauties. I knew it was not the sexy two-door model that would have cost me three hundred dollars more, but it would be mine. Four doors and all.
“Cashmere Blue” with “India Ivory” trim.
She Was Sweet. Cherry. A Clean Machine.
My “Ol’ ‘55” became my life. I wanted to spend every breathing hour in my car. When I would get home at night and it was time to turn in, I would take a few spins around the block before saying goodnight. It was hard to imagine being away from her, but dreams of our future escapades made the morning light appear much quicker. I washed her and washed her again. I waxed her and waxed her again, until she sparkled. I was in love. The feelings I had for this car were extremely close to those I felt for Donna Moran, my hear throb at the time.
We had a, Sonic-type, drive-up restaurant in our area called “The Hot Shoppes.” My buddies and I spent a lot of time pulling in and out of the parking lot, upwards of twenty times a night. We would loop around the three blocks from “The Hot Shoppes” to the strip mall down the street. Just driving. Arm out the window. Eight track blaring. Just driving. Singing out loud. Laughing at nothing. Just driving. It was what you did. You saved your hard-earned money — from cleaning up at the five & dime, manning the soda fountain at the pharmacy, or, in my case, working at the local florist — to buy your dream car. You were living the life, if you could just drive.
One morning, around fourteen months after we first met, I was driving Blue to work. Tommy James was singing “Crimson And Clover,” the volume level was dog-whistle high. I was cruising down Church Road, right past Washington Lane, when the tip of my cigarette fell on my lap. It started to burn high up on my inner thigh. Between looking down and the music blaring, (which made it impossible to hear the horn) I swerved into the oncoming lane. I still remember the crunching sound of metal on metal.
Through the kindness and grace of a higher power,
everyone was relatively fine.
My body was in one piece, but my heart was shattered. Blue could not be saved. How could this happen? We just celebrated our first anniversary and we were getting along amazingly well. Yeah, I flirted at times but I never came close. The bronze-toned ‘56 Ford Crown Victoria was the only one that stood a chance. But I did not do it. I stayed true.
I remember sitting in my best friend’s house, still dazed,
talking about insurance, and what to do next.
Hell, I was only seventeen.
There are many lessons learned from owning your first car. Accomplishment: what it felt like to work, save the money you earned to acquire something you desperately wanted. Humility: how to handle owning a prize possession and not being overly boisterous. Responsibility: keeping on top of the maintenance, the title transfer, the inspections. Acceptance: handling loss. This was the lesson I would not soon forget.
“When did you get it?”
“Wow, it’s so cool”
“Yeah, I really dig it”
“Similar colors as your last one?”
“Take me for a ride?”
I made a U-turn and headed west on Glenside Avenue. We exchanged small talk. I rolled down the window, changed the radio station. Buddy adjusted his seat. We drove in silence for the next few blocks. I wasn’t sure if we were intentionally not talking about the accident or enough time had passed where we did not need to. The light turned green. I looked in the rearview mirror.
I saw what could have been a four-door ‘55 Chevy Wagon, “Cashmere Blue” with “India Ivory” trim, getting smaller and smaller the further I drove up the road.
Editor’s note: This story is part of our October 2016 series ‘Hundreds of Words about My First Car’
Paul Dougherty has owned a lot of cars since Blue, but none compare. The car referenced at the end of the story was a ‘57 Chevy, two-door convertible, “Tropical Turquoise” with “India Ivory” trim.
Read Hundreds of Words by Paul Dougherty here.