Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Aimless Reading: The F's, Part 28 (Robert Frost)

Frost, Robert
Collected Poems, Prose, Plays

Purchased at the now-defunct Niagara Falls Outlet Mall Discount Book Store for nine dollars.

After writing yesterday's entry, in which I mentioned one of my former cars as well of as one of Ben Friedlander's, I got to remembering the various cars I've driven or owned, and since I have no particular memories associated with this book or its author, I've decided to try to remember many of the cars that have been important to my life.

On one of my book shelves I have a photo of my father at the wheel of a maroon Mustang convertible, probably a '65 or '66 (the photo was probably taken then, too). Both of my parents worked in Detroit for Ford when they met, and both owned Mustang convertibles. (Sadly, both sold them before I was born).

Because my father worked for Ford motor company until I was about 12, we never owned a car. Every year my father got two company cars, one for my mother and one for him. We always had new Fords. We had so many that I can't remember any of them specifically. I know we had a Maverick and Pinto and an LTD and various gigantic seventies station wagons, but I can't recall any specifically.

My father left Ford and bought a franchise of a new car rental company in 1980 or so. It was called MPG Car Rental and they were only going to rent cars that got 25 or more miles to the gallon. It was an idea ahead of its time. The national chain folded within a couple of years, unable to compete with the Hertz and Avises of the world, but my father kept the name and operated three locations in DC throughout the eighties and into the early nineties, one at 15th an 'K' streets, and one each near National and Dulles airports.

We never owned our cars during this period, either. My mother would use one car from the fleet and then my father would bring home whatever was left at the end of the night. Often we'd have only one car, especially on certain weekends when all the cars were rented. On these occasions, my father would ride the train out, first to Ballston Station, which was at the time the end of line. and later all the way out to where we lived, Vienna.

One car I remember my mother having for a long time was a red Toyota station wagon. I guess it was a Tercel, but I don't quite remember. For many years, my father bought only Toyotas because they all got good mileage and they never broke down.

Another car my mother used for a while was the car I learned to drive in -- a metallic mint green '85 Toyota Tercel hatchback. It was a five-speed with a sun roof and a cassette deck. I took driving lessons with the driving instructor from hell. He'd come to my house once a week on Saturdays and we'd get in the Tercel and sit at the bottom of my parents' steep driveway with the car in neutral and the brake on. After a we'd sat there a while, he'd tell me to put it in first and to push in the clutch and the brake, then to slowly let out the clutch and press the gas.

He wouldn't let me leave the driveway until I could get to the top without stalling. Once we got past that, we'd drive to the local high school parking lot, and he'd set up a maze of orange cones for me to drive through. He'd have me do it at five, then ten, then fifteen, then twenty miles per hour. At some point, without telling me, he'd put a cone in the center of the maze, ensuring that I'd run over it. After I'd hit it, and he'd say -- you just killed a little boy and you were only going 20 miles an hour.

The day I got my driver's license my parents let me go for a solo drive in the Tercel. It was very hilly where I grew up, and within five minutes I was stuck at a red light on a big hill, having a panic attack. I think I stalled the engine once, then got it started and moving, traffic honking all around me. Very embarrassing. That became my de facto car for a time. I shared it with my mother.

Toward the end of my high school years, my father started getting a lot of Chryslers. There were a lot of minivans LeBarons around the house for a while. At some point he had a large lease agreement with them that provided him with a free car to use for each fifty that he leased. One year we had a luxury car of some sort -- a now defunct Chrysler brand -- I think it was called an Eagle or something like that.

For several years we had a candy apple red LeBaron convertible. My middle brother drove this to school every day, so that after a time he and all of his friends began to think it was his. When My father sold the business and had to give back the car, my brother was crushed.

I worked for my father for a couple of summers. One summer we were buying a lot of new cars for the fleet. I was often making one day drives to Pennsylvania and Baltimore and back to pick up the new cars. In a two-week period, I got tickets for speeding, running a red light, and reckless driving while on the job. I received the last one for causing an accident. After all the new cars had been delivered, I drove to Columbia, MD to get all the keys copied at a little shop there. On the way up, I spaced out and didn't see an old station wagon stopped in front of me. I completely totaled the minivan I was driving.

My father fired me after that.

I remember another minivan incident. My father had sold one of the mini-vans to someone, but we were holding it for a week or two before he took possession of it. It became my car to use for those two weeks. My father warned me not to smoke in the car because he had t sell it. I ignored him. On the first day I drove it, I paused at a stop sign about a mile from the house. At just the moment I hit the gas pedal, my cigarette fell between my legs. As I flinched to avoid being burned, my foot shoved the gas pedal to the floor and drove the van over about five of those vertical reflector signs with black and white diagonal stripes on them. I think I lied to my parents and told them a mysterious white truck had come barreling down the wrong side of the road and that my only chance to avoid it was to run the car off the road and over the signs.

I don't think they believed me.

At some point, either in 1987 or '88 my father gave me my first car, a beat up white Renault Alliance with a red interior. At the time I was a rabid deadhead, so I covered it with Grateful Dead stickers. I remember driving it in from DC to Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York one summer to see about 15 dead shows in a row.

When I returned from, I started at my second college, George Mason University, which I attended for all of about 3 weeks before dropping out. I drove the car until I left that winter to go to my third college, Fordham.

Another summer my father got me a job working for a mafia-owned car rental company in the Bronx. Every day a bookie would show up with his little notebook and take everyone's bets on the numbers. One time a guy, who was obviously a hardened criminal came in and told us the owner had said he could rent a car. We told him we couldn't rent it to him because his driver's license had too many violations on it. He said ok and left. An hour later, he returned with a new, valid, clean license, with his picture on it. We rented him the car.

Another time, I had to go with one of the other rental agents to Hunt's Point, a very dicey neighborhood in the Bronx, to retrieve one of the cars. The other guy made me do the dirty work. I kept thinking about the scene in Repo Man where Emilio Estevez gets beaten trying to repossess a car. Fortunately nothing happened.

I lived in the Bronx and Manhattan for the better part of the next nine years, sans car.

When I moved to Buffalo in 1997, I tried to live without a car. I had grown quite content with subways and taxis living in NYC, so hoped I could get by without one. It soon became apparent that almost everything worth doing in Buffalo required a car. I ended up buying a car owned by my landlord, a 1987 Nissan Sentra. I drove it for two years, then my mother gave me her car, which she was getting rid of, a 1990 Acura.

As I mentioned yesterday, I sold the Sentra to a foreign exchange student for 700 dollars. It needed 500 dollars worth of work to run, but my mechanic rigged it for a hundred, for which act I was chastised by my good friend Ben Friedlander.

I had the Acura until 2003, just around the time Lori and I had signed a contract to buy our first house. One day, an old woman passed out at the wheel of her car as she was driving down Ashland Ave., the street on which we lived at the time. She ended up smashing into the Acura, which was parked in front of the house. She totaled the car. It turned out knew some friends of the woman, who told me she was very ill -- I heard she died a month or so later.

I took the money from the insurance and used it as a down payment on a newer used car -- a 2000 Honda Civic, which I am still driving. It is the only car I have ever owned that I payed for with my own money. I love my Honda Civic. It now has 115,000 miles on it. I've driven it up and down the eastern Seaboard and as far west as Minnesota.

The Telephone

"When I was just as far as I could walk
From here today,
There was an hour
All still
When leaning with my head against a flower
I heard you talk.
Don't say I didn't, for I heard you say--
You spoke from that flower on the windowsill--
Do you remember what it was you said?"

"First tell me what it was you thought you heard."

"Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
I leaned my head,
And holding by the stalk,
I listened and I thought I caught the word--
What was it? Did you call me by my name?
Or did you say--
Someone said 'Come'--I heard it as I bowed."

"I may have thought as much, but not aloud."

"Well, so I came."

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