We Are What We Drive (part 3) or Another Teenager Post
In my opinion, when we're young we should be excused for doing dumb things. Often times we learn an important lesson, while other times we simply receive a great embarrassment. I had many of the embarrassing moments, like when I tried to pose as my father and phone myself off of school. The problem was I tried calling from outside of the school cafeteria and in the middle of my pleading or imitating, the bell rang. I just hung up and went back to class. There was also the time I tried to take a bag of chips out of the front of a Frito Lay truck. Unfortunately the driver was in the back. I tossed them back in the truck and hopped in the car, my friends laughing the whole time. But sometimes the embarrassment goes hand in hand with a life lesson. Which leads me to another car story.
It was 1995, I was eighteen years old, had just left my home in Illinois to live in Portland, Oregon, and was living out of my friend Aaron's car or at his girlfriend's apartment. I had a part-time job and was on food stamps, but I just received $500 as a graduation present from my Grandmother, even though I hadn't technically graduated. The decision of going to Oregon was a little more interesting than finishing my senior year. Anyhow, the wealth of cash meant that it was time to stop relying on my friend's ancient Bonneville and get a set of wheels of my own. And this time the decision would be mine. In the past my Father always chose a car from one of his friends, because he claimed it was cheap and reliable. So in high school I drove a 1977 Impala and a 1979 Malibu. Both rusty as hell and a nasty color green. But this time I was free to pick out something old, but cool. Not cool as in muscle, I was more into dorky cool. I thumbed through the Oregonian and was amazed. I was used to the dozen or so car classifieds in my hometown paper back in Illinois, but the Oregonian was filled with cars. And not just old Fords and Oldsmobiles, but classic volvos, VW's, Audis, and other imports-all rust free. I wanted something classic, but I only had a little over $600. I ended up test driving an old Volvo, a classic Mercury hardtop, and even a VW bug, but nothing seemed quite right. Then I saw an add for a 1964 Corvair for $550. I once saw a Corvair back in Illinois in front of the oil change place and thought it was "so cool". I had never heard of Ralph Nader or his consumer advocate nonsense, so I knew nothing about Corvairs. Only that I thought they were cool, in a dorky sort of way. This is exactly what it looked like-I found this one on the net. See it's dorky cool.
To see the car, I had to have my friend Aaron take me all the way out to Hillsboro. At first sight I was taken by the car. It was in perfect shape, bright orange, rust and dent free, and kinda funny looking. The car didn't even have that many miles on it and had been stored. I guess that should have been a red flag. The guy didn't let me drive it very far because it didn't have insurance and the plates were expired, another red flag. But all I could think about was imagining me driving it around. Taking a trip back to Illinois and showing it off.
I think it was one or two days later that I phoned the seller to tell him I wanted the car. I picked up a temporary sticker at the DMV, got my insurance squared away, and returned with Aaron to Hillsboro to claim my prize. I paid the man, asked Aaron to follow me abck to his girlfriend's apartment, and hit the road. The car was making some coughing sounds because of the old gas, so I sputtered into a gas station for some fuel cleaner and some new gas. I remember some people yelling stuff in spanish, probably cacho mierda or something, as my car sputtered into the station, but I tried to ignore them. I knew the car was a little rough, but a tune up and some new gas would do wonders.
After paying, we left the station and headed out on the Sunset Highway. I'm not sure how far we made it, but suddenly I noticed Aaron frantically flashing his headlights behind me. I pulled over to the side of the road. Aaron got out of his car and yelled to me that he saw smoke and even some flames coming from somewhere beneath the bumper. Shit, was the car overheating. Corvairs have their engines in the back like the old VW's so I was a bit worried. We opened up the trunk, but didn't really see much of a problem. Then suddenly the back seat of the car started smoking then quickly changing to flames. I was yelling Shit over and over. A semi driver came squealing over to the side of the road, jumped out with a fire extinguisher, and bolted towards my car. He began hosing down the back seat. Then another semi driver pulled over. A few minutes later even a fire truck arrived, this time hosing the inside of my car with water. Some people stopped to gaze, others even took pictures. Eventually the firemen ripped out my smoldering backseat and chucked it into the ditch. I was left with about 3 inches of foamy gray water, a blackened back window, a burnt temporary sticker glued to the window, and a lecture about air-cooled engines overheating. One of the firemen told me the air ducts that traveled beneath the seat were probably clogged with leaves. The heat of the engine must have ignited them. After some best wishes and sincere goodbyes, Aaron and I were left standing by ourselves. The Corvair wouldn't start and I was too embarrassed to return to the guy who sold me the car. Dusk was settling in so I decided to return in the morning. I really hoped the car wouldn't be stripped and vandalized overnight-abandoned vehicles around Portland seemed to be targets for vandals.
The next day we returned to a car free of vandalism, much to my relief. Another shock was the car started right up, saving me from figuring out towing. I also had to return to the DMV for another sticker. The wiseguy at the counter advised me to spray flame retardant on the sticker, but somehow I didn't see the humor. Eventually the car made it to the apartment complex and the restoring began.
Over the next couple of weeks the car caused a few more problems that were non-mechanical. The manager lady from the apartment complex called the cops on me because she claimed I had illegal plates on the car, which I did not. I transferred my Illinois plates onto the Corvair. Then the manager from Albertsons had my car towed because he insisted that it was parked on the lot for over 48 hours, when in truth I had left it there overnight.
As for the final fate of the car? I was driving back to Illinois when I pulled over for gas in Eastern Oregon. After the tank was filled, I went to start it, but to no avail. I figured once it cooled down it would probably be okay. After about a half an hour the workers helped me push it away from the pumps. Finally after it till wouldn't start an old mechanic and station owner came out and tried to get it running. After hearing how it sounded, he said the engine was pretty much shot-a bad rod or something. He claimed there was no way I'd make it to Illinois. I managed to get $100 out of him for the car, plus a ride to the Greyhound station. $69 got me a ticket back to Illinois and the Corvair from hell out of my life.
Recently I stopped for gas at the same station and looked around for the car. The old fellow wasn't working and I didn't feel like asking the guy filling up my car anything. Still, I wonder if it's still out there, perhaps haunting someone else. Or maybe it was just me that it haunted.