Instead of doing the responsible thing tonight (laundry), I vegged out and watched Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood film about an embittered Korean war vet who learns to love the Hmong and give up his beautiful 1972 car. Walt Kowalski’s connection to his car is a major theme of the flick (the car doesn’t actually do much except look beautiful), and it got me thinking on the cars I’ve owned in the past:
My first car was a charcoal gray 1989 Acura Legend, a big bulky luxury car I bought in 1997 shortly after graduating high school. I say “I bought”, but I think it was mostly my parents’ decision. It had a tape deck, a sunroof which always leaked, and leather seats (and seat heaters!!!!) that got hot as hell in the summer. The thing was a monster — fast as hell, and I’m probably lucky I didn’t get myself killed. I think it lasted about two years, and then it started running rough and I sold it to Carmax for a thousand bucks. A buddy of mine was in the National Guard with a guy who worked in the parts department at Carmax and he said it was stripped for parts.
After getting rid of the Legend, I bought a one year old Jeep Wrangler. I didn’t own it for very long, but it left an indelible impression. It is the only vehicle I owned that I can honestly say I loved. I mean, I didn’t have sex with it or anything, but … y’know, unless you’ve owned a Jeep, you just wouldn’t understand. I loved taking the doors off the thing, I loved sleeping in it on hot summer nights when my apartment’s air conditioning was busted, I loved hitting deer with it. Well, okay, I didn’t actually love hitting deer with it, but I loved that they rarely did any damage to the beast of a vehicle. I did stupid stuff with it, and not just driving across the occasional lawn: I covered the back bumper and tire cover in bumper stickers, and for some stupid reason, I bought grill inserts and painted them bright yellow.
It was a blue-gray color, full steel doors, soft top, and the first manual transmission I owned. I didn’t actually know how to drive a stick when I bought it. I was working at a Domino’s shop in the Hickory Ridge Village Center, and the GM owned a stick. After work, my friend Emily would drive over and the boss would let me take his car out on the mean streets of Columbia, MD at night and she bit by bit taught me how to drive a manual.
Well, I loved the Jeep, but I treated it rough, and after putting eighty thousand miles on it in four years, I finally decided to trade it in. I sold it to Carmax, and the appraisal write-up they gave me had, as a note, “Obviously well loved.” I still have that, somewhere.
So, in 2003, I traded the Jeep in for something different. I wanted something faster, and a bit more economical. I wound up with a 2000 Toyota Celica, a beautiful royal blue car that looked (and was!) fast as hell. I especially liked that my Celica had no spoiler, a feature I’ve seen on very few others. It was a fast, spiffy little car, but it was a big change going from a big Jeep to a car so low to the ground. This car was stripped: it had power steering, but that was about it — the windows had hand cranks, and I had no remote control over the doors. With it, I taught myself how to change a tire. I had two major accidents in it: the first, a guy in a pickup truck cut across traffic and I was unable to stop in time. About two years later, a week after Thanksgiving 2007, a deer hit me and totaled the car.
Car number four: the first brand-new car I ever bought, coincidentally, also from Carmax, which has a new-car Toyota dealership in Laurel, MD. I was very happy (for the most part) with the Celica, so I knew I wanted another Toyota. I narrowed my search down pretty quickly to either a Corolla or a Matrix, and the test drive settled everything: I left the lot with a 2008 Toyota Matrix. I only owned it for eight months: on July 4th, 2008, I sold it to my Dad, who was in the market for a new car.
It was also blue, same shade as the Celica, I think (perhaps a bit darker). It was also the first “grownup” car I bought — that’s a description that cannot be applied to either the Wrangler or the Celica. Four doors (and a hatchback), it was a great little vehicle that was far peppier than its boxy shape would lend one to believe. Also, it had a full bevy of features: automatic windows, tire-pressure monitors, seats that would scream if too much weight was placed on them without the seat belt being plugged in (let me tell you, this scared the poop out of me the first night I used the car for groceries and had a jug of milk on the passenger seat!)
So there they are — four loves of my life. Maybe someday, there’ll be a fifth, and the list will continue. For now, I’m happy to leave my transportation needs to my feet, buses, and the Metrorail.
Also: for clarification, all those pictures were found on Google — those are not pictures of the actual vehicles I owned.