Because my wife and I are awesome parents, we agreed long ago to match whatever she is able to save by her sixteenth birthday to buy a car. If this were her sixteenth birthday, we would now be scanning used car lots all over Western North Carolina and beyond for the very best car you can find for $7.56. Unless her mother takes her anywhere near a Starbucks today, that is, in which case our budget might be down to roughly the price of a gas station hot dog.
In that maddening way of teenagers, she is blissfully dismissive of just how little time there actually is in a year.
“Ah, Dad,” she says. “I got this. I’ll probably find a great job this summer. Have you seen those Kia Souls? They are pretty nice, especially the newer ones. I could see myself in one of those.”
“That’s swell, honey,” I say. “Are you going to work this summer as a Wall Street lawyer? Because that’s the job you’ll need to get to be able to afford a new car.”
“Don’t be so negative, Dad. It’s my birthday! I’ll be driving soon, and not too long after that, I’ll be out of here!”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll still see each other at Christmas. I’ll call you sometimes. Mom will probably pester me to death.”
As a teenager, my daughter is prone to sudden vicious fits of exaggeration when she is not being sarcastic or angst-ridden, but in this particular instance, she is exactly right. When she goes off to college, her mother will in fact drive her completely crazy. If we are somehow able to convince her not to enroll in classes herself a la Rodney Dangerfield in the classic movie “Back to School” so that she can live in the same dorm or at least the same town with our daughter, then she will surely be calling every night for a complete report on all of the day’s events, regardless of how mundane they might appear to be.
This will be followed by a dozen — or perhaps two dozen — questions. Is she remembering to hydrate? Did she get the right editions of her textbooks? Is her roommate ever going to get in at a decent hour? How is the cafeteria food? Does she realize that there are vegetables other than French fries?
“Are you still with me, Dad?”
“You kind of drifted off there. I guess it’s an age thing. So, do you still remember your first car?”
Here is something I do not tell her, for her sake and my own. Of course I remember my first car. You never forget your first car, like you never forget your first kiss. Often, these two firsts are related, but let’s get back to the car, a 1972 Buick Electra, which I christened “The Love Boat,” not so much because there was any real “loving” that would be taking place on those voluminous vinyl seats, but because the car was about the same size as the USS North Carolina, the famous World War II battleship.
On the plus side, I felt pretty safe in the car because it was so enormous. If I were hit by a deer or a Volkswagen, it is unlikely I would have even felt the impact. Unless the Germans hit me with a torpedo, I’d probably get home safe in the Love Boat.
On the other hand, the car got about eight miles per gallon, which meant that if I went any farther than to town and back, I’d have to fill her up again, if I wanted to get home at all.
Also, those fancy electric windows had a mind of their own, working or not working at completely random and unpredictable intervals, which could be problematic on days that were either really hot or really cold. If I was successful in rolling down my driver’s window, there was a very good chance that it might stay down for the next three days before mysteriously deciding to roll back up again.
I got my cousin to put in a sweet Pioneer eight-track tape deck, though I had to keep a matchbook in the ashtray to jam in on top of the tape to get it to play at the right speed. And then I had to convince my Dad that the matchbook was not for smoking cigarettes (my buddies and I preferred Swisher Sweets cigars), but a crucial stereo component.
I hate to break it to my daughter, but if we are able to track down my old Buick by this time next year, it could very easily end up being her first car as well, based on current budget projections. I have no idea where she’ll find eight-track tapes.