Crap Vehicles I Have Loved

Man in a striped sweater standing beside a grey minivan and smiling.

My nephew bought a pickup truck recently.  I sent him a link to my post about Roy. Because I’m a writer, and I always want to share, whether anyone’s interested or not. And as my list of posts gets longer, my nieces and nephews are getting quieter on social media because, don’t get Aunt Barb started…

Anyway, that post made me reminisce about all the other crap vehicles Alan and I have owned through the years.

Just after he graduated from Chef School, we had a look at our finances and realized we needed to make some adjustments. We replaced the two-year-old Tracker (it was red!) with an ancient powder blue Toyota Camry.

“We’ll give it a good clean!” promised the salesperson.

And maybe they did, but the previous owner had been an avid and enthusiastic smoker, in the car, with the windows up, and all the cleaning in the world will not make that smell go away.

Because we have no children, we name our cars. And between the powder blue exterior, the smell of stale cigarettes and the general, down-at-heels seediness, Elvis was the obvious choice for this vehicular embarrassment.

He got me to work and took us home for visits. Though on one of those trips, the starter motor showed signs of failing. My brother-in-law advised that we drive it straight to our mechanic’s when we got home and not turn it off until we got there.

We pulled off at a service centre on the way and took turns running inside. I hate idling cars but reckoned it would be less wasteful to let it run than it would be to have it towed home.

I’ve never peed so quickly in my life!

Between the frequent breakdowns and the fact that the smell made us feel sick every time we got into it, we decided that maybe we could afford an upgrade. We sold Elvis, to the sorrow of all of our friends.

For a couple of years afterward, they would excitedly report seeing him around town.

“I saw Elvis downtown!” they would say happily.

Strangers looked at us funny during these conversations, but no matter. We were glad to hear he was still getting around.

Once our second B&B started to make some money, we sold Roy for scrap. “Seventy-five dollars and a ride home!” Alan proudly declared.

I felt terrible about it and had made, I thought, a strong case for parking him on the front lawn and planting geraniums in him. Alan disagreed, and if he ever uses the term ‘curb appeal’ in front of me again, I’ll be asking for a divorce.

Roy was replaced with a Ford Aerostar minivan we named Olga. And, while she was watertight, she didn’t always get us to where we wanted to go. Thankfully, our mechanic is a saint of a man. He would regularly drive past our house at 6:00 on a Saturday morning just to make sure she was running properly and could get us and all of our bread to the market.

And that’s what we call customer service!

On one trip up north, Olga’s entire windshield washer system gave out. We were reduced to winding down the windows, spraying the windshield with a spray bottle, and then frantically swiping at it with a squeegee. You kids with your automatic windshield wipers don’t know you’re living.

That wasn’t the first time I found myself half out of the car in traffic.

When we had our first B&B, we needed to do something that required two full sheets of plywood, which we bought on a Friday afternoon.

“They’ll deliver, right?” I asked Alan.

“I guess, but it’ll cost. No, it’s good. We’ll just tie it to the roof.”

Of Bessy, a Buick Skylark. With no roof rack.

Making the left turn off of the busiest street in Windsor onto the second busiest, the load started to shift.

“Oh, shit!” I yelped, frantically unbuckling my seatbelt, and lunging for the window. With my forearms pressing firmly down on the plywood, and the wind in my hair, I squawked at Alan to stop turning so much.

“I’m in the middle of a left turn in rush hour traffic!” he told me, one hand trying to secure the load from his side. “Just hang on!!!”

We made one last trip to Windsor with Olga loaded solidly with all of our stuff.

“Can you see if there’s something wrong with the van?” Alan asked. “No one seems to want to pass me.”

I leaned out the window (again) but couldn’t see anything. Finally, in our shadow, I noticed that part of our bumper had come loose and was flapping around, scaring everybody.

It held until we got home, and we were able to fix it. With a home drill and a couple of screws. Try that with a fancy car!

When we got back to Stratford from that trip, we sold Olga for scrap. “Fifty dollars and a ride home!” Alan said.

“We got more for Roy…” I reminded him.

We bought ourselves a slightly used Ford Focus and felt like we had arrived.

Until the day we were driving out to the nursing home to visit my Mum, and the automatic transmission seized up, refusing to shift up from first gear. We pulled onto the shoulder, put on the four-ways, and crept the rest of the way there. It was a long ride home, and I was utterly horrified to find out that the relevant bits of the transmission were made of cardboard. I mean, seriously. Cardboard??!?!?! No wonder it failed.

Our current van is eerily reliable, and, aside from needing a boost to get into, it adds no excitement to our lives whatsoever.

I have such fond memories of all of our crappy vehicles. They made our lives so much more exciting. I loved their unrepentant crappiness with a devotion I could never give to a more expensive, more reliable car.

When your life is decidedly downmarket, you get all the thrill that I assume comes with owning a really expensive car for pennies on the dollar. And I’ve been able to regale my friends with more stories of our shitty vehicles than modesty would allow anyone with a nice car to do.

Plus, what can you even say about a nice car?

I drove it to work. Nothing untoward happened.


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Posted in Memoir | 6 Comments