Monday, March 10, 2008

Past lives - Candy Apple Red

Sometimes at the most random times, I think of people and places and things from my past lives. I often think about the 1974 Dodge Dart that I bought in 1991, shortly after divorcing my 1st husband, who always categorized as "ridiculous" any dream I articulated , and in particular, any vision that involved restoring an a old car. So purchasing it was one of my first acts of freedom.

The car had been a DC Cab for it's whole life, and although it had a gazillion hard miles on it, I am sure, it also had a really powerful, healthy slant 6 engine. The fact that neither the speedometer nor the odometer worked was of little consequence as far as I was concerned, what mattered was that it was mine (for $300) and I could do with it what I pleased.

For weeks, I really felt "important," since people everywhere I drove were waving at me. Took me a few days to realize that the cabbie paint job made a lot of people want to say "hello."

The first order of business was handling the interior of the car. The headliner hung from a thread, so I just ripped it down and enjoyed the hollow metallic sound of the steel top for a while. This did not seem to be a problem until I tried to transport a large bunch of helium filled balloons on a hot summer day in the car. It only took a minute or two for all of them to burst upon touching the hot roof. I ducked for cover, as I honestly thought the car might be exploding. When it was over, all that was left was a handful of colorful ribbons with these pathetic little scraps of the latex balloons. Wherever I was headed that day, I did not arrive with balloons.

So, I picked a shop that did interior work and had them replace the entire interior of the car in black, and then dropped the car off for a stop at an audio store and had them install a killer stereo. Next stop was Macco for a paint job - a beautiful, candy apple, metallic finish. Next was new tire (although there was nothing wrong with the existing tires). I wanted a set with big, fat white walls. Finally, I had the windows tinted a very dark (actually illegal, I later learned) shade of gray. I became accustomed to being stopped by the local police for a while, since my car really did look like a "hoopdie," i.e., a beat up old car commonly driven by a member of the criminal element.

The one thing that I didn't account for in the car was a leak through the grill beneath the windshield, which flowed steadily through the glove box (which I often stuffed with a huge, absorbent sponge) and pooled onto the passenger floorboard and occasionally short-circuited the very fine stereo. I never did figure out how to either fix the leak or live with it - although covering the windshield and grill with a huge plastic door mat helped a lot when I was parked in the driveway, it just didn't seem like a feasible option for the highway.

I used to say that I don't define myself byt the type of car I drive, but I realize now, that's simply a fantasy. I do. We all do - whatever you drive - or that you don't at all - defines some part of you. I remember well the evening that I enjoyed a very fine dinner date with an accomplished and amiable thorasic surgeon. He spent the first 15 minutes belly-aching about how the valet service at the hospital had put a mark on his leather seat in his very expensive and totally tricked out european sports car. Hmm, I thought, this acquaintance will never go beyond this evening. It was pure hilarity when he offered to walk me to my car and laid his surgical eyes for the first, last and only time on my candy apple red, nearly antique, behemoth. After a quick handshake, he scurried away. Poor fellow.

I have such fond memories of that car. Shortly after I bought it, I traveled to southern Maryland on a beautiful spring day to pick up a long legged, big footed, floopy eared puppy who was bein given up by an overtired mom with a toddler and an infant. I named him Striker, after a victim in one of my vehicular homicide cases. Turned out that his name portended his untimely death, as the first time he ever did anything wrong, he dug out of the back yard and was hit by a car. After grieveing and healing a bit, I adopted Buddy to keep my aging dog, Alaska company during my long hours away at the office.

Often in the evenings after a long day at the office, I would take Alaska and Buddy out for a ride and revel in the joy that they took in sticking their large heads out the window to catch the breeze in their flaring nostrils and floppy ears. Satiated, they always returned home happy and refreshed, just as I was, everytime I drove my dream car. I loved taking my nephew Michael for a ride in "that thing" (as my one sister called it, and allowing him to eat and drink whatever he pleased in the back seat - something he was never allowed to do in his mom's car. With a vinyl seat and no carpeting to cover the floorboards, there was nothing that he could spill that could not eaily be removed with a broom or a power wash. And then there were the road trips. My friend Alma, a young Albanian immigrant who knew little of Bruce Springsteen, and I took a fabulous road trip to the beach one fine day. Since the stereo worked much better than the odometer, it was no surpise when we were tagged for speeding as we sailed east on Route 50 through rural Maryland with Thunder Road blasting through the car. Alma was so beautiful, so extraordinarily beatiful, I am convinced that the officer was was too dumbstruck to give me a ticket.

In any case, the leak in the grill was eventually the car's death knell, since the cost of re-wiring the stereo after each heavy rain became oppressive. My regular mechanic coveted the car, as most mechanics did - and I traded it to him for work he was to do on a new/used SUV I had acquired.

Turned out to be a bad deal for me, since the SUV was shortly therafter destroyed from the inside out by Alma's retired police drug dog, Robbie, one evening while she and I had dinner at Chevy's. I'm not sure whether Robbie ever found what he was looking for that night in that truck, but I was sure glad the folks at Carmax never looked inside of it the next day when I traded it in for some nondescript car, now long forgotten, that ran well, but was neither a fulmillment of my dreams nor candy apple red.

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