By Jillian A. Bogater
She was enormous. And Green. With a black cloth interior.
My first car.
After blowing out the 16 candles on my birthday cake, my mom and dad handed me a blue and white license plate and a set of keys. The 1971 Chevy Impala my granddad kept in mint condition was mine.
The moment was bittersweet for my father on many levels. First, I’m sure it’s emotional when a father watches his daughter experience a rite of passage, like turning 16. Secondly, and perhaps, most important, he worked at Ford and couldn’t believe my granddad gave me a Chevy. He tried to keep a happy face about it, but once the birthday cake was cleaned up the rules were set down: No parking the Chevy in the driveway or in front of the house.
The rules didn’t bother me, since I didn’t plan on being home much. Now that I had a set of wheels, I had people to see, places to be. I hung a mutilated Barbie (I chopped her hair, using purple nail polish to shape it into a ragged mohawk) from the rearview mirror. She was christened The Squidmobile.
I knew a place in the city where I could buy regular gas for about 69 cents a gallon. Even with a V-8 gas guzzler, I was now a driving machine. I drove everywhere. Uptown Plymouth. Back roads. My favorite was driving down tree-lined Ridge Road in west Canton, with the headlights out. It was dangerous silly teenage stuff, but thrilling creeping down the bumpy road as the moon slipped through the trees.
Back then, things were simple under the hood. Oil, radiator, brake fluid … with tons of space to get in there and tinker. My granddad taught me how to change the brake pads. As we slid under the Squidmobile, getting her dirt and grease on us, the car brought us together in the first of many car-bonding moments.
Aside from the mechanics nostalgia, there were many other kinds of firsts associated with my set of wheels, the most memorable being my first kiss.
I had driven my best friend and her cousin to Center Stage (Danceteria), a teen nightclub in Canton. We were early, so I parked behind the building, and we smoked clove cigarettes. In a swift move, my best friend leaned over and kissed me. I was unprepared, not ready for her soft lips, which lingered and made me want to scream. I thought of my Dad, and how he would want to kick my ass if he saw me kiss a girl. A funny thought, but that’s what ran through my mind.
I pulled away, and put both hands on the steering wheel. A million thoughts flew through my mind. Before I could make any sense of it, I felt something from behind grab my hair and yank hard. My head crashed hard into my best friend’s head. Still holding our hair, my best friend’s cousin told us: “Don’t ever do that again.”
I sat stunned. Still flying from my first kiss, and confused by the shame and anger that followed.
When we went into Center Stage, my best friend and I found hidden spots in the club and continued kissing in darkness.
Words can’t describe the devastation I felt when I came home from school one day to find my dad had sold the Squidmobile to a VFW buddy for $1. A buck! The good news, he assured me, was that I got the family car.
A yellow Fiesta.
My dad had been waiting to get me into a Ford, and little lemon was now mine.
As sad as I was to lose the Squidmobile, I soon realized I was one of the few kids at school that knew how to drive a stick.
And finally, my Dad allowed me to park in the driveway.