Fantastic Friday: The Houdini-mobile

A month or so back, I was contacted by Emma Powers of Turo, a peer-to-peer car rental company, asking if I would participate in an “auto”biography blog post about a car I own or used to own. Cars definitely seem like family sometimes, so I thought I’d give it a “go” (sorry, pun intended!).

I think most people have a special attachment for their first car. This was the case with my first. It was a silver (okay, it was listed as “gray,” but I insist it was silver!) Toyota Camry sedan. It had been my dad’s car, and he bought it new. It was the “no kids allowed” car, meaning my sister and I spilled all the fruit punch and cereal in my mom’s station wagon instead. Which was perfect for me because when I inherited the sedan, it looked like new (instead of a decade old, as it was).

Without trying to date myself too much, I had this car before the age of cell phones and digital cameras, so I don’t have that many pictures, and the ones I do have are stored in boxes that are—well, who knows where? So for the most part, I’ll have to use words to paint a picture of my car and all it meant to me.

In high school, I had the useless talent of changing from gym clothes to street clothes (and vice versa) quickly and inconspicuously. In the locker room, friends would glance down to tie their shoes, glance

The old clunker my dad used to commute to the train station, which allowed me unfettered access to the Houdinimobile!

The old clunker my dad used to commute to the train station, which allowed me unfettered access to the Houdinimobile!

back up, and startle at the fact that I had changed for gym in a flash. Thus, I earned the nickname “Houdini.” Naturally, my car became known as the “Houdinimobile.” It was a simple car, but I took pride in it. It had everything a high school kid could want: wheels, a steering wheel, and a cassette player. I even decked it out with a device that allowed me to hook up my portable disc player to the tape deck so that I could play CDs in my car (back then, this was BIG!).

I was first given the car when my dad got a “new” (older, clunkier) car to drive to the train station for work. (His business provided it, so there was no complaining to be done). The first amazing thing about having my own car was getting to school on time and not having to reply on a grumpy parent to get me there. By the end of the second week, I had my route so well-timed that I could make it through all the lights without stopping if I left at just the right instant.

But after the thrill of getting to school on time subsided, I realized there were more impressive things to be done with a car. As a high school student, there was nothing more freeing than driving to the beach to feel the breeze on my face, or stopping at the local ice shop and eating while sitting on the car’s trunk, feet resting on the rubbery bumper. (Yes, I remember when bumpers came out that matched the paint of the car—I took special pride in the fact that I still had a black, rubbery bumper). I especially enjoyed having the car after cross country practice. Driving home various members of the team after a grueling run, we would frequently stop at Taco Bell, where (back in the day) we could buy tacos for much less than a dollar, which we would happily scarf down just minutes before returning home for dinner.

In a word, having a car meant freedom.

Perhaps my favorite memory of my car involves the hood. Before I “inherited” the car, my dad had a

The "Starfleet Academy" window sticker may offer a clue about my personality :)

The “Starfleet Academy” window sticker may offer a clue about my personality :)

strange accident in it. Some horrible person had decided to throw chunks of concrete off of a highway overpass. One landed on the hood of the car as my dad was driving (thankfully it wasn’t the windshield, and thankfully it didn’t actually cause an accident). But the hood had to be replaced. As luck would have it (where is the sarcasm font?), the window of time in which my dad had the hood replaced was the same window of time during which a defective type of paint was used, and by the time I came to possess the car, the hood was peeling (while the rest of the car looked brand new).

I didn’t want the hood to rust out, so I traveled to various auto shops, purchasing items and soliciting advice about how to go about repairing the hood. I was met with raised eyebrows from the men behind the counter. “You are going to fix your hood?”

And I did. I sanded down the defective paint job using good old-fashioned elbow grease, used putty to fill in the surface until it was smooth, and used auto spray paint to apply a top coat. Of course it didn’t

The alien hanging from the mirror was my good-luck charm; it moved to the car I bought after the Houdinimobile, and it's still there today!

The alien hanging from the mirror was my good-luck charm; it moved to the car I bought after the Houdinimobile, and it’s still there today!

look perfect, but it was much better than the defective peeling paint. After that, my car and I were bonded.

In fact, the car never actually “died,” as I thought it would: I used to swear I would keep it until it could no longer run. But because the car did not have an airbag, I decided to sell it. (Anyone who lives near I-64 in Virginia during the summer time, as I did at the time will understand the desire for airbags!). When I sold it, right before I watched it drive off, I took one last breath of pride as the buyer told me, “I can tell the car had one family as the owner. It looks brand new!” It was a decade and a half old.

 

A decade and a half. It had served my family well for fifteen years, had given me my first taste of independence and allowed me to demonstrate my first bout of responsibility. Fifteen years. That’s a lot of miles.

And a lot of memories.