My favorite hand-me-down was my older brother’s car. I bought it from him in 1991, after I came home from college. At the time I could barely stomach handing him the money: his car was a 1986 Chevy Cavalier wagon, a car that would guarantee that I wouldn’t be getting laid anywhere near it. I think that was why my mom and dad encouraged him to sell it to me.
I’ll tell you what, though: that car had personality. I’ll never forget the first time I drove it. I was on my way to the beer distributor to get a case of MGD. Someone pulled up alongside me in a Camaro wearing sunglasses with slicked-back hair. He revved his engine twice. I just waved at him. He stared me down, hit the gas when the light turned green, then something in his engine blew out and he rolled to a stop in the middle of the intersection. I made to the other side before he did. I pet my dashboard and said, “Attaboy.”
I swear, it liked me after that. Every time a car crept into my blind spot, I knew it was there before I looked. It was like the car was telling me. Rental cars didn’t give me the same luck. Even though it was a lightweight, the only skidding I ever did on ice was in an empty parking lot.
The first bumper sticker said “what if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?” followed by “kill your television” and “do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup.” I took it on road trips to the Jersey shore and the Poconos. The cargo space was big enough for skis, a surfboard, or one bike if you wrestled with it for a few minutes. I drove it all the way to California when I moved to LA. There’s a picture of me leaning on the hood with the world’s largest ball of twine in the background. After that trip, I might add, I finally did get laid in that car.
It took me ten years before I needed a major repair. The catalytic converter went. For about a week it sounded like I had popcorn popping in my muffler.
I finally gave it up for auction in 2002, when it became old enough to drive. By then the upholstery was held up with enough thumbtacks to look like the night sky over Lake Winnipesaukee. To my knowledge my old buddy is still rolling somewhere in Tijuana. Vaya con Dios, my friend.
I really did own a Chevy Cavalier station wagon for my first car. Most of the rest is a tall tale, inspired by the daily prompt “hand-me-downs.”