My first car was a nightmare. I dubbed her “Christine,” after the possessed car from the Stephen King novel. Christine was a 1981 two-tone Pontiac Phoenix with a four-speed manual transmission…and I couldn’t believe she was mine.
She shouldn’t have even been on the road when I first got her, but I was so psyched. I kept peeking at her from my bedroom window. She looked so sexy sitting in my driveway. I was going to take her everywhere. We were going to go to the Westbury drive-in movie theatre together; we were going to go to Jones Beach together. I couldn’t wait to show her off down at Astoria Park. I was going to fix her up a little too. I was going to tint her windows, put some slick tires and rims on her, and get her a cool Benzie Box stereo with powerful speakers and an amplifier so people could hear us cruising from miles away. But first, I just wanted to take her for a quick spin. Just once around the block.
Christine didn’t even make it a half a block before something underneath her hood exploded. Steam, water, oil and antifreeze started spewing into the air like an erupting volcano. Within two hours after I had signed the bill of sale, her water pump blew. I hadn’t even registered or insured her yet. But the 19-year-old optimist in me would not be discouraged. I pushed her back home by myself and called for a tow truck.
Tony the Mechanic replaced the water pump and warned, “Your new car must have been in a flood, because your undercarriage is completely rusted through.” “Fix her up, Tony,” I said, “give her a new belly and whatever else she needs.” It was my first car; I paid $1,900 for her and if she had a couple of things wrong with her, I could deal it. Little did I know what the next couple of months had in store for me and Christine!
Just like the house that newlyweds Tom Hanks and Shelley Long bought in the movie The Money Pit, my first car sucked every penny I earned from fetching cabs as a doorman in NYC. In the nine months that I owned that lemon, I must have fixed or replaced every damn part. After I put in the new water pump and floorboards, I was back at Tony’s two weeks later for a rebuilt transmission. Then it was the starter; then the timing belt; and then came a new battery, new spark plugs, new brakes and a new cooling system.
I had spotted my first car while I was walking down Steinway Street. She was sitting right there on the corner of 30th Avenue parked in front of the Astoria Movie Theatre. I memorized the phone number on the “for sale” sign and called as soon as I got home. I met the seller and after a quick test drive, I gave him the money and he signed over the pink slip. I should’ve looked under the hood. I should’ve brought her over to Tony’s for an inspection, but I was a kid and didn’t know any better.
Back in the day before the Lemon law, there were a lot unscrupulous used car salesmen lurking around NYC. If I ever saw the thief that sold me Christine, I would wring his neck. Then I’d tell him about the time I left my date sitting in Christine while I ran inside my house for something. Ten seconds later, my date was pounding on my door and yelling, “I think your car is on fire!!!”
Or maybe I’d tell him about the time Christine wouldn’t start so I pushed her along, running by her side until I picked up enough speed and jumped into the driver’s seat to pop the clutch. Well, that’s what I tried to do, but we were on a hill and Christine picked up a lot of speed quickly and she got away from me. How she made it all the way down that hill unmanned without hitting anyone or anything was a miracle. I wasn’t so lucky though. After my dive into the driver’s seat “fail,” I landed on my ass and tumbled all the way down that gravel hill, beating Christine to the finish line.
My 17-year-old son is a month away from taking his road test. I truly hope he passes, but on his fifth attempt…because that will give me another year to save up for his first car. It’ll be a used car, but a reliable used car. Not a Christine.
Good or bad, you never forget your first car. I want my son to remember his first car for the fun times he’s going to have in it, not for the blood, sweat and tears he’ll shed trying to figure out why she won’t turn over.
Back in the day, our first cars were fixer-uppers, jalopies. We’d spend more time under the hood than cruising. My first car, Christine, was a nightmare. She tortured me and made my life hell for nine months, but she taught me a lot about life and responsibility…and how to fix a busted ventilation hose in the pouring rain.
Featured image courtesy of Mark DeMayo