“What is that thing?” my mother asked. Parked at our curb was the most beautiful car I had ever seen. Sleek, red, and glossy. Kit sat behind the wheel looking like the cat that got the automobile equivalent of the cream.
“It’s Kit’s eighteenth birthday present from her parents,” I said in awe.
“A. Pontiac. Firebird.” My dad said it slowly, as if the meaning of life had just dawned on him.
“I love it!” I squealed. My best friend was waving, urging me to get in. “Kit, it’s so cool!” I opened the passenger door with great care.
“Have you even passed your driver’s test?” my mom asked Kit.
“It’s a beaut, all right.” My dad seemed to be in some kind of trance.
Twenty minutes later Kit and I were driving, somewhere, we didn’t know where exactly. “Why didn’t you tell me you had passed your driver’s test?” I yelled into the wind. My head was hanging out the window, like a golden retriever with floppy ears blown back.
“I haven’t,” I heard her shout.
In an instant, I was back from retriever land. “You haven’t? Wait . . . what? You don’t have a license?”
“Nope.” She pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal. “But it’s in the works.”
“Stop!!!” I screamed, turning down the radio and Chaka’s voice claiming to be “I’m Every Woman.”
“Relax. I’ll have one soon enough.”
Later, over dinner, my dad asked, “So, Val, I expect you would like a car too.” I had thought about this a lot, since I did at least hold a recent license. But with Kit in her flashy new vehicle, and never really going anywhere without me, I wasn’t in any rush.
“She’s in no rush to get a car.” For once, my mother, who was spooning peas onto my plate, seemed to have her finger on the pulse of the matter.
“Every kid wants their own car. They all want to drive, right, Val?”
“Some do,” I offered weakly, mentally scanning my group of friends. Cynthia Hogg didn’t drive, but the Hoggs were so wealthy they had a chauffeur. Eileen McMullen went everywhere on her bike, which probably accounted for her overly developed calf muscles. And then there was Bart Purcell, who definitely didn’t drive, but mainly because he was currently in juvie. I felt sure stealing a car would be at the top of his list once he got out.
Dad was not convinced. “How about we go car shopping? I have a couple of options in mind.”
“Make sure it has four real seats.” My mother was now spooning carrots onto our plates. “Not those baby seats in the back like Kit’s death trap.”
The following Saturday, I gingerly drove home in my new (to me) 1969 Chevrolet Corvair. It was a misleading shade of cream, or possibly white, depending on the light. The seats were hard black plastic, and there was a strange banging sound when the engine was turned on. I did my best to avoid driving it, but wanted to please my dad, who seemed happy with the purchase. Luckily, my mother came to the rescue when she produced Ralph Nader’s 1965 report in which he claimed the Corvair was unsafe at any speed.
That did it. The Corvair was returned and the new search began, this time with my older brother. I love my dad dearly, but note to self: don’t go car shopping with a man who is on a first-name basis with the local bus driver.