I was thinking about an old car we used to have.

About my senior year in high school, my dad traded a smelly 1970s motorhome for a decent 1986 Chevy Celebrity. Though it was sort of a grandma car, my twin sister and I drove it to school, enjoying the plushy blue interior. It looked decent on the outside, except the paint on the hood, roof, and trunk had oxidized. (The prior owner, a winter visitor, lived in Alaska, I think.) This was before the first accident, which was my fault. Then there was another that wasn’t my fault, and my insurance company totaled it. Of course, with the cash they gave me, I couldn’t afford anything else, so we worked the dents out as best as we could, though the back passenger door barely opened. (I had a crowbar in the trunk if needed.)

When we moved to Ohio, we drove that car, then 15 years old, all the way. I’d taken it to a mechanic friend of my dad’s, and after inspecting it, he said it would be fine to drive the 2,200 miles to Toledo. It just needed new tires and paint. He said, “They salt everything up there. You’ll be driving a car full of holes in no time.” So I bought some Rust-Oleum and sprayed it myself, a nice navy blue that contrasted with the faded blue on the sides. We were styling driving across the country. (Do you ever see those cars on the highway, wondering where they’re going and hoping they’ll make it? That was ours.)

Somewhere in Texas, I had to get out, grab a hammer, and beat the driver’s side windshield wiper so it would make contact with the window. Apparently, it wasn’t accustomed to being used. All that hammering woke up the girls, who were just 2 and 11 months, which Cindy didn’t appreciate.

It was in Kentucky, also where we first encountered snow, when the speedometer quit functioning, which wasn’t really a problem, since I could hardly get the car up to 65 anyway.

All we’d appealed for was that the car would get us to Toledo. Any extra miles it had for us there would be an added bonus. After such a long trip, that ’86 Chevy was about done for. We could no longer get it past 55 without it convulsing, so we had to avoid the expressway (I-475 which runs in a circle around the Toledo area).

One Sunday afternoon after church, we met some friends for lunch at a Mexican/Lebanese place. (I know, chimichangas and grape leafs should not be on the same plate. And what do you dip your chips in? Salsa or hummus?) After lunch, we hopped in our cars for a festival downtown by the river—our friends, who had kids about our girls’ ages, leading the way in their late-model minivans.

I panicked when they signaled to turn right onto the 475.

What do I do? I promised the old girl I’d never take her on the expressway again. We didn’t really want to go to the festival, did we? It’d be too crowded. People will be smoking (a Toledo pastime). Surely the girls needed a nap.

But I turned right. And there we were climbing the onramp.

As I pedaled further to the floor, that Chevy shook and sputtered at about 50, not wanting to concede her last gear. One of our friends noticed I was trailing increasingly further behind. When he inquired, I yelled something out the window and motioned for the exit. They led us to the exit at Detroit Avenue, not somewhere you usually want to stop, though our car fit into the scenery better than their shiny vans, which probably boasted leather and DVD players.

It’s humbling when your friends have to get off the expressway to lead you downtown via Monroe Street because your car is too old and worn and dented and dreadfully painted and starting to rust anyway and exudes acrid exhaust. But good friends they were, because they showed no contempt. One of them bought my kids ice cream that afternoon, while the other, I’m sure, paid for our enchiladas and falafel.

Then [Jesus] turned to his host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” —Luke 14:12-14 NLT

What about you? Any crazy car stories?

3 thoughts on “A Crowbar and Some Rust-Oleum

  1. You’ve seen my Buick. It’s about to roll 208,000 miles and it’s still humming. Sure the driver’s door is about to fall off and I had to completely rewire the power to the door to get my windows to work, but mechanically it’s in good shape.

    It’s every bit of 20 years old. My grandmother bought it at the Buick dealership in Richmond brand new for $9,999. You don’t want to know all the parts I’ve put in it myself.

    I’ve had 2 major incidents with this car. Both happened on the same roadway: I-294 (Tri-State Tollway) in Chicago. The first was the electric fan motor that cools my radiator went out. I sat in bumper to bumper traffic during evening rush hour and it overheated. I had to get off the expressway and waited until it cooled enough to drive, then I drove down US-6 (159th St.) until I saw an entrance ramp for I-94. As long as the car kept moving it would stay cool. i make it home about 12 hours after I left Milwaukee. The trip usually takes me 8 to 9 hours.

    The second incident was the master cylinder that fed my brakes failed. I was trying to stop at a toll booth and my foot went to the floor. I hit my Emergency brake and I stopped in a hurry. I completed my trip, I just kept a safe distance from any cars in front of me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s