[Note: This week's story for 52 stories is here: Happily]
Unlike the rich friends I had in high school, I was not afforded a brand spanking new BMW upon receiving my license in 1980. No, I had to purchase my very first car on my own. It wasn’t easy to save money on my four dollar an hour salary I got for slicing lunch meats at my uncle’s deli, but I scrimped and saved and cut down on my drug and alcohol expenditures and soon had enough to get myself a decent used car. I had these visions of getting a used nice car, like a Chevelle or Mustang or even a souped up Nova like my neighbor had, but my dreams were crushed when I realized exactly what kind of car $800 would get you in 1980.
I became the proud owner of a 1973 Oldsmobile Omega. Maybe it wasn’t sporty or fast or sexy or brand new, but let me tell you, that car was one solid piece of machinery. When I was behind the wheel of that thing, I felt invincible, like I was driving a tank.
Soon after I got the car, my younger sister got her learner’s permit. She begged me daily to take her driving, but I kept blowing her off with the excuse that with her permit, she was only supposed to drive with someone over 21. Sure, at that age traffic laws are meant for breaking. Unless not breaking them is convenient for you. I just did not my sister driving my car, so I feigned obedience to the law.
And then one fateful day, her constant begging and nagging wore me down. I picked her up from school and decided to let her drive home, just to get her shut up. Oh, you see where this is going, don’t you?
She pulled out of the school parking lot, made the left at the light, did all the right things like turning on her directional and checking her side view mirror. It was going good. I relaxed a bit. She accelerated as we hit the main road and got it up to 50 before I reminded her that the speed limit was 40. But she wasn’t paying attention to me. She was waving out the window to get the attention of her friend who was standing on the corner.
“Jo….” A traffic light was approaching. She kept waving at the friend.
“Jo…..” That traffic light was red. The friend on the other side of the street was waving back.
“JO!” The light was not just turning red, not briefly red, but red as if it had been yelling “Stop, you moron!” at us for the past ten feet.
By the time I actually got the words “Fucking brakes!” out of my mouth it was too late. I saw the car coming at us on my side. It was barreling through the intersection at a good clip and, well, it had the green light. I’m sure as that driver lazily sped through under her green light, she wasn’t expecting to see a car zooming in front of her. But there were were.
I braced myself for impact, which is what you are not supposed to do, in theory, but what your body automatically does, in practice. The sounds of the Clash’s Brand New Cadillac coming from my cassette player gave way to the sound of metal upon metal and screeching brakes. The other car slammed us broadside, so hard that its license plate became embedded in my back passenger door. The Omega spun and turned and ended up on the median, a “No U Turn” sign inches from my face in front of the windshield.
When the car stopped moving, I took stock of the situation. I was alive. My sister was alive. In fact, we were both kind of sitting where we had been at moment of impact even though neither of us were wearing seat belts. The engine was hissing, the woman who had hit us was screaming something, and Brand New Cadillac was still playing. I heard voices outside the car “Holy shit, did you see how hard they got hit?” “They have to be dead!’” “I’m afraid to look in there!” “Dude, that was sick!” There were people milling around the car. Finally, someone poked his head in the driver’s window and was surprised to find two young girls, very much alive and not the least bit hurt.
I turned to my sister, trying to be a bit compassionate since she was probably very shaken up. I resolved to save my abject anger at her until later.
“Are you ok?” She looked up at me, nodded, and then:
“I broke my fucking nail!”
That’s when I started punching her.
That the car completely wrecked and we escaped unscathed, is quite the testament to the strength and tank-like qualities of the 1973 Oldsmobile Omega. They don’t make them like they used to.
To this very day, my sister will insist that her light was green, maybe yellow, but not red yet and the lady that hit us was in the wrong. I have given up pointing out the obvious, like the fact that the other lady got nary a ticket, or that she couldn’t get her license until she was 18 because of the accident, or that there were several witnesses that refute her story of innocence. She can believe what she wants to believe. In my world, she wrecked my first car and, while I’ve forgiven her for it, I make sure to never let this story rest.
So, what was your first car?