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Everybody Has a Story: ‘Character cars’ require names that tell a tale

The Columbian
Published: March 25, 2015, 12:00am

Mac and I each owned a car — and I use the term loosely — when we married in 1967. We sold my Pepto Bismol-pink Rambler to a friend for a song, and that song was, “How much can you afford?” We left the Rambler parked in front of his house while he was out of town. When he returned, the car had a dead battery and three flat tires. For some reason, our friendship cooled soon after that transaction.

The vehicle we kept was Harriet, a 1959 Pontiac Bonneville. Her engine was big enough for rapid acceleration, a trick that enabled us to watch the gas gauge plummet as the car’s speed increased. She also had a tendency for frequent breakdowns, which caused Mac to swear and kick the tires. Good thing the tires were retreads. In those days, so were his shoes.

We soon moved on to other cars, all affordable and all beaters. The ones that lasted more than a few months or had real character were given names. What could be more boring than riding around in “the car”? I’ve forgotten some of our character cars, but others were so memorable they’ve stuck in my mind like gum to a sneaker — like the Green Bomb, an ancient Olds that traveled within its own cloud of black smoke. I knew just when to put dinner on the table, once I caught a whiff of Mac’s imminent arrival. We possessed the Bomb only a short time, just until we got our $100 worth.

I have a theory that green cars last longer, because a number of our golden oldies were moss green. Or maybe they were just mossy. One such beauty was our first car with air conditioning. We bought it in the heat of summer, and our 10-year-old son climbed into its cool back seat and exclaimed, “Paradise for only 500 bucks!” Thereafter, the car was known as Paradise. Repair bills could have easily earned it a totally different title.

My parents bestowed several hand-me-down cars on us, none nearly as old as the models we could afford. The first was a 1973 Plymouth Valiant called Prince Val, of course. It was sky blue when we got it, and rusty, with a junkyard-fresh white fender, when we sold it years later. As we affixed the For Sale sign to the rear window, my dad advised us to advertise it as very reliable. “After all,” he said, “what could be more reliable than a car with 275,000 miles?”

Another of their gifts was first a loaner, a Datsun hatchback. I loved that car. You could cram a couch into the back. Mac wasn’t so impressed. When he pulled away from a stop sign, he could have timed his speed on a calendar. Mac said, “I wouldn’t have this flounder if they gave it to me.” Well, they did give it to us, and he gratefully accepted. We put many plodding miles on the Flounder.

Currently, we own two vehicles. Mac’s aging Escalade pickup was purchased to haul our little travel trailer, a job it performs with ease. It also never saw a gas station it didn’t want to visit. I dubbed it the Beast, both for its power and its voracious appetite.

Our other car is a new Subaru Forester. Its brown paint is shiny, and the interior has that new car smell, but it didn’t come with a name. Subi is too common and Brownie too sweet. I even tried Bones, for DeForest Kelley of “Star Trek” fame, but that name wouldn’t stick.

My frustration over the nameless Subaru came to an end on a recent evening when I met a friend at the movies. As I drove away from the theater, I saw what appeared to be a leaf blowing across the windshield. At the stop light, I looked closely but couldn’t see anything. All the way home, I continued to see an odd shadow, but couldn’t identify its source.

I pulled into our driveway and left the lights on to get a reflection. I sat there for a few minutes, staring out the windshield, seeing nothing. Suddenly, a tiny head popped up from the channel beneath the wipers. It ducked down, then reappeared. A bat had hitched a ride and held on for miles!

As I got out of the car, an owl hooted from the Douglas fir overhead. I’d brought him takeout!

The next morning, my little passenger was gone. Whether it flew away or would soon be deposited on the Subaru’s hood as owl droppings, I’d never know. What I do know is, my new car has a perfect name. It isn’t black and it’s not driven by Bruce Wayne, but my little brown Subaru is now known as the Batmobile.


Everybody has a Story welcomes nonfiction contributions, 1,000 words maximum, and relevant photographs. Email is the best way to send materials so we don’t have to retype your words or borrow original photos. Send to: neighbors@columbian.com or P.O. Box 180, Vancouver WA, 98666. Call “Everybody Has an Editor” Scott Hewitt, 360-735-4525, with questions.

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