Monday, May 31, 2010

Car Talk (Richmond, VA)

Not having a car takes me back to memories of several cars from my past, which I will share with you if you will please keep me in mind when you come across a cheap, dependable vehicle. Or even if you don't...

My Father's Car(s)
My earliest auto-memory is of my dad's car, a huge, dark-colored (black? navy?) thing without air conditioning or seat belts, but roomy enough to transport my brother, grandmother, great aunt, and me in the back seat. I recall the supply of jumbo-sized, paper malted cups that always traveled with us because, as soon as I would enter the vehicle, I'd get carsick. Eventually and inevitably, I would throw up -- almost always on my aunt.

Same or similar automobile, a Plymouth, I think. Trips to the beach. We were like the ubiquitous, tiny circus cars, spilling out a seemingly endless stream of people: my Mom, sporting sunglasses and swaddled in white towels, parked in a lawn chair under an umbrella, a lock of blue-black hair peeking out from under her Chinese straw hat; my father, a Paul Newman look-alike with clear, bright-blue eyes, olive skin, and what remained of his once platinum blond-turned brown hair; my brother, dark skinned, green-eyes lushly lashed, and thick, black waves of hair; our best friends (Chinese), the Chins -- Richard, Marion, and Frances -- and the Braillor (sp?) boys, with their steely gray eyes and white-blond hair; and me, a mop of curly reddish brown curls, blue-gray eyes in a sea of freckles, skin turning lobster-red at the first touch of sun. A swarm of children surrounding my mummy-like mommy, we were always a curiosity for passers by.

"What is the Mother?" we'd hear them ask each other.

The Green Car
A small, olive-colored station wagon with faux-wood panels and a dashboard that had somehow split down the middle. By far one of the most hideous vehicles around, but as with some ultra-ugly dogs, cute in its own way.

One day, my husband and I decide to see a movie matinee and park the green car behind a Chinese restaurant, under the "No Parking after 5:00 p.m." sign. It's mid-afternoon, and we're not worried. But the start-time listed in the newspaper is wrong, and we go home, returning a few hours later. We park and race into the theater.

I don't remember the film we saw but I do recall the surprise I felt when we returned to the lot. No car! It's only 5:30, there are plenty of parking spaces and not so many diners at such an early hour. We enter the restaurant and ask for the manager. "Did you have our car towed?"

"No, we never do that," he assures us.

I turn to my husband. "Somebody stole the green car!"

I cannot believe it. Who would stoop to such a thing? Only the most desperate of desperados. Someone with no conscious, no shame, and no friends.

The manager allows us to use the phone to call the police to report the theft and to call my father-in-law to come and pick us up. As my husband explains the situation in which we have lost ourselves, I realize that someone depraved enough to steal the world's ugliest car will most certainly check out the world's ugliest glove compartment and find the registration.

"The perpetrator (no, I didn't exactly use that word) is probably on the way to our house to rob us," I tell M. "Call Kenny and tell him to keep an eye out for the car." My husband does just that, as visions of our next door neighbor -- a state policeman with a household armory -- waiting in ambush and armed to the teeth and nails and blowing the perp to Kingdom come and gone, play out in my mind.

We walk outside. I am in shock. I pace back and forth on the sidewalk, walking a bit further each time. The police car pulls up, the officer gets out. I watch as M tells our tale of woe and the officer makes notes. I continue walking. When I reach the corner, I turn to walk back and, out of the corner of my eye, I spy the green car -- parked exactly where we'd stationed it on our return trip to the theater.

I run towards the officer and M. "They've abandoned the car!" I yell and point. "Right there!"

The officer gives us a strange look. M. turns an incredible shade of red.

After calling his father, M. and I do not exchange a word or even look at one another on the drive home. Until we get to within a block of our house. It is than that I remember that Kenny will be on the lookout for whomever drives up in the green car.

"We need to park here and you need to tell Kenny what happened," I tell M.

"I'm not going to do that," he says.

"What do you mean? You need to tell him. You're the man!"

"That's exactly why I'm not going to tell him," he says.

Silver Escort
It's been about a week since we've moved into our new house in an old neighborhood. We're getting settled, unpacking, decorating, excited about the big kitchen, the view into downtown, the friendly neighbors.

A friend pops in, and we walk to a nearby cafe for breakfast. "That's odd," I think to myself on the way back. "I thought I parked the car in front of the house."

"Did you move the car?" I ask M. when I go inside.

"It's out front," he says.

I walk back outside, up and down the block. There's no silver Ford Escort on either side of the street. "It's not there!" I cry. All my good feelings about the area we've just moved to vanish. I feel disappointed, betrayed, violated.

We call the police and the insurance company. M. has to drive me to my class that evening. He and our son, R., pick me up two hours later.

"We've got good news and bad news," M. tells me as I climb into his car. Before I can ask, he says, "We found your car! R. and I went for a walk in the neighborhood, and it was two blocks away, across the street from Jefferson Park. We went over, put the Club back on the steering wheel and ran home to get the keys."

"So why didn't you pick me up in it?"

"Because when we got back, it was gone again..."

"How can that be?" I cry.

"We couldn't figure it out," says M, "but then I realized that whoever took the car had to have the keys. I couldn't find mine when I was looking for them, so we'd just taken yours. And when I checked the shorts I was wearing yesterday, I noticed a hole in the pocket...."

I actually feel a lot better knowing that the carnapper had not broken into my hatchback; the keys were probably right there on the ground beside the door, and he was merely accepting the invitation to use the car.

At midnight, the phone wakes us. The police are calling to say they've located the car. They ask me to come get it. "Where is it?" I ask.

"Walk out your door and turn left," the officer instructs.

I see the patrol car, blue lights flashing, and my car half a block away. The officer explains that she'd seen a car pass by with its radio blaring and only one headlight shining. She'd turned her siren on and the driver jumped out and ran away. When she'd radioed in, she was told that it was my stolen car.

The thief never touched the toll change nor removed any objects from the car. He hadn't put on a whole lot of miles, and he even left the keys in the ignition for me. And he'd almost parked the vehicle back where it belonged.