Memory Ride

I am not a car guy.

I can never remember the names of old cars, and when I'm asked for the Make and Model of my car to fill out a form it takes me a moment to figure out which is which.  In truth, I mostly see cars as a blight, ugly, smelly mechanized versions of those bugs that are killing all the trees in the Sierras.

Yet I do love old station wagons, and this morning when I saw this old Country Squire just off Mission Street near my home in San Francisco, I stopped and stared.

My brother and sister and I are laying down flat in the "wayback" of our family wagon, snuggied up in our jammies with blankets and pillows.  We're on a road trip and my dad is driving, and my mom is sitting next to him and they are talking and they seem really far away across the vast suburban expanse of interior of the car.

Now I am sitting on top. The Ohio night is warm and moist and still as we watch a drive-in movie. Watch is the key word, since the sound that comes out of a metal contraption hanging on the car window is tinny and brash. I am confused, as the movie doesn't make any sense, but it doesn't matter because sitting on top of the car in the night is the coolest thing ever.

Our summer babysitter is driving us to swim practice. I have a desperate crush on her.  She is so wise and world-weary. My best guess now is she wasn't a day over eighteen. I am sleepy from staying up late watching TV, back when screens were bulky and wooden and sat in the corner and my brother and I would fight over who would have to get up to change the channel. I am not looking forward to getting in the cold water, but it is summer, and this is what summer means.

It's late and we're on a country highway heading to our cabin on a lake an hour from home. My mom is driving fast and carelessly, as usual, and then she says "Uh oh, I hope we don't run out of gas." I imagine us stranded on the side of the road.  My dad is still at work, and I really don't want the car to run out of gas.

One day my mom drove us home and there was a song on the radio that I wanted to hear, so I begged her to let me stay in the car until it was done. She left the keys. When the song was over I left them too. An hour later my little sister Jenny started the car, jammed it into reverse, and crushed the mailbox of our neighbors the Mariott's across the street. It was the most exciting thing to happen on the street all summer. I felt like it was my fault.

It was the great blizzard of 1977, and the entire city of Columbus was shut down. School was cancelled for two weeks, and the old station wagon was buried in the driveway, useless with it's rear drive and old balding tires. My dad is a doctor, and he needed to go to work, so the National Guard would come and pick him up each morning in a giant snow machine. It seemed like he was really important.

I am not a car guy, yet I do love an old station wagon.