May 20, 2009

Car Snob

My dad owned one of the greatest businesses imaginable for a teenage kid in the Midwest. It might be cooler to have a dad who is the head of a movie studio or who owns a popular nightclub, but where I grew up having a car dealership in the family was fantastic.

I got my license in the early nineties. For years leading up to it, a yellow 1978 Country Squire station wagon with fake wood paneling sat in our driveway as a threat. My parents had kept that car since it’s birth to warn my brothers and myself that if our grades weren’t good enough, that thing would be our ride.

The rule was that a 3.5 GPA would allow us to pick out an age appropriate and safe car from the dealership on our 16th birthday. Being the youngest child and daddy’s little girl, I never believed for a second that my father would force me to drive that monstrosity. Come my birthday, I had a 3.3 GPA, which I figured was close enough. But my dad is not a “close enough” kind of guy. Curfew is 11:00 – not 11:01, etc.

My friends continually joked about me driving that wagon. They all knew how my parents operated, but I reassured them that my father was a car dealer and he wouldn’t do that to me. Plus, he was a businessman and it is bad advertising to have his child driving that embarrassment around town. Clearly I was in denial. At my birthday party after eating cake and opening presents, my dad presented me with an oversized plastic keychain and said, “here you go, I put a new stereo in it for you”. Horror! I was now the not so proud owner of that blight in our driveway. I vaguely remember something about the party ending with me in tears screaming about how my parents were the worst parents on the planet.

A friend of mine and I had agreed that once I got my license I would carpool her to and from school. The next morning on the way to her house I noticed the speedometer wasn’t working. Score! Running into her house, I called my dad and said “Dad, I can’t drive the station wagon today, the speedometer isn’t working.” This was so great! It was my way out of this car for at least one more day while he got it fixed. He wouldn’t want me to drive an unsafe vehicle, right? His response: “You will be fine. Drive the same speed that everyone else is.” Click. Phone went dead. I have told many people that story over the years and they have all said without ever even having met him, based on that alone that they really like my dad. No one seems to see the torture he put me through.

The guys in my high school class really liked the car. They had ambitious plans of shaving off the top, making it into a convertible, spray painting the sides and putting astro turf in the back. They never got that chance though because my next report card had a shiny 4.0 GPA.

I kept my grades up and for years had pretty much any car I desired, thus the notion that having a father who is a car dealer is just awesome. In the summers I would drive convertibles and in the winter I would drive SUVs. Our family drove “demonstrators” and so every couple of months I had a brand new vehicle. This continued into my late 20’s.

I like to think the chance to have such fun cars over the years have given me great humility. I’ve matured quite a bit since the days of the station wagon drama and I really don’t care what kind of car I drive anymore as long as it gets me around safely. I am not a car snob and have self-righteously preached that for years.

Unfortunately, I recently met the car that unearthed that screaming 16-year-old girl. My in-laws purchased a Toyota Landcruiser back when my husband was in high school. At the time it was an extremely nice car. His parents drove it for several years and then passed it around to other family members. Eventually it was going to be sold but my husband has some abnormal attachment to the vehicle and wouldn’t let that happen. We bought it for $1 and honestly I think we might have overpaid.

My issues are less about the looks of this car; they are more about the noises that it exudes. On the outside it is still pretty attractive if you overlook that the front bumper is missing, the windshield has a very long winding crack in it and there is no gas tank cover. The real issue is that there is no muffler and it truly sounds like you are turning on a jet engine each time you start it. I can only imagine how the mothers on our street curse my husband each morning as he turns it on and wakes up their sleeping babies.

There is a car dealer who has owes my husband car repair work in trade for some advertising that his company created for them. Yet he still chooses to live without a muffler because he finds it hilarious. Even though I don’t get the joke, I can live with it because it isn’t my car and I don’t have to drive it. In the evenings when I’m cooking dinner, the kids run into the kitchen excitedly yelling, “daddy is home!” It takes a good five more minutes for him to walk through the door as the kids had just heard him chugging along as he turned into the entrance of our neighborhood several streets away.

I began traveling for work recently and when I head out for a trip I have to leave my noise free, parts intact car at home because as it has the children’s car seats in it. In turn I have to drive that loud hunk of junk to and from the airport. Unfortunately my route to the airport includes a beautiful street filled with multi-million dollar homes and serves as a populated route from our neighborhood to downtown. I spend the entire drive praying no lights turn red so I won’t be caught in this shaking sputtering vehicle next to someone I know.

The worst is paying to leave the airport parking lot. I pull up to the booth in my nice business suit, manually force the driver side power window to go down and pay to get this car out of hock. The person behind the desk probably wonders why the heck I want it back and might even say so but the loud moaning of this vehicle prohibits any conversations within a 100-yard radius.

To sum it up, my husband’s business partner told me the other day that he recently drove the noise on wheels and kept looking for a hole in the floorboard because it was so loud inside. Honestly, I’d be shocked if there weren’t holes in the floorboard.

My husband’s odd sense of humor has made me re-examine myself. I guess I have to admit now that I am a car snob. I’m considering making the 30-mile trek to and from the airport by foot. Even a 1978 yellow Country Squire with fake wood paneling sounds pretty good about now.


  1. Ah... the Land Cruiser. My favorite car of all time! Don't ever get rid of it because Ed and I will take it back. Although it did have a muffler and gas tank cover last time I drove it. What can we say? It's a Gedman family heirloom. We love it!

  2. Ahh... the memories of the wagon that when you turned the wheel from side to side the front end moved as if not attached to the wheels. I have forgotten how funny you are. I love reading your blog. You make me laugh out loud:)
    Between your wagon, "the Peel" and "the Corona" I can't believe our friends ever chose to ride with us!


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