I tell folks that Petey was my first love.
But that’s not true.
His name was Lancelot.
My parents bought him for me the April I turned 16. He cost $500.
He was a 1971 Dodge Dart Swinger. It was love at first sight. He was white with a green faux leather top. He had the kind of windows where when you rolled down both front and back, there was no center bar so the whole side of the car was open.
It was a kinda-convertible.
He didn’t have an AC, but there was a vent with a little door next to the brake. I could slip off my left shoe, and while barreling down the road, use my toes, turn the latch, and open the little door smooth as silk.
In 1981, my best friend Kitty and I saw the movie, Excalibur. It was wonderful and we loved it; the cast includes Dame Helen Mirren, as Morgan Le Fey and Sir Patrick Stewart. If you haven’t seen it, do so with all due haste, Gentle Reader.
King Arthur was handsome, kingly, and dignified.
Chiseled cheekbones and jawline, dark curly hair, and eyes of sapphire blue. Kitty and I fell in love. We became obsessed in the way that only teenage girls can be. And somehow, my dreamy ride was christened “Lancelot”.
My little brother stenciled the name on the back bumper.
Two things; at the time, there was no “click it or ticket” law. And, Lancelot had bench seats in the front. I’m sure you know where I’m going here.
Because although the car usually contained only Kitty and me, there were times when every possible inch of seat was full of friends, with more kids sitting on laps. In this Jenga-like manner, I could fit a total of eleven people in the car.
One of the first “death-defying” adventures we had happened on the way home from school. The car was about ¾ full, the music was on full blast, and we were flying down the road.
On Halstead Blvd, there was a railroad crossing without lights or gate. We saw the train coming, but being a neophyte driver, I didn’t yet have the experience to judge the distance and speed very well. Nowadays I would just wait for the train.
But I was a dumb kid, with a car full of dumb kids. And as such, we were foolhardy and immortal. So, I sped up. We crossed, it seemed, with inches to spare. Every one of us was screaming bloody murder. After the crossing, I pulled over to catch my breath from our brush with the Grim Reaper.
In all truth, it probably wasn’t that close of a call, but again, a car full of dumb kids full of drama and imagination.
I loved Lancelot with every bit of me. That car was my freedom and my sanctuary.
But, I was also careless with him.
Before my dad let me pull the car out of the driveway the first time, I was trained to change a tire, check the fluids, and add oil.
Unfortunately, I never bothered to perform this maintenance. You’d think the first time I ran it without oil for so long the engine seized up and my dad had to replace it, I would learn.
You would be very wrong.
I can still see my dad, the day the second engine seized and expired.
He was standing next to Lancelot, whispering, “Never, ever let this happen again.” What really made an impression and kind of scared me though, was the way he was gently banging his head against the garage wall.
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