Friday, December 18, 2009

Do You Remember Sweet 16?

I remember my 16th birthday like it was yesterday. Mom picked me up after school in our light blue Mercury Montego station wagon and we were off to the DMV. We checked in and drove around and got in line. The man got in the car and we were off. Left turn there. Right turn here. He didn’t make me drive farther than about 6 blocks. Park here. Here? Here. Great .... between two trucks, parallel. Little street. Station wagon about 51 feet long. Space about 11 feet long. Miracle. We’re in. Ok, let’s go back. That’s it? That’s it. You can drive.

I had a rehearsal that night so I asked mom and dad if I could take the family wagon. Sure. My first experience of driving alone. Winding down Chevy Chase canyon listening to the radio station I like. My window down. The wind blowing through my Parker Stevenson-esque, quasi mullet, perfectly acceptable feathered hair. Nothing can stop me now. Driving home after the rehearsal. The same.

When I got home my folks were in the family room watching TV. Mom asked me to take out the trash. Take out the trash? On my birthday? Trash needs to go out. K. Opened the door to the garage and my heart stopped. There, parked in the garage, gleaming in the dark, was the 1970 Camero Super Sport that I’d wanted since I was about 13 years old. THE car. Not some substitute. Robert Mogster had driven me home from countless church youth events in this very car. Now it was here. Unbeknownst to me, Dad had called Robert and they’d talked and Robert was ready to sell it and dad thought the price was fair and there it was. I didn’t go anywhere that night, but I think I sat in the garage with that car for the next two hours, until mom made me go to bed. Then I sat on my bed and dreamt about it.

For the next 11 months that car and me were inseparable. I washed it every weekend, cleaned the AC vents with a Q tip, polished the rims and tires, cleaned and treated the vinyl seats, changed the oil, coolant, power steering fluid, spark plugs, battery, everything. I drove it too fast. I made up excuses to go places. I drove it to the Sierras to go backpacking (by myself) mainly so I could drive the car.

On a chilly early November evening while I was sitting in the stands at a high school football game, someone stole the car. When you loose something like that at that age, it changes you. I never really got over it. Things don’t mean that much to me anymore. It’s not because I’m “better than that.” It’s for protection. Someday I’d love to have that car again. Mostly, so I can say good by on my own terms if it comes to that ...

All of this came to mind the day before yesterday when my son Mitch had his mom pick him up at school so he could go to the DMV. Things are tougher for kids now (which is probably good) but he squeaked through and got his license. He didn’t have a rehearsal, but he jumped in his car and went to Burger King for a milkshake, pretty much because he could. Yesterday he went to Starbucks on his way to school. He’s on his way. I remember what that feels like. It feels good. Have fun Mitch. We’re here for you.


Kevin Rubin said...

So..this is the how we find out you had a '70 Camero SS? What other critical info are you holding back on?
Way to go, Mitch!

Monty Jessop said...

Great trip down memory lane Jim,
I had a similar situation except I took my driving test in a 1978 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. And my first car was a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air. Fortunately for me mine was never stolen and I still have that car today. My oldest boy is 15 and a half and is spending his weekends fixing it up so it will be his first car too. Difference is we had to work and save to get that first car. I hope our kids appreciate their good fortune.