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The Car Makes the Chick

February 21, 2014

I believe that everyone should walk into a new car dealership and sign away their soul for 0% down and low monthly payments at least once, but certainly no more than once in their life. I did, and still have a SWEET ’94 Saturn SL-1 sitting in the driveway to show for it.

I’d traded in a VW Rabbit Convertible with a quarter of a million miles on it that I’d bought used seven years before. Would’ve kept the ragtop, too, if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in my mid-30s. The idea of an infant car seat altered the statement that I wanted the car to make, and the notion of picking bugs out of my child’s hair was vaguely repugnant.

Of course I named the convertible. Her name was Betty, because my old roommate and subsequent fairy godmother to my daughter had named his car Barney. It worked. Barney & Betty. If we’d gotten new cars at the time they would have been Pebbles & BammBamm, but we parted company long before that happened. Betty was in four major accidents in the time I owned her, but by gosh, never managed to total herself. Whatever the mean streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles threw at her, she continued to run. (I convinced myself that number of mishaps was all because the car was silver-grey, and with the top down she was hard to see against the pavement. It had nothing to do with my driving.) (Seriously. I’m convinced.)

My mechanic once had to rewire the whole car due to an error made in installing an alternator – and VW electrical systems are fussy on a good day – but she continued to run. When I was pulling off the freeway for the very last time on my way to trade her in, I had to stop at a Shell station and borrow a Phillips head screwdriver to adjust the throttle so she wouldn’t stall out on the dealer’s lot and scotch the deal, but she continued to run and run and run.

The very best run was always down Highway 1 from San Francisco through Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz to Monterey. Highway 1 runs the distance of the state, from Eureka to San Diego in one form or another, but for some ungodly reason, Angelenos refer to it at “The PCH,” short for The Pacific Coast Highway. Joan Baez would never dream of thumbing a ride on The PCH. Green Day couldn’t get up to 100 mph on The PCH. It may have the same highway signs, but at no point is The PCH the same road as Highway 1.

Highway 1. Betty loved it almost as much as I – you could just tell. Top down, radio blaring with my posse along for the ride. This was a good four or five years before Arsenio Hall told us that we were a posse. Many of us were East Coast natives, so they were my girlfriends. We were, all of us, pushing 30, but still very much girls. All wearing babushkas and big sunglasses, playing at being Annette, Sandra, and Shelley heading off to the beach and not so much singing as bellowing along with The Go-Gos or Exene or Chrissie. Girl Power with a great tan and magenta lipstick.

I’ve tried repeatedly to recreate that magic and it’s come close, but never quite the same. Probably because I’ve flown it solo a number of times, and that part of California is best-loved with someone you love.

Maybe if I reserve a ragtop next time..

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