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Three Cars in Less Than Two Years

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Three Cars in Less Than Two Years

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Adam Strong continues his series of stories about life in the ’90s with a look at the first three cars he owned and what happened to each.


Your own car journey consisted of three cars in less than two years.

First, was the 1985 blue Dodge Colt, the heat on the vinyl, how hot it got, the Pink Floyd Relics tape you bought at the mall while playing fake sick from school and taking the car for a ride before you had a license, the car was supposed to be an incentive for you to get your driver’s license.

You had this grand plan, you snuck out before you had a license and drove to Coral Comics, you drove to Specs Records and Tapes, you stopped for food on the way home. You got into the house right through the front door and there was your mother with her hands on her hips, and her tongue working over a tough part of a filling. You got caught because of the maid, she saw your car was gone and you were gone too. She called your mom, all while you were blasting “Arnold Layne” and thinking you had gotten away with one.

Three days after, you finally got your driver’s license, you were driving to the grocery store, some kind of route you didn’t have to think about, there was a little storm coming, a hit of cool air through the wall of humidity. The window was rolled down, the AC cranked, the opening chords of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” came on your favorite local classic rock station, you turn left and there is the oncoming grill of the black Mercedes, the face of an old woman, and a crackle crunch impact of glass, a burn over your neck and shoulders.

The blue Dodge Colt had the obvious bright red oil can warning light on the dashboard, One of these days, you’d tell yourself, I’ll figure out what that oil can light means.

You are on South Beach for a cross country beach fun run 5k thing. You are hungover and smoked a ton of cigarettes the night before, you didn’t quite remember why you still ran cross country when you treated your body like an open sewer. You are giving someone a ride home, there is heavy traffic on South Beach, and the sound of two bulls wrestling under the hood takes off in tune to the increased revving of the engine, while the Tin Man oil can light burns brighter than normal.

Your passenger recognized the problem immediately, “This car needs oil.”

And there it was, the sound that haunts you every time you get a fork caught in the garbage disposal. The engine compartment was coated in the last drop of oil that had permeated the empty gaskets, and when that went the whole darned contraption up and exploded, sending smoke all through the streets of South Beach; there was honking and angry arms and faces stretched into monstrous arrangements behind you.

… the whole darned contraption up and exploded, sending smoke all through the streets of South Beach; there was honking and angry arms and faces stretched into monstrous arrangements behind you.

“Goddamnit, you are too fucking stupid to not know to put oil in the car,” your dad said on the phone. He had to come down there, he had to drive down and in the middle of a traffic jam that you created, he had to yell at you in front of everyone, random strangers on the street, whole families, a father a son, a smoking 1985 Dodge Colt and a glasses-wearing idiot. “Every fucking moron knows you need to put oil in the car.” He had his two long fingers in the crook of your neck, the Spock spot. At this point, you were a wiggling bowl of jelly, and now you yield to him, you sit in the passenger side and watch as the Colt got smaller in the rear-view mirror.

The white 1980 Dodge Arrow came a few months later. You mowed a lot of lawns. Weeks of getting rides from Stephanie and Jenn from drama class. They played cool music you’d only heard on the college radio station. These two belonged to this orbit of people, only one or two rungs ahead of you in the overall social order of things. People not considered outcasts. You’d been finding these little pockets of acceptance, they were the people that sat alone until finally a friend showed up, like you but with a friend or two more.

You found the Dodge Arrow in the local classifieds. Your dad didn’t want to have to pay for a third car but this one was only $800.

The Arrow was a long white beast, a two-seater with sports car lines and a spoiler at the back. It was a monster that swallowed you every time you got into it.

But like everything else good that happened, there was the natural ballast of what came next.

You took your sister through the McDonald’s drive-thru. It was one of those “do what you want, mom and dad are going out” nights. On the way home, you were that close, maybe 100 yards to your house, you were turning onto the street where you lived.

“I got more fries than you,” Adrienne said.

What does it mean to let your attention shift from driving to the center strip of grass going down the center of Bella Vista Avenue, and in that time it took you to make it from the fry box to the road in front of you, there was a crash before you even had a chance to look, and she did have more fries than you, three more to be exact, but then there was the stop sign you saw just before you drove straight into it, a crash to knock it over, then, when you applied the brakes, they made an unholy screech, then, the bump that was your front left tire running over the stump left by you hitting the stop sign, then, because the car still wouldn’t stop, you had to run it over with the back left tire as well. One stop sign and three missing fries. That’s all it took.

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Dad felt bad about the car you bought, that you mowed lawns for, was a lemon, so he got you a newer car, that had two shades of glorious brown, a dark sparkle brown finish exterior, and a lighter tan interior, with the signature H in the center of the steering wheel. Your new car, a 1983 Honda Accord.

This brown beauty was the one you took time in fucking up, first by bending the passenger door back the wrong way. You had too many beers at the Presbyterian church parking lot across the street from Pinecrest, so you had Gary drive, but he must’ve been too drunk also, seeing how he backed the car open with the passenger side door open. Gary goes to back the car up, he doesn’t see the pole in the way and, yes, there was a crunching sound, the sound of the door being bent back the wrong way. And after what Gary did, that meant it wouldn’t close back the way it was supposed to. So, Gary’s dad, “What kind of estupid ediot backs a car up with a pole in the way?” wired it shut the next day and you started parking in the opposite direction so Mom and Dad wouldn’t recognize the thin black wire that kept the door from flying open during traffic.

But that wiring didn’t last, what with Gary having to crawl in over the gear shift in the center console, eventually the wiring came loose and his dad didn’t want to fix it again, so you took matters into your own hands, you went down into that space in the home that people in Florida call a “basement” because of the limestone under the ground, which can’t be dug up, so ground floors become basements. Just past the Ping-Pong room was the room your dad kept the boat stuff. You found the shittiest boat line you could find. You looped the line through the loop in the armrest on the passenger side door, looped it through, and held onto the line with your right hand while you steered your chariot with your left.

At one point, you were able to wrap it around the center emergency brake, until it came loose in downtown Miami.

This was the car that had no less than two stolen bottles of parental booze underneath your driver’s side seat at any given time: Johnnie Walker Red and a whole lot of vodka. When the assistant principal had his cowboy boots with rose petals stitched into the sides kicked up on his desk right before he suspended you for five days, he said that thing about vodka kicking the shit out of you, hadn’t life been doing that to you for longer than the vodka would last? Isn’t that why you kept it in your car when you did?

One day, your dad went looking for all of his missing lines and, lo and behold, one came up missing.

You were all at dinner on the Asian rug in the living room overlooking the channel. He asked the whole family if anyone had seen it, and you hadn’t even started the fake thousand-yard stare to insist on your innocence when your sister outed you right out there with god and all his apostles watching.

“I’ve seen it,” Adrienne said. “It’s holding Adam’s passenger door closed.”


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Adam Strong

Adam Strong is the founder of the reading series Songbook PDX. His work has appeared in Entropy, the Atticus Review, NAILED Magazine, Gravity of the Thing, in the anthologies City of Weird, The Untold Gaze, and on the Storytellers Telling Stories podcast. He writes, draws, and loves in Portland, Oregon, and is a high school Digital Arts teacher.

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