By JEFF PICKELL
“Oh crud,” I said.
This was two Saturdays ago. I knew that sound. That’s the sound your car makes when it doesn’t want to start. That’s the sound my car was making. I hate car trouble.
I got lucky this time. A customer at Gamble’s was kind enough to offer me a jump, but I ended up sinking 70 bones into a new car battery that I couldn’t figure out how to install. That’s the thing with cars these days—everything is so jammed in there that you can’t get anything done without a lift and thousands of dollars worth of specialized tools. The stay-at-home mechanic has essentially gone the way of the dodo.
Cars used to be fixable. I should know because I spent most of high school fixing them. Well, I should say, I spent most of high school fixing one—the one I couldn’t stop crashing.
It was an all white 1992 Chevy S-10 with a manual transmission, an all in all pretty nice little truck for a high school kid to zip around in. Since I had the model with the small V6, there was also the added bonus of being able to pull completely awesome fishtails on dirt roads.
I remember clearly the day of the first crash. I had just picked up my brother Jamie from school. After exiting the parking lot with a totally sweet tire-squealing burnout that I’m sure impressed the middle school girls, I accelerated toward a red light because it is the mantra of all young and stupid drivers to go as fast as possible and brake at the last second.
With an expressionless tough guy look on my face and rap music playing at full blast, I flipped some kid off as I drove past him.
Scholars call this hubris.
Not a half hour later the truck was nuzzled into a tree in front of the house and my mom was yelling at me so hard that I ran away. Literally. I took off on foot and never looked back, and 25 minutes later she chased me down to continue reaming me out in front of all the traffic on Hickory Ridge Road.
That crash was child’s play. All I did was slide into a tree in front of our house.
My brother John (70 percent), my dad (29.8 percent) and I (0.2 percent) had the car looking new within a week. We just had to replace the hood, right fender, grill and front clip. It was absolutely no fun.
Working under the truck was the worst, with all the little bits of grease and dirt and dead animal that I ran over dripping into my eyes and mouth. And all the cuts you get from reaching through tears in sheet metal to get at a bolt—they looked cool later, in scar form, but they didn’t make the work more enjoyable.
The next crash was the worst. It happened the next summer.
I was following my friend KJ back to my house when we came to a yellow light at an intersection. Everybody knows yellow means “gun it and blow through the light two seconds after it’s turned red,” but I guess KJ forgot that day. I rear-ended him and completely wrecked his Lumina. Right in front of the main entrance to Kensington Metro Park. Right in front of a crowded Dairy Queen. On a sunny summer Saturday.
When school began, several classmates reported how they saw me crying diligently, waiting for my mom to arrive.
I have the ill luck of having a mom with an accounting business. One of her clients, Bob Stevenson, owned a junkyard and was the nicest person in the world. While the crash had completely mangled the front end of the S-10, my dad determined it was fixable. Bob donated all kinds of parts and I donated $1,000 to KJ and the rest of my summer to creating what would become the red, white and gray GMC Chevy S-10 Blazer Jimmy 4x4. As you can see, we collected junk fenders and other parts from an assortment of vehicles.
My car was the laughingstock of the school parking lot, especially when I crashed it there a few weeks after school started. I pulled a U-turn right smack dab into an Expedition, busting the hood and both the fenders again and again crying until my mom showed up.
By then I knew the car inside and out, and I decided to fix things right. I emptied my bank account again and bought new parts and invested in a cheap paint job at Maaco, and except for a weekend-long adventure with Bondo and a spell where the distributor went on the fritz, I was done working at that car for good.
Now I drive, as my friend Dolley termed it, like “five old ladies all rolled into one.”- Jan. 10, 2007