Monday, October 17, 2011

My First Car

Because all the other cool kids are doing it ...
UPDATED to add photo: Mr. Valiant was a 4-door sedan, not this uber-sporty version.
My first car was a 1968 Plymouth Valiant. My parents bought in the fall of 1967 when I was 4 years old. It was white with a dark blue interior, seated six fairly comfortably, and had seatbelts but no A/C.  It did have a fantastic vent system, though, including one under the steering column that literally made your skirt fly up. It had a slant six under the hood, “posi-traction” in the back, and was considered a compact car. Compared to the 1971 Plymouth Fury III wagon we had, it was.
Before I was allowed to get my driver’s license, I had to prove to my dad that I could change a tire unaided. It was then that I learned the lug nuts were threaded differently, depending on which side of the car you were on -- the whole “lefty loosey, righty-tighty” thing varied. I believe the logic being that they were threaded so that the rotating wheels would be tightening the nuts instead of loosening then as you rolled down the highway.  I also had to do some body work on it, which meant the white paint also had patches of Bondo, and both bare and rusty metal primer. It was an appaloosa of sorts.
At some point in the (very) late ‘70’s, my dad installed an FM converter (I now had 2 AM and 2 FM stations to pick from!), and later on a cassette tape deck under the front seat. It was sometime during 1981 I figured out that if you recorded Journey’s “Escape” on one side of a 45 minute tape, and Foreigner’s “4” on the other, you could listen to “Don’t Stop Believin’”, flip the tape over and listen to “Juke Box Hero”, and back again ad infinitum.  (It was a 3 hour trip from college to my parent’s house, and parts were a radio waste-land. Don’t judge.)

Good times in it? Eh. Can’t remember any of particular note. But I can tell you how it ended.
It was the summer of 1983, and The Police were playing (Synchronicity Tour) about 70 miles away. Tickets were not cheap for someone making $1.35/hour plus tips (which, on a good night, was about $2.00). This was a Big Deal. My roommate, a coworker, and I bought tickets (back when you had to stand in line) and planned for our big night out. We bought vintage dresses. We did our hair and makeup. We climbed into “Mr. Valiant” and headed south. We got out of town, and we were heading down the ramp onto the highway and … nothing. I coasted to a stop on the shoulder, popped the hood and had no idea what had gone wrong.

It didn’t take long for a nice gentleman in an 18-wheeler to stop and come to our aid. At least that’s what I thought at first, but since he had even less of a clue than I did as to what was wrong, it was clear that he just wanted to get three 20-year-old women in black dresses and big hair into his rig.  Not so much.

Okay. We were in what was considered a fairly rural part of Minnesota. As we sat there on the side of the road, we considered our choices, of which there weren’t many. Finding a phone, and calling a tow truck seemed to be the only option.  Luckily, the nearest farm (with actual buildings not just crops) seemed to be on our side of the highway, so I set off down the road to where I could see a corn crib. I climbed down across a ditch, and up through a barb-wire fence. The wire was loose enough I could go through the strands.  I plowed through another ditch and came to a second barb-wire fence. This one was too tight to go through, but too loose to go over, so I followed it down to the corn crib. I climbed up one side, over the fence, across the end, and down the other side. At which point I saw the cows. And the cows saw me.

Did I mention the dress? And the pantyhose? And the heels? So far they were all unbesmirched. Not even so much as a snag in the hose.

Okay. Back to the cows. We came to an understanding that we were not going to bother each other and I headed off down the cow path hoping to find something. And I did – I found a small farmhouse. In the middle of nowhere. I seriously don’t even remember a driveway , but I knocked on the door anyway, and I heard “Ja??” and the door opened. There was a fairly old gentleman looking at me like I had two heads. From the back of the house I heard another, younger, male voice say “WHO IS IT??” This was the bachelor son who came charging out to see who dared disturb their solitude.

I mentioned the dress and the big hair, right? Did I mention that my big hair was four different colors? Now granted, they were all natural colors* (black, my natural brown, red and the ends bleached white) but this was rural Minnesota in 1983, and I’m sure a space alien would have been etter received.
Anyhow, I managed to explain that I was having car problems, and I just needed the use of a phone book and their phone to call a tow truck, and I would be on my way. And that I would gladly pay for the long-distance call.  The son translated for his father, and they eventually let me use the phone just so I’d get the hell out, I think.

So, I headed back down the cow path, waved at the cows, climbed up, over and down the corn crib, through ditch one, through the second fence, and across ditch two, and back to the car to wait for the tow truck. I have to say that the three of us garnered a lot of attention while we waited. The tow arrived and the next problem was that even though I specified I needed to pay with a credit card when I called, the driver didn’t have the imprint machine with him.  Then there was the problem of fitting 3 females into the front of the tow truck. It was, uh, snug. So we headed back to our college town, the other two girls were dropped off at my house while the tow truck took me to a cash machine. I paid the guy, we dropped the car off at a service station (closed, or course) within walking distance to my house and I hiked back. My coworker was prevailed upon to drive us to the concert in her ’68 Camaro, even though the linkage was iffy. We walked into the venue and dropped into our seats just as the concert started. It was awesome.
Then things got interesting again. We got lost in the wrong part of Minneapolis on the way home. We stopped at a Burger King to ask the nice policeman for directions, and he thought we were hookers. Luckily we convinced him otherwise, and he pointed us in the right direction.

When we finally got home, roomie made popcorn, we sat in the kitchen, and I made the mistake of asking what else could go wrong. She screamed as we got dive-bombed by a bat. Did you know that when you are cowering behind your bedroom door trying to talk to your roomie about how remove said bat, that the sneaky bat bastard will crawl under your door and over your foot? Yeah. The boys in the frat house next door thought that the two of us, still dressed for the concert, had come up with the best come-on line ever. No, thank-you-very-much, we really did just need you to come over and provide bat eradication services. That was it.  Sorry to disappoint you.

I ended up sleeping in extra bed in roomie’s room with a tennis racquet next to my bed. My pantyhose made it through the evening intact. The bat made another appearance the next night while I was at work and the landlord came and took care of it. And the autopsy showed that Mr. Valiant died of complications from a failed oil pump. May he rest in peace.

*Regarding the hair … what was supposed to be some subtle red highlights and black lowlights turned out quite a bit more dramatic than anticipated. I was going through a rebellious phase while I was watching my mom die of cancer and so I thought “What the hell?” and bleached the ends white while I was at it. Mom was not happy with me.


  1. A pleasingly boring "adventure". Well, unless you're writing a novel. Or living it at the time.

    Never had any interest in joining a frat, but from what I recall, about 10 years before you were in college, your average frat boy thought that any vaguely female creature looking in his general direction was a come-on...

  2. Drang,

    When I look back at how many ways that night could have gone *really poorly*, shall we say, I am thankful that it was as uneventful as it was.

  3. Hellva story :-) Love the part about the farm and I can just imagine the old farmer's expression!!!

  4. Good thing you made it through that night without getting hurt. Ahhh, the good ol' days before cell phones! Imagine what you could get for that Valiant nowadays? They make nice hotrods once you put something in them with more oomph than the slant six.

    You know, I don't remember what my first car was. Weird. By the time I was twenty, I had had owned somewhere north of 30 cars; I used to get hassled by DMV because if you bought/sold/crashed more than six cars a year you had to have a dealer's license.

  5. Now, there's a picture!

    Glad it turned out OK, but what a story to tell your little one!

  6. Best "what happened" story so far!

  7. ASM826: Thanks! There was more details to be had, but it was already getting painfully long. I'm still suprised at how soft bats are, though.

  8. I agree with ASM826 and NFO- BEST story so far!

  9. Imagine how far we are from the past. :) The good old days flashed in my mind with memories I will never forget. Haha. I smiled as I read all of your memories about your first car. Good job!

  10. I'm 18 years old and my first car was/is a 1968 Plymouth Valiant! It's a 318 V8 though. It's too bad I have to sell it soon :-/ its in great condition :) thanks for your story, I may have to write my own!

  11. Your father was right to teach you first how to change tires. I salute him for his discipline! One more thing parents should teach their children before buying them their first car is proper maintenance. Oh, and it was awfully nice of him to install an FM converter to your car, right?

    Nicole Vickers

  12. Hello, Nancy! I have to say, I like your adventure a lot. ;) I love the way your Dad helped you become a DIY-er when it comes to car maintenance. And what could be greater than having AM and FM radio frequencies to listen to while driving? And that was quite a night! It's sad that your car, Mr. Valiant, had to rest in peace though. What car did you have next? And what model are you driving now?
    -Ava Harness