I wanted a jeep. And when I get my heart set on something, it's hard to change my mind. I had saved up about $1,000 though, and jeeps are generally quite a bit more expensive than $1,000. We had just gotten back to America from Singapore, and my parents were planning to buy a van from another missionary family that was going back to their field in a couple months. So the plan was to go ahead and buy my car for the whole family to use until Mom and Dad were able to get their van.
I was so excited! We went to the car lot owned by a friend, and there was a jeep. I knew that's what I wanted. Dad wouldn't even bother looking at it. The salesman showed us junky old people cars, and I felt on the verge of tears. Mom and Dad tried to talk me into this big, old, ugly white boat--"It's so comfortable!" "Think how many of your friends you can fit in it when you go off campus!" "Such a roomy trunk!"--but I just said, "I don't want it."
"What do you want?" The salesman asked. I told him I wanted to look at the jeep. He looked skeptical, but led us over to it. It was exactly what I wanted....until I saw the price tag. $4,000. Slightly over my budget. I was crestfallen. Now I knew why Dad hadn't even wanted me to look at it.
"Well, if you're wanting a jeep style car, I might have something else you'd be interested in," the salesman said. He pointed towards the front of the lot, and there he was, the cutest, coolest car I'd ever seen.
We walked over to examine the little blue Geo Tracker. Dad pointed out that it was a stick shift, but I didn't care. I loved it--its cute little steering wheel, its tiny but comfortable backseat, its cloth convertible top. We took it on a test drive (with Dad driving since I didn't have my license yet), and I knew. This was my car. But while considerably cheaper, it was still $2,000. Dad and the salesman discussed the price a bit, and they agreed on $1,600. My awesome dad was going to help me pay for it (although to this day he'll tell you I paid for it).
For the next couple of months, Blue32 (he still wasn't named at this point) was our family car. Dad would drive with Mom up front and my sister, brother, and me in the back. Poor little guy had a hard time carrying five people on steep mountain roads--we'd be going about 15 miles per hour up the hills.
Once Mom and Dad got their van, my brother Jody took over driving my car. We did a lot of hopping and stalling as he got used to driving a stick shift. We both started working the early shift at Mcdonalds and would have to leave for work at 3:45 in the morning. We would drive to work half-asleep and listening to Yellow and I'm Like a Bird.
The road we lived on at the time was a divided highway. There was a break in the median about twenty feet to the left of our driveway so when we need to go left, we'd just make sure no one was coming and drive the wrong way down the road for twenty feet to get to that break. On one of those early mornings, Jody forgot to turn into the break to get to the other side of the road and continued going the wrong way down the highway.
"Um," I said nervously. "You're on the wrong side of the road." (not that uncommon in our family since we go back and forth between countries that drive on different sides of the road)
"Oh," he said, and changed lanes.
"No, you need to be over there." I pointed across the median.
"Oh!" He suddenly realized and immediately pulled into the median, which at this point in the road sloped down to the middle at quite an angle. We sat there tilted to our right and started laughing.
We had some good times in Blue32 that summer. We'd grown up in a country where the vast majority of people didn't have cars and everyone used the public transportation. We'd always been free to come and go as we pleased, but this was a new kind of freedom. I felt like I was a true American teenager for the first time.
I got my drivers license at some point that summer and learned to drive a stick shift shortly before Jody and I went to college. We had a deal at college--I'd paid for the car, and he was supposed to pay for the gas. That didn't work out all the time. It was kind of hard coordinating who would get it when--we both wanted to take our friends out on Saturdays or on Friday nights. My very favorite outings, though, were when he and I went out together, just the two of us.
Blue32 got his name that first semester. I was kind of popular since I had a car--and a cool car at that. Everyone wanted to ride with me when I took the top off and drove to the beach. I took numerous trips to the beach, Sonic, Walmart, the mall, and Blue32 never once left us stranded. If he had any trouble, he always had it while I was still on campus.
My first year of grad school, when Mike and I were dating, we went out in Blue32 almost every day.
I don't remember what was going on with Blue32, but for some reason, I had to stop driving him. He needed something fixed, but I can't remember what. He ended up sitting in the parking lot for months. And finally when Mike did drive him, we discovered his gas tank had rusted through.
Blue32 had always had trouble with rust--the mechanic said it was from driving on salted roads in the winter. He had a hole in the floor on the passenger side, and the unlucky person sitting there when it was raining would get soaked every time I drove through a puddle. But the gas tank was the worst place for him to be rusted through. There was nothing they could do to fix it.
Mike was working so I had to be there alone when the junkyard tow truck came to pick up Blue32. I managed to keep it together until the tow truck drove away. I cried for the rest of the day. And every time I walked past the empty parking space where Blue32 used to sit, the little alien head on his antenna, his cover never completely on properly in the back, I would want to start crying all over again.
All I have left now is a couple of 30-day license plates, a faded alien head, and an oldies mix tape. And memories of the best car ever.