This Old Car
Jennifer E. Miller
Some say cars nowadays are mostly made for fun, convenience, and show. With engineering advancements, they are considered safer than ever. I suppose all that’s true, but I miss the lost generation of cars. The ones without gadgets, screens, and plug-ins. The ones with personality.
Grandpa drove a ’71 Mercury Marquis clear into in the mid-90s. He owned it for so long, the registration tabs stuck out a good quarter inch from the license plate; years stacked one on top of the other. It was dark brown, a color that matched perfectly with his polyester slacks. The car was massive. In fact, it was dubbed “The Boat.” That thick metal monster could sink to the bottom of the Marianas Trench in record time. It had a cavernous trunk, big enough for two coffins to fit side by side with room to carry the headstones if necessary. Hey, did I just set a scene for a murder mystery? It was a stand out character for sure.
The inside held just as much room as its massive exterior hinted. There were bench seats in the front and the back; dark brown fabric, of course, and plaid accents. Six people could sit side by side and nobody’s hips touched. No elbow jabs or heads flopping over on shoulders during naps. And the seats were comfortable, too. I distinctly remember they had spring to them, like a trampoline. As a kid I loved climbing into The Boat, and forcefully plopping myself down to create a few bounces before settling into my spot to buckle up.
The seat belts were probably considered contemporary when The Boat made its debut. No shoulder belts though, only lap ones. It was neat how the lap belt retracted all the way into the seat, hidden from view until the buckle was pulled out. I had to be careful when unbuckling myself. If I let go, it’d zip back into place; possibly whacking a finger, usually to my arthritic Grandmother seated nearby. No wonder my grandparents despised modern conveniences.
It was an ideal car for road trips for several reasons. There was more than adequate legroom. Airplane manufactures should model their cabins after The Boat’s roomy interior. When I squeeze into an airline seat, I wonder why the Boeing didn’t pick up a thing or two from Mercury. In the panels next to rear seats, small circular lights glowed warmly on the dark rides home. The boat rocked down the highway in a comforting, soothing way.
Yes, The Boat had character alright. Grandpa added his own flair to the mix. The steering wheel had a wide diameter with a narrow rim. The horn wasn’t located in the middle, but around the inside edges of the rim. If the driver gripped too hard, the horn sounded off. I noticed this happened frequently when us grandkids bickered relentlessly. Grandpa’s idea of tolerance was “just git the kids home and let the women deal with ‘em.” As our bickering intensified so did his annoyance level. This led him to grasp the steering wheel tightly, thus firing the horn. The act may or may not have been intentional, but it got our attention and we usually piped down.
Something I greatly enjoyed, maybe more than anything else, was the treasure I found resting under the front passenger seat. It was just Grandpa and me in The Boat one day, and I was poking around to divert boredom on a mere 12 minute car ride. I opened the glove compartment, but there was nothing of interest except greasy tools and a pile of papers. Next, I stuck my hand between the seams of the seats, searching for coins. When I didn’t find any, I got the bright idea to reach underneath my seat. My fingers collided with a smooth cardboard box. I wrapped my little digits around it and drug it out. It was similar in shape and size of my pencil box at school. The lid opened upwards the same way, too. The one I found in The Boat, however, was an old yellow cigar box. I thought I may have found a secret Grandpa kept from Grandma. She’d be outraged if he smoked those suckers in the car. By now Grandpa had caught on to my eagerness. He just grinned and said, “Go on, open it.” Delighted, I threw open the lid. I got a whiff of tobacco, but there were no cigars. Instead I stared at several plastic squares which almost resembled building blocks. Eight tracks, I was told, for music. I found these antique cartridges profoundly interesting. None of my friends mentioned listening to any such things. This was a unique find. I read names like Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Frank Sinatra; unfamiliar artists to me, at the time. I looked through the rest of the small selection and asked if there was one of Elvis. He was pretty much the only vintage singer I knew of and would surely liven up our car ride. “I don’t listen to that crazy stuff,” Grandpa replied. He grabbed one from the cigar box and inserted it into the eight track player. The bugle-y sounds of the Golden Age echoed from the speakers. He relaxed and sighed contently. “Still some of the nicest songs, aren’t they?” he stated; I knew it wasn’t a question.
Yeah, that car had personality alright. Even after the fenders rusted, the tail lights quit working, and the brakes became questionable. Cars today are cramped. Radios have been replaced by iPods. And where the heck are the bouncy seats? I was fortunate to drive The Boat once or twice before it moved on to a collector. I tried listening to an eight track, but the player had long since stopped functioning. The music would’ve been nice, but I was glad to have another 12 minute car ride with The Boat. What a character it was.
Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller
Copyrighted 2016 by Jennifer E. Miller