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A Thrifty Double Nickel

May 26, 2010

We lived in a house across from the lake, down at the end of a long windy road. One year at Christmas we trudged through the woods with a hatchet and chopped down our own tree. Three years later those woods were gone and a subdivision of identical crackerbox houses stood in their place. That didn’t stop my friends and I from making it our personal challenge to get from the main road to my driveway without applying the gas after the first straightaway.

“I heard you squealing from a mile away,” my dad said when I made it up the sidewalk and onto the porch where he was standing, waiting, smoking a cigarette with a smirk on his face. I was only scared a little bit, because I knew that when he was my age, he’d been drag racing a hot rod in the ghost town underworld that became Underground Atlanta.

I was on my second car by then, a metallic gold Pontiac Grand Am I’d bought with my own money from an aunt in Tennessee. The paint job was audacious, but it was a vast improvement over the ’81 Oldsmobile Cutlass my dad had gotten on trade for a $500 shotgun. That one had been converted to gas from diesel, so when it rained, the weak seal on the windshield leaked, soaking the upholstery and turning my pants a wet shade of charcoal gray. I kept a box of black trash bags in the glove compartment, where my dad would have preferred I carry the small pistol I’d refused.

That Grand Am was fast. I got my first fast driving award, as my dad called it, headed home for Thanksgiving my freshman year of college on I-16. The trek from South Georgia home was long and lonely. If I was lucky I’d get into a spontaneous convoy of other Georgia Southern students and a few truckers, and we’d coast in their wake from Statesboro to Macon at a clean 85. The speed limit was a thrifty double nickel we all ignored.

After that I upgraded to the ’67 GTO I borrowed from sister, who was still to young to drive it. Oh, the looks I’d get at the gas station as I filled that teal machine. Me, in a skirt, leaning into an old man’s memory, or at a stop light sitting in a nostalgia I hadn’t even lived. I loved that car and the fact I could drive around comfortably with six of my friends, picking up chicken fingers or a cherry limeade from the servers on skates at the Sonic every Friday.

In the time since, I’ve watched a Subaru bounce down a hill into a haystack after I left it in neutral thinking the parking break would be enough. When we got it home my dad tied the hood to a tree and backed up and managed to yank out the worst of the damage. I wrecked another wagon on the stretch of backroad highway headed into Metter when a deer jumped out of the woods and onto my hood. That one was beyond repair.

I had a brief but brilliant love affair with a four-wheel-drive Tacoma that ended sadly when I headed off to grad school and could no longer afford the payments. Sometimes I still dream about the birthday I spent mud-bogging in a pit where I’m quite certain we were trespassing.

The car I’ve been driving for the last six years is a reliable, utilitarian, functional Toyota. After 100,000 miles, we know each other like siblings. But I can sometimes feel the heat of its jealousy as I stick an empty Diet Coke bottle in the cup holder and maneuver it like a stick shift on a quiet country road.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mud Bogging permalink
    June 1, 2010 1:26 pm

    When I was a boy I can remember my dad going into the woods to get our Christmas tree. You couldn’t do that now, would probably get you arrested.

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