The Cars (and Books) of Your Life – Part I

"Anglia" (English Ford)                             Photo: Wikipedia

"Anglia" (English Ford) Photo: Wikipedia

Try reminiscing, in one sitting, about the cars you’ve owned throughout your life. Then, make a list. It’s an illuminating experience.

What inspired me to do this was Chrysler’s recent announcement that they were dumping the Pontiac. I’ve owned two Pontiacs in my lifetime. During a prosperous year in the 1980s, it was a Pontiac 6000. During a disastrous four months in the 90s, a Bonneville.

Cars may come and go, but books help save your life.

In compiling this list, I arrived at two conclusions:

1)   You are what you drive.

2)   You are what you read.

Does that make you a bookmobile? I guess.


Chevy Nova (my first car, a station wagon – the most humiliating set of wheels for a teenager). Cost: free. A bright red, fixer-upper gifted to me by my father, an auto mechanic. I drove it on weekends while a senior in high school. The muffler was shot. At stoplights, teenage boys would gun their engines and challenge me to race. Unbeknownst to them, its deafening rumble belied a serious lack of get-up-and-go. Rather than lunge forward when primed with gas, it would emit a series of anemic “clicks” — before stalling out.

Nearing graduation, I, too, was at a standstill. Capitulating to my father, I shelved my dreams of attending Pratt Institute to study painting. Instead, I signed up for a graphic arts program (pre-computer days) at a community college. The downside? Endless pencil sharpening with razors and sandpaper. The upside? The Nova had a thumping radio.

What I was reading: Siddhartha (Hesse), Doors of Perception (Huxley), The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (Freud), Rosemary’s Baby (Levin), Listen to the Warm (McKuen), Whole Earth Catalogue, The Village Voice.

Anglia (aka, English Ford): Cost: $75.00. A four-speed, faded, little black coupe — with a choke! The purpose of the choke eluded me, but I yanked it faithfully on icy mornings to start it up. I adored that car. I stuck a peace sign in the back window and commuted back and forth to that dreaded community college. Predominantly an agricultural school, art students were dispatched to the barnyard by an over-the-hill, bitter instructor to sketch cows and pigs – in February. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

As for the Anglia, it took three months for it to fall apart. First, the wipers flew off in a rainstorm. Next, a stealthy merger of “second” and “reverse” took place in the gearbox. One morning, on an exit ramp, the car refused to shift into “first.” Foot on the gas, I raced the engine and grinded the stick into what I thought was “second.” The car lurched backwards and plowed into the guy behind me.

It didn’t take very long for the Anglia to rattle itself into a permanent standstill and die right in front of our house.

That same year my father stopped contributing to my tuition. So, I switched colleges. I signed on for “Liberal Arts” and landed a coveted job in a record store, fitting my class schedule around it. In between ringing up sales at the register, I donned headphones, switched on Zeppelin or Ike & Tina, read novels. What a job!

What I was reading: Demian (Hesse), Steppenwolf (Hesse), The Female Eunuch (Greer), The Fountainhead (Rand), Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), An American Tragedy (Dreiser), Portnoy’s Complaint (Roth).

Please tune in for Part 2…

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