Saturday, February 8, 2014

Yabba Dabba Doo

The first car I can remember my mom driving was a little orange Honda 600Z Coupe:

This is exactly what 'Z-Car' looked like, right down to the racing stripe!

A friend said it reminded her of Fred Flintstone's car. Our car was so small, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that two or three adult men could have lifted the car and moved it: 

"You could poke your feet through the bottom and run,
just like Fred Flintstone!'

We were a bit of a spectacle. People would frequently stop my mom in a parking lot just to get a look at our car. The most common question people asked her was how many miles to the gallon it got. According to the factory specifications, the car got 40 mpg. However, just by the simple physics of drafting, my mom could get almost 50 mpg out of ours. 

"See? The truck in front of us pushes the air around it, creating a sort of tunnel. Can you feel how we are just pulled along in the draft of this semi?' she'd explain. 

To be honest, I couldn't feel any difference. Although, as an adult with almost 30 years of driving experience and a parent of two kids, seeing her explanation written out like that makes me think of two words: death trap. Regardless, I always felt perfectly safe. But our tiny car wasn't just for the sake of novelty; at $1,500 it was a small fortune for us. Even though we always managed, I was too young to really understand how poor we were. 

For example, our favorite brand of peanut butter was Skippy. I preferred mine creamy, and my mom preferred crunchy. In the 80's, there was a drought that affected the peanut crop and created a shortage of peanut butter. It was a splurge at almost $3 per jar, so my mom couldn't afford to buy more than one jar at a time. There were frequent disputes in the grocery aisle over whose turn it was for 'their' favorite style of peanut butter.   

We spent many summers traveling across the country in our orange car, camping along the way. Not only was it an inexpensive way to travel, it was a lot of fun. My mom could efficiently pack an impressive amount of gear in our little orange car, and we would make our way across the state visiting relatives and staying overnight at various campsites. 

One summer, we were halfway through our trip when our tiny orange car broke down. My mom managed to get someone to tow it to a mechanic, but the cost of repairs was more than she could afford. To settle our bill, she agreed to sign the title of our car over to the mechanic. And then she sat down on the curb and cried. It was one of only a handful of times I've ever seen my mom cry.

In hindsight, I have puzzled over this scenario: What kind of person would take advantage of a woman traveling alone with her daughter in this way? I cannot get over how anyone would be so heartless. My only hope is that karma was swift.

After my grandma refused to come get us, my mom called 'Uncle' Lenny, one of her oldest and dearest friends, and asked if he could pick us up. Lenny drove over 300 miles straight to get us, and another 120 miles to take us home. That was the day I learned the real meaning of friendship. 

Oh, we ain't got plenty of money
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we're rolling along, singing our song
Side by side!

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