I read an article the other day about a fifteen year old Texas girl who drives a Lamborghini to high school. You read that right, she’s fifteen and drives a Lamborghini. How is this possible, you might ask? I’ll tell you how it’s possible: God is a fucking wise guy who likes nothing more than rubbing your nose in the fact that fifteen year old girls drive Lamborghinis while if you’re anything like me, you drive a car with more miles on it than Courtney Love. Life can be terribly unfair sometimes, and if you don’t like it, you can just take it up with your local priest. (Wear protection.)
I certainly didn’t have a slick car when I was fifteen, although to be fair, I didn’t have a big rack and loose morals either. In the late 70’s my dad bought a car that would be the envy of any family, assuming that family also happened to be the Brady Bunch: It was a banana yellow Chevy Impala station wagon with a souped up engine in it so my dad could use it to tow his fishing boat. You may laugh at a vehicle like that now, but in the 70’s, it was somehow even worse. In a decade known for leisure suits and Donny & Marie, nothing screamed “uncool” louder than a station wagon the color of jaundice.
Still, as a kid, I thought it was pretty cool, especially when we went on vacation. My younger brother suffered from an affliction known as “being a toddler”, and within minutes of pulling out of the driveway he would begin speed-kicking the front seat. From my vantage point, I could see my dad quickly losing patience until, after thirty minutes of pleading, threats, and extreme curse words, we pulled over and reorganized: All of the luggage in the car went into the middle row, and my brothers and I sat in the far back, facing the other way.
From this seat, we learned many things, the first of which was that staring at the front of a boat that is being towed is extremely boring. So my older brother took it upon himself to teach us a few other things, such as which finger makes other drivers mad, and how to spell “Help! Kidnapped!” on a piece of paper crudely propped up in the side window.
My dad used that car for a long time until one day he woke up and thought to himself, “Why the fuck am I driving a banana yellow station wagon?” at which point it became my mom’s car, and he bought an Oldsmobile. My mom was always driving my dad’s broken down shit cars. My earliest memory of a car was my mom’s Dodge Dart which had been my dad’s car for many years and included such wonderful features as holes in the back seat floor through which kids could throw candy wrappers and then laugh like little idiots while the driver yelled, “What are you doing back there?”
So when my mom started driving a beaten up, rusty yellow station wagon, it was actually an upgrade from the car she had been driving, which if memory serves was something that was on fire. And of course when I became sixteen and it made no sense to allow a teenager to drive anything worth more than a small sized toaster-oven, it became my car as well.
This was a wise move because there were a lot of driving maneuvers that I first attempted while driving that car. Transmission-busting neutral drops, rim-bending jumps off of hilltops, and tire-shredding power slides over concrete abutments were everyday occurrences. I was like one of those flyboys in the Right Stuff: Always pushing the envelope. If someone in my car asked, “Hey, what happens when you throw it in park going twenty?” you could be sure that we’d be jammed up against the windshield, laughing about it in no more than five minutes. We named the car the Deadly Dinosaur because it was as big as a dinosaur and the way I drove it, it was easily as deadly.
There was also an awful lot of illicit alcohol and drug consumption in that car. I used to put all the back seats down, forming a hard plastic surface that was as slick as it was flat. Then I’d load up my friends and drive around the hilly and winding roads near my house while everyone attempted to drink beer. I didn’t need a beer myself, as there was enough in the air for me to absorb it through my skin.
One New Year’s Eve, my girlfriend and I had gotten our hands on a large jug of vodka which we promptly smashed on the floor of the far back seat, leaving us driving a vehicle that would have failed a breathalyzer all by itself. I was lucky that I knew where all of the sobriety checkpoints were. I was a little less lucky when I got home because my attempt to clean out the car was hindered by extreme drunkenness: Using an X-acto knife, I cut out the carpet, hosed it down, and left it in the front yard to dry. This was a little hard to explain the next morning.
My Dad: Greg, why is there a large, black rectangle of carpet lying on the snow in our front yard?
Greg: I don’t know.
My Dad: And why is station wagon missing the carpet in the back seat?
Greg: I don’t know.
My Dad: And why does the station wagon smell like booze, soap, and vomit?
Greg: I don’t know.
My Dad: Were you drinking last night?
Greg: I don’t know.
It was a little easier to get away with smoking pot in the Deadly Dinosaur because of two things, the first being that my parents had absolutely no clue about drugs whatsoever. One evening at dinner (while I was extremely high), my mother asked me about drugs. “Greg, do a lot of kids smoke pots in your school?” If she had known anything at all about drugs, not only wouldn’t she have called marijuana “pots”, but my explosion of uncontrollable giggling would have resulted in something other than a puzzled look at the dinner table.
The other reason it was safe to smoke pot in the Deadly Dinosaur was because it burned oil. We never changed the oil in that car, simply because we were constantly replacing it: One quart a week. This meant that there was always a funky odor emanating from the engine that I used to cover up the funky odor coming from my lungs.
My Mom: Boy, the car sure smells funny today.
Greg: It’s burning oil, mom.
My Mom: Well it doesn’t smell the same as it…
Greg: Burning oil, mom.
My Mom: Oh, and I found your Post-It notes in there too.
Greg: Burning oil… Wait. What?
My Mom: Yes, these… (pulls them out) Zig Zag notes?
Greg: Oh yeah, I need those… For school.
Another feature of a car that burns oil like an Iraqi oil well: Colors! We’d be driving down the road, stoned, at a reasonable and prudent 130% of the posted speed limit when it would start to rain. The rain quickly mixed with the oil-coated windshield and reflected the headlights, neon signs, and traffic lights around us until the windshield looked like something you’d see rotating behind the Grateful Dead in concert. This was pretty fucking cool until you realized the downside: Visibility was reduced to negative six feet.
This usually resulted in the car being parked, which was when I had some of the best times in the Deadly Dinosaur. Bucket seats and consoles have made getting laid in a car an activity requiring a lot more dexterity these days. But back then, we had bench seats that you could slide so far away from the steering wheel that it was in a different zip code. It was on these bench seats that I practiced something I called “Wham! Bam! Help me, Man!” which consisted of awkward sexual fumbling followed by weeks of desperate praying that I hadn’t knocked my girlfriend up because we were too drunk, stupid, and horny to use protection.
After a while, however, even the steady Deadly Dinosaur began to suffer from the neglect and abuse that only a teenage boy can inflict upon a car. I would be driving down a forest trail at 35 mph when, out of nowhere, a log would appear which I would then proceed to drive over without even slowing down. Looking back, a friend would say, “Hey, a big chunk of metal just fell off of your car!”
“Gee, I hope that’s not anything that we need,” I’d calmly reply before chugging the rest of my beer. The Deadly Dinosaur began to take longer to start up, a process which now involved opening up the hood and propping open the butterfly valve in the carburetor with an ice scraper. The engine began to run very roughly, and new, non-pot odors began wafting up from the hood of the car.
Finally, my dad told me that I needed to take it in to the mechanic to see if it was still safe to drive. “I’d look at it myself, but I want an expert’s opinion.” The expert calmly attached some wires to it and looked at a diagnostic screen. After ten seconds of this, he turned it off. “Look, I could probably fix this thing up a bit and get it running for a while, but it’s an 8 cylinder engine running on 5 1/2 cylinders. It’s rusted through. It has 200,000 miles on it. You need to let it go. Cash it in for scrap and buy something else.”
I drove home in a somber mood, driving slowly and taking the corners a little easier as if I was driving a dog to the vet one last time.
“What did he say?” asked my dad as I pulled in the driveway.
“He said it’s a piece of shit and we need to get rid of it,” I said. “But one thing he said didn’t make sense. He said we’ve got an 8 cylinder engine running on 5 1/2 cylinders. What’s a half cylinder? It’s either firing or it’s not, right?”
This intrigued my dad who quickly popped the hood and discovered the cause: There were two spark plug cables that had split in half, and one was hanging by a coppery thread. “There you go, two cylinders out because of the cables, and one more firing every other time. Five and a half cylinders,” said my dad. “Let’s get some new cables and see how she runs.”
An hour later, I took the Deadly Dinosaur out for a spin, and it was as if it had been driven directly into the Fountain of Youth. All of the power was back, and then some. I pulled up to a stop light at the end of a long stretch of road with two lanes. This light was notorious for aggressive driving because four hundred yards down the road the two lanes narrowed to one, and everyone constantly jockeyed for position. As I sat at the light in the pole position, the Gods of Comedy sent me a little present: A yuppie douchebag pulled up next to me wearing driving gloves, a touring cap, and sitting next to a buxom bottle-blonde.
As I glanced over at him, he made a big show of looking the Deadly Dinosaur over with a disgusted grimace on his face. He turned to his girlfriend (87% chance her name was Candi) and said something that they both laughed at. Then he turned to me and revved his engine. I nodded gravely at him and tapped my accelerator very lightly to let him know that yes, I was stupid enough to race him.
As he turned back to look at the light, he was a fraction of a second slow to notice that it had turned green. I had, in the mean time, stomped on the gas, rocketing forward, a 4,000 pound blur of yellow and rust trailing smoke and attitude. I looked in the rear view and could clearly see the shock on his face. He had paid good money for that car, and now it was embarrassing him in front of the girl he had paid good money to get some bigger tits. A calamity on every level.
I knew that although with the head start and the oversized engine I could probably beat him to the spot where two lanes narrowed down to one, I felt that his humiliation wasn’t complete. I slowed down to let him pull aside and made a grand “No, no, please, you first!” gesture. The last I saw of him, he was slamming his fist on the steering wheel, face apoplectic with rage. The Deadly Dinosaur could have killed the rest of my family that night, and I would have still loved it for letting me make that guy look like an über-douche in front of his girlfriend.
About a month later, I went to college and left the Deadly Dinosaur behind. When I came home for Christmas, its spot in the driveway was taken up by a white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. My mom had started a job (her first since she started having kids), and she decided that she didn’t want to park five miles away from her office out of shame. She had traded the Deadly Dinosaur in for a $100 credit. I never saw it again.
But the Deadly Dinosaur was not done with me yet. About a week after I had arrived home, I received a phone call from the Naperville Police Department. “Yes, this is Sergeant Williams with the Naperville Police Department. I’m calling because a yellow Chevrolet Impala station wagon registered to you was found abandoned on a city street and towed. You need to pick it up at the following address.”
I quickly informed him that we had traded the car in, and that we were no longer the legal owners of the car. He told us that we needed to call the dealership and have them call him up to straighten everything out, which I did. My parents, leery of getting hit with some large, unexpected fine, asked me to call and double-check that everything had been straightened out.
Me: Hi, I’m calling about the Chevy Impala station wagon that was abandoned in Naperville, and I wanted to make sure everything had been cleared up.
Sgt. Williams: Oh yeah, the yellow one, right? We got what we needed from the dealership, so you should be all set.
Me: Great, thanks. You know, I’m really surprised that the thing is still running. I figured that it would have been scrapped for sure.
Sgt. Williams: Oh, I’m sure it was. Kids will break into a scrap yard with a can of gas and see if they can get a car started. If they can, they take it. That way if they get caught, it’s not grand theft auto, it’s petty theft.
The Deadly Dinosaur would not go gentle into that good night. Although I know on one level that it has been crushed into a cube, melted, and repurposed as something useful (a speed limit sign would be an ironic touch), on some other level I like to imagine that some crazy-ass motherfucker on bath-salts is blasting the Deadly Dinosaur down a highway at 110 mph, wondering to himself why the back seat smells like booze, soap, and vomit.