JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: The Smithie will be going through an American rite of passage this week - she's buying her first car. She's very excited about her '04 Subaru Outback sedan, and why not? It has heated leather seats, a sunroof, low mileage, all-wheel drive and that most important element for those of us in the Northeast: no rust!
The fact the Smithie is starting off with a pretty sweet ride has nothing to do with Ross and me helping out - she waited until she was employed, had a chunk of change in savings, and was credit-worthy enough for a small loan. For the rest of us, unless we happen to have parents of means, the first car is usually best described as a clunker. Mine, for instance, was a ten-year-old yellow-and-rust Saab held together by duct tape and Bondo. It was the sort of car that depended on heavy-duty floor mats to keep water from splashing up off the road into the vehicle. It only passed inspection because I took it to an old-timer who disdained computers and who didn't have a lift in his garage.
Of course, I more than made up for it with my other first car - the one I got a share of when I married Ross. To celebrate graduating law school and nabbing a primo law firm position, he had purchased a brand-new Mazda RX-7. Blazingly fast, terribly sporty, completely and utterly impractical for Maine winters. It had NO back seat, so when Baby Smithie came along five years after we were wed, he had to sell it. Poor Ross. Maybe she'll let him drive her Outback.
How about you, Reds? What were your first cars?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, I was a spoiled kid. I'll admit it. My dad bought me a car when I was sixteen. (This being Texas, a car is not only considered a rite of passage, but essential for getting anywhere.) This allowed me to get to school and to a part time job without them having to drive me. BUT the car my dad bought me was a silver Ford Thunderbird. Not new, but, oh, was it snazzy. Leather seats. Power windows. Power pretty much everything. It was a peach of a car, and I must say I took good care of it and was a pretty responsible driver. But what was he thinking? That powerful car for an inexperienced driver?
Bless him. And now I can never hear Marc Cohn's Silver Thunderbird without thinking about my dad and that car.
JENN MCKINLAY: I drove what was affectionately called "The FBI Car". A navy blue 1976 Ford Fairmont (my parents unloaded it on me when I went to college in 1986). I can still remember how my bare skin would adhere to the baby blue vinyl interior during particularly humid summers. There was nothing pretty about it and when the temperatures reached 32 degrees in CT, from Nov through March, the radio would freeze on the local Spanish station, which is probably why I acclimated so well when I moved to AZ six years later. I only had it for college. Once I graduated and got my first librarian job, I traded up to a sweet cherry red, Pontiac Grand Am coupe with a sunroof and all the whistles and bells a single girl could want. Still, I made lots of great memories in old blue.
RHYS BOWEN: my first car? I got some money for my 21st birthday. It was a Fiat 500, bright red and so cute looking but an absolute nightmare. It broke down with monotonous regularity in the most inconvenient places. And I was living in central London with absolutely no parking places.when I found a spot, half a mile away in Regent's Park, I left the car there for weeks and took public transportation rather than lose my parking spot. Eventually I admitted defeat and sold it. My next cars were big old American klunkers. How sweet it was when I bought my first new car!
JULIA: So FIAT really does stand for Fix It Again, Tony?
INGRID THOFT: My first car wasn't strictly mine; to have its use I did a lot of carpooling my dad around! I would often drive him to work at the hospital, then drive myself to school, and often pick him up later in the day. It seemed to work out well for everyone involved, and I drove a nicer first car than I might have under other circumstances. It was a 1989 Ford Probe, and it had a completely digital dashboard and was gray with a red interior. I also remember that you could set an alarm on the dash that would sound when you exceeded a certain speed. I discovered this one day on the way to school when an unusual noise blared from the speakers. How thoughtful of my dad to set it without my knowledge!!
HALLIE EPHRON: I only realize now how privileged I was. My first car was a 4-year-old Impala convertible with butterscotch leather seats. I loved that car, though it was constantly breaking down. I drove it my last year and a half in high school. Never did get the hang of driving with the top down (what do you do with your hair?) No cars after that until I married and 6 years out of college we moved to New England and bought our first car, God help us, a mustard-colored Pinto station wagon that rusted almost instantly and died after 55K miles. After that we've had a yellow Escort station wagon that also rusted and died young. Ever since, we only buy brand new Honda Civics (you resell them after 200K miles) and driven them into the ground. Boring, pure reliable transportation: Heaven.
LUCY BURDETTE: I drove a few of my dad's hand-me-downs, but after I wrecked his Chevy Vega (too tired to see the stop sign, sigh), it was time to buy my own. The winner was a Ford Falcon faux-woody station wagon that I landed for $200. I did not realize that the entire bottom was rusting out, including the gas tank, which began to leak from multiple holes. Once that was all replaced, I drove it back and forth to grad school in Tennessee. You could see the road rushing by under the passenger's feet and it was very cold in winter--brrrr. My next car was my favorite--a step up at $500--a Dodge Dart slant six. The only downside was the black interior--broiling hot in Florida. It was a man magnet:), and I wish now that I'd kept it. Funnily enough, John had the same car in his youth!
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: After my high school years of driving my parents' fancy cars--seriously, a Bentley which my little brother wrecked, and a Checker, and. well, whatever, when it came time for my own first car, I had to get something less snazzy.
My father told me he'd pay the down payment IF I handled the negotiations myself. Arrgh. I was 17. He also said I was totally on my own, except his only demand was that I refuse to pay for taxes and title. He said asking customers to pay that was a sneaky car-dealer trick, and only stupid people paid taxes and title, and that the dealer would try it. And that if I fell for it, he would NOT pay the down payment. Okay, then.
I go to the dealer, choose a butterscotch yellow Chevrolet Vega, (so funny, there's a theme on this blog) with khaki leather seats. I negotiate like mad. At the end, the dealer says--and of course, we'll add taxes and title.
I think--oh HO! This is what my father warned me about! So I refuse. Utterly, immovably, unshakably refuse.
They try to convince me, up one side and down the other. I am adamant. After all, my down payment is on the line. I finally say: I'm sorry, if you make me pay that, the deal is off. They look at me, in disbelief.
And finally they agree.
I get the car.
I go home, all happy, and victorious, and tell the story to my dad.
He looks at me like I'm nuts.
TAGS and title, he says. I told you TAGS and title. Everyone has to pay taxes!
Not me, I guess...
JULIA: Hank, I'm having you negotiate my next car purchase! How about you, dear readers? Tell us about your first ride...