|The Heap and I, circa 1978, both in our youth.|
The car sputtered and jerked, and finally put itself out of its misery with a giant belch out of the tailpipe. We rolled to a stop in front of the gate of a sprawling, brick-walled estate.
“Now what am I going to do?” I bemoaned, with some choice curse words thrown in. This was 1986, and cell phones had yet to grace the planet, or at least my household.
I was going to have to hoof it. But it was really too far, and I wasn’t wearing appropriate walking shoes, and I really, really didn’t want to cross that big intersection. I was stuck here on Strait Lane, home to mega-millionaires, the shortcut I used every day to and from school.
My laziness and girl-panic about safety issues got the best of me, and I decided to try and approach one of these castles to see if I could use the phone to call my Dad. My Dad, who bestowed upon me this massive hunk of junk, a gold 1976 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, that looked like it’d fit in better at the Boat Show than on a city street.
He would not be happy with this latest development, as he’d been nursing along “The Heap,” as it was so affectionately named, hoping to prolong the inevitable expense of buying a new car. Dad preferred to call it, “The Bullet,” which could only be in reference to the shape of the beast and certainly not the speed or stealth.
I shoved open the massively long, heavy metal door of the car and stepped out into the hot autumn day. As I approached the expansive black iron gate of the estate, a sudden realization hit me.
“Oh my God, this is Ross Perot’s house.”
I wanted to die. How embarrassing to break down in front of a pseudo-famous, definitely not pseudo-rich person’s house. I pushed the buzzer at the gate, and a staff member was kind enough to let me use the phone at the guard gate, and he even offered me a can of Pepsi Light while I waited for my Dad to come pick me up.
All’s well that ends well, as that was the death of The Heap, and we got a new car.
I learned a lot from that car, though, most importantly that a little humiliation is good for the soul. I worry about these kids today that don’t suffer the embarrassment of driving around in a big, ugly car that’s had more previous owners than candles on their birthday cake.
There is no car, in modern time, rivaling The Heap, and others of its generation, in bulkiness, ugliness and sheer mass of shame. The days of the Pinto, Yugo and Gremlin are long gone. Even the least expensive cars on the market today aren’t nearly as obtrusive as the cars of the past.
I can’t help but be concerned about the effect that all this pretty-car driving is having on the next generation.
In eight years, when my daughter turns sixteen, I’m going to comb every auto graveyard in town to hopefully find and resurrect The Heap.
Character building, my friends.