Lost things

Everyone has stories about things they have had, and lost. Small things, big things, personal things, public things, even things that aren’t things: ideals, people, senses.

If I reach into my brain and pull out something I’ve lost, one of the first things that comes to mind is my first car.

My actual first automobile was a truck: a mustard-yellow Ford Courier pickup, which was a hand-me-down given to me by my dad, after he had also given it to my sister, until she could save up for a car of her own. I drove that truck for almost a year, until the engine block cracked because it had overheated and run out of coolant, stranding me on the freeway on a hot summer afternoon. As my dad angrily described it after I had had it towed home, “It’s bone dry! It’s a big fuckin’ boat anchor now!”

Not my finest moment.

Even though I “lost” that truck, that’s not the car I think of as my first car. The car I bought after melting the truck was a 1978 Porsche 924. Nutmeg brown, with a tan interior. Sunroof, 2.0 liter 4-cylinder over-head cam engine, four-speed transmission. I paid $2900 for it, and it was the first, and last, car loan I ever had.

I drove that car for years, and drove it hard. It was the car in which my friend and I drove to San Francisco and back.

I autocrossed that car – autocrossing involves setting up a course with orange safety cones in a parking lot, and driving as fast as possible through the course. I earned the nickname “The Unicorn” in that car when I completed one pass through the course with an orange safety cone sticking straight out from under the air dam on my Porsche.

I took so many girls out on dates in that car. Some were happy when they heard I drove a Porsche; some of those were disappointed when they actually saw it. It was not impressive. The interior was a bit trashed. The sunroof leaked and there was a lake in the passenger side footwell on rainy days. And the Nutmeg Brown paint job had faded and chipped in places. But it was still my baby.

There was no sub-component of that car that I hadn’t fixed, replaced, or rebuilt. Engine, clutch, transmission, brakes.

And even though I loved that car, I treated it poorly. One time, in my hurry to go meet a friend after he’d gotten off work, I rushed off after a brake job without torquing down the bolts on the wheels. I didn’t notice until a mile or so from home, rounding a corner, when the entire car wobbled and shook. I pulled over and only then discovered that I had not one, not two but all four wheels about to fall off! I was able to wrench them down enough to drive, slowly, home, where I jacked it up, examined the damage (the soft alloy wheels had the bolt holes slightly enlarged but were otherwise fine), and called my friend back to tell him I wouldn’t make it in time.

How did I lose it? In a car accident. I was operating on too little sleep, and it was an early Sunday morning. I was in a hurry to go pick up a friend to take him back to my house, where other friends were gathering to play a little game of Dungeons and Dragons. When I arrived to pick up my gaming companion, the TV in the house was turned to an episode of Ren and Stimpy, which I had never seen before. The kids of my friend’s roommate were watching it. Ren was singing the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” song, and with my sleep-lack, it was perhaps the funniest thing I had ever seen. But I had to be going, so we got back in my car, and I took off. At the first intersection, I looked left, right, and pulled out into traffic. But a car had been coming and I must have missed seeing it; it slammed into the driver’s side, spraying glass over me and my passenger, and totaling the car. Even more dazed than before, I drove it over to the side of the road and the older couple in the green VW Type 4 got out, yelling at me. We exchanged insurance information and all the necessities, and my friend ran back the four blocks to his house to call for a tow.

My Porsche was towed twice; once to my home, and then once, again, to the insurance adjuster’s lot.

I never saw it again.