Posted by: joha5 | May 8, 2010

My Dad Once Thought His Car Was a Fighter Jet

Good afternoon to my wonderful contingent of faithful readers.  I was recently approached by one of my closest and dearest friend’s regarding a guest post from time to time.  My knee jerk reaction was to say ‘shut up and leave me alone’ but after reading his work I felt that there was no way that I could refuse.  Consequently, here it is for your reading pleasure.  Please feel free to comment on here or to email him at charles.herold@gmail.com – And I thought my car history was bad…

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Before delving into my family’s misguided, but comical – or sad perhaps –, car lineage, I must give credit where it is due, to my dear friend Jon – first for starting this thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking collection of words on wordpress.com. Because, in only one month since Jon has begun to thoughtfully transfer his daily observations and recollections online and expertly cross-thread them with his cultivated sense of social and cultural analysis, I have reaped the benefits insofar as I have had the pleasure not only to laugh immensely, but also to have had my own dormant memories and related thoughts removed from the attic of my brain and placed directly before me. So, thank you Jon.

Now, enough of building on to Jon’s ego, because as one of his closest friends, I can attest that his ego (not, however, without justification) can have the tendency to swell like a marshmallow placed in the microwave. Few things supersede its size, except for perhaps my first family car, the 1985 Ford LTD Country Squire:

The above picture of the Squire – which is defined as a knight in training during medieval times – is what ferried me and my four siblings around the oddly named towns of Long Island (ride on an LIRR train and listen to the conductor call out the station stops, and I dare you not to laugh or at least raise an eyebrow), as we sat – without seatbelts – in the rear cargo hold of this knight in training, sliding and slamming into the door and wheel wells whenever the hulking beast came to a halt or accelerated after being stopped at a traffic light. At the time I thought this was the next best thing to an amusement park ride, but now I realize that my siblings’ and my life were in danger every time we headed to the Pathmark.

Now, although the sign in the background could very well have been pointing to my childhood home, you’ll have to use your imagination to envision our Squire, because it definitely was not in the same pristine shape that the one pictured above is in. Nope, its wood paneling barely hung on by a thread, which by some mystery of physics refused to fall off and by some mystery of logic was never torn off by my parents. Maybe it functioned like flaps on an airplane do, slowing it down to a stop whenever my Mom brought it in for a landing to our runway sized driveway – a driveway, that mind you, my father seemed to expand a little more every year by clearing the neighboring woods and adding more blue stone gravel – I kid you not, our driveway easily had quadruple the square footage of our home – a mystery for another time.

The next family chariot was none other than my father’s pride and joy, his 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix, pictured below:

1987 Pontiac Grand Prix

By all accounts it’s a seemingly mundane automobile. That is, until my father decided to customize it. Unlike the owner of this Grand Prix, my father did not merely make the front suspension seem lower than the back. That would have been welcomed compared to what he actually did. Now – I wish I was making this up, but you simply can’t make this stuff up – my Dad, in his infinite wisdom, painted a confederate flag on the roof the car and drove it around our neighborhood whose population was comprised mostly African-American residents. Just to clear up what you’re probably thinking, no, my Dad was not making a statement of white-power, instead he probably just watched too many episodes of Dukes of Hazzard, and had no idea what some people probably thought.

While my Dad most definitely should have had the presence of mind to realize this was a bad idea, I, at the age of 7 or 8, had no idea of its unsavory symbolism, instead I just felt like I was living out a childhood fantasy of being a character in one of my favorite television shows. I even tried to jump through the window like Bo and Luke did before escaping from the sheriff. I don’t know who I was trying to escape from, but most of the time, seeing as I was a mildly overweight child; this scene did not end or proceed with much grace at all. Thank God we were too poor to own video cameras. But, here’s how I felt when I rode in my Dad’s Jefferson Davis version of the Pontiac Grand Prix:

How could the Jefferson-Davis-mobile be topped, you ask? Well, my father’s next custom job was his interpretation of what a plane from “Top Gun” would look like as a car. He stuck with the same make, model and year, a 1987 Pontiac Grand Prix. However, while the Dukes of Hazzard edition was white, this one was gray to convey the sinister symbolism of its stenciled-on-by spray-paint name, “Ghost Rider”. Whenever I think back to this breakthrough in automotive interpretation, I can’t help but to have the Top Gun theme song play on a loop in my brain:

I imagine this is also how my Dad felt when he was driving in “Ghost Rider,” like he was flying a plane instead of driving a car. Did I mention my family has a history of mental illness?

The pinnacle of embarrassing moments that came from this particular automobile, or our very own version of the F-14 fighter jet, was the day I had to use my Dad’s car to drive to school. Little did I know that my business law teacher, Mr. Horsely, had witnessed me flying the fighter jet into the school parking lot. That day, in class, when Mr. Horsely took attendance, he seemed to be laughing a little as he got closer to my name. I had no idea, nor was I prepared for what was about to happen.

“John Smith? –snickering– Here!; Mary Jones – louder snickering …”

Then he got to my name and it was as if he was going to explode. I thought I wanted in on the joke, but in hindsight, I definitely did not. I was all prepared to say “here,” but then, instead of saying my name, he busted out in laughter and called out, “Ghost Rider!” Thanks, Dad.

The last automobile of note in my family was, perhaps the most beaten down automobile I’ve ever seen in my short 27 years of life. It was the Herold family’s crowned jewel, a rusted, dirt brown 1975 Chevy Malibu that was missing a muffler and sounded like a pack of Hell’s Angels – a hundred members strong or more – charging down the street at full throttle. Here’s a picture of the beauty:

1975 Chevy Malibu

 The name always seemed so oxymoronic to the car’s attributes. Mostly because my impression of anything “Malibu,” at the time was derived from my sister’s Malibu Barbie collection, including the convertible toy car that I played with whenever I could. So, imagine my excitement when my Mom told me she was getting a car called a Malibu!

On the day it arrived home, I must have thought a fire truck was coming down our road. Instead it was our new family car. How quickly my excitement shrank when it pulled up onto the tarmac. It was badly rusted, and its interior ceiling cloth covering quickly fell off, leaving instead in its place, flakey brown particles that fell into our eyes as the car whipped through the streets of East Patchogue, Ronkonkoma, Speonk, Massapequa and Massapequa Park. In an effort to keep the particles out of my eyes, I usually tried to focus downward on the areas where holes in the floor allowed backseat passengers to see directly down to the pavement.

While one would probably venture to guess that the confederate flag car would have been the most embarrassing, it was not to me. The Chevy Malibu was by far a child’s worst nightmare, especially in 1994, when everyone else was driving newer cars. Whenever we’d get picked up at the movies, the mall or any public setting, my siblings and I would nervously scan the area for anyone who might be watching and witness our entry into the brown eyesore that sounded like the Challenger on its way to the moon. Yes, I’m aware the Challenger blew up, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt I was destined for the same fate when I rode in that double couch on wheels.

In closing, I must applaud my parents for picking the most screwed up set of cars any family could have possibly owned. Unless, you’ve got a better story, in which case you probably should seek help immediately.

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