Car # 1 (1981-1985), 1974 Ford Maverick: “Baby steps in a mine field”

 

I don’t know how it is for parents of multiple children, but I imagine the first child, while not necessarily the “favorite,” is definitely the most memorable.

 

That’s how I would describe my first car, a 1974 Ford Maverick. The one pictured here is not my car…this is something I pilfered off the internet.

 

 

 

 

A testament to the true obscurity and esoteric crap you can find online.

 

Where else can you find a photo of a brown 1974 Maverick sedan? I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, hidden in the shadiest, dustiest of spots, are forgotten photographs of my brown Maverick. Photos of a car seemingly too inconsequential to be bothered with or to keep as a namesake the way you might hang on to a photo of your first dog or a pair of your child’s first shoes.

 

This was the car that started it all!

 

I learned to drive in my parent’s station wagon (a most unsavory and tense experience); I was one of those teens who stood in the DMV line the minute he turned 15 1/2. I couldn’t get behind the wheel of a car fast enough. I begged my parents and they finally shelled out a few hundred dollars for this 7-year-old car.

 

Whereas most of my friends took their sweet time and seemed entirely unimpressed that they were now eligible for a driver’s license, I was already enthusiastically cruising into my high school parking lot early in the 11th grade. In fact, I was probably the first dodo in my class to stumble into a fender bender in the school parking lot. I forget his name, he was a Chinese guy with a tall car phone antenna on the back trunk lid. In those days, car phones were a major production which brought to mind vestigial CB set ups with the long-ass antenna, spiral cords and all. The dude just backed up into me and my virgin reflexes didn’t react in time to allow me to brake or honk. So I just crunched into his car. No major damage and it went no further, so I avoided juvenile traffic court or whatever it is they did with young fuck-up drivers then.

 

I’ve long realized that driving was my gateway to unbridled independence. The very second I began driving I turned into a vagabond. Rarely home and easier yet, finding no reason to stay home, I was unleashed to roam the streets of my hometown. I drove, and drove, and drove. And since my friends saw no use to get their CDL’s just yet, I accommodated their lazy, slovenly ways by taxiing them around. I was the high school taxi. I carted those idiots every where in my Maverick.  It was shit brown…by then, the car was about 6 or 7 years old.

 

Nowadays, the quality of construction on most cars leaves them in a relatively “new” state after only 6 years. Back then cars aged fast. My brown paint was not uniform and it was slightly faded. I remember it being very faded on the driver’s side, for some reason, probably due to previous undisclosed body damage. Internet VIN checks weren’t exactly the pre-car purchase task de rigeur back in 1981. The seats were covered in a dusty and worn beige cloth upholstery. The front seat was a long bench and the automatic transmission handle was located on top of the steering column and the speedometer went up to 120 mph! The car was built right around the time the EPA was beginning to put a stranglehold on any sense of adventurousness cars might have.

 

This sucker had a puttering V6 that farted out no more than 90 horsepower. In a heavy metallic beast with a wimpy automatic transmission. I wasn’t going anywhere very fast. The car wore 4 whitewall tires which were way too thin and turning corners at the slightest speed left you with the sensation race car drivers must feel when they take sharp 100 mph+ turns at Le Mans.

 

A few years into my ownership of this fine piece of machinery, the springs began to squeak horribly thus excluding me from any sort of sleuthing or stalking ambitions I may have entertained. You could hear me from miles away. That car was a tank, however. It only stranded me twice. One of these was a case of awful timing…the car just plain out died in the middle of rush hour street traffic in downtown L.A. while I was driving myself and some buddies to a Dodger game. My most vivid memory of that disaster? An idiot honked at me even though my blinkers were on and the hood was up, obviously in a state of distress.

 

A few memories I have of that Maverick:

 

-The first inkling dawned on me that I liked cars…liked them a lot. I wanted to make them fast, dress them up, give them that extra oomph that would distinguish them from the rest of the car herd. At one point I decided I didn’t like the Ford equipped rear view mirrors. So I went out and invested in some “baby turbo’s” from Pep Boys. These little puppies were made of black rubber and they looked great on sleek and small Japanese or European imports. On Mavericks…uh, what on Earth was I thinking?

 

 

 

 

Imagine it. I drove around with these little things attached to my big brown car for at least a couple of years. Proudly! I thought I was the shit with those…and you know my car gained at least 25 extra horseys because of those mirrors.

 

-My first 3 years of college were spent at Cal Poly, Pomona, a good 30-40 minute commute, which I drove daily in my brown beast. She took me back and forth faithfully. If only I treated her as well as she treated me… One rainy day, I turned left too “enthusiastically” from the freeway and my tiny tires and Reynolds Wrap suspension laughed at me as my car went slip-sliding off the road and crashed into a chain link fence. No damage, no injuries… The 2nd incident could have been much more serious. I was driving home on the Pomona Freeway near Nogales following a mid-morning class. I remember clearly that a Toyota Cressida (of automobile extinction fame) changed lanes right on top of me in the fast lane. I overreacted and my Maverick was not capable, nor fond of, overreactions. Once again, the suspension and donut-width tires roared as the car lost all footing at 65 mph. I spun two, maybe three, times across the entire width of the freeway. I saw cars, big rigs, everything, flying at me, but in the span of a few seconds it took me to slide off the freeway embankment into a chain link fence (again), I felt no panic. No fear. Only a frozen serenity. There is no time for emotion in such an instance. And that was when I realized that dying in car accidents must be a brief and probably painless exercise in tragedy.

 

-During my senior year in high school, we brought Pepper into the house. She was a friendly and playful Lab / German Shepherd mix. I watched her grow from puppy into young dog. I walked her every day, played frisbee with her. I took her everywhere in my Maverick, even to pick my brother up from his elementary school. This was accomplished effortlessly and without incident for the most part, but one day she lost it and vomited all over the front seat. I waited for my brother while the aroma d’ dog puke permeated the car. I cleaned it off at home, but the stain never vanished and the smell seemed to linger for ages. Pepper died from Parvo not long after this. Parvo was an emerging virus then and vaccinations were voluntary.

 

-Once again, following a midmorning class, I drove home but stopped to put gas at one of gas stations off the freeway near Diamond Bar. There was a car parked with three 30-somethingish black guys hovering around it. They looked stranded. While I was at the pump, one of them wandered over and asked where I was driving. I told him Montebello and he lit up. He explained that he and his buddies were driving home to Maywood or Huntington Park and their car broke down. Could I give them a lift? I said of course. I was 18, 19, but I was a boy. I was not mature and lacked any sense of street smarts. Thinking back now, I realize that was a questionable decision…or was it and why? Because they were black? Anyways, I agreed to it because that is the way I was raised and these guys needed help. I drove them the 30 or 40 miles and dropped them off at some random intersection. The ride turned out fine. One of the guys was a chatterbox, he did all the talking, while the other two sat in the back silently, occasionally piping in. The one who sat directly behind me was the quietest. He didn’t talk or smile much and he seemed to be the one who watched me the most. That night I told my parents about my good deed and they were slightly unsettled by my charity. My parents never displayed an ounce of racism but the situation I put myself in left them weary. And I can’t blame them. Thinking of it now.

 

-Remember Wally George?

 

 

 

 

He was a local right-wing windbag who predated Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, ad nauseum. He was well-known for his “Hot Seat” show filmed in Orange County and for his strange blonde or silver dometop hair style and the conservative antics which won him a small but rabid following among fledgling Sarah Palins of the day. He was also Rebecca Demornay’s father…and apparently a source of familial shame for the sexy actress. Anyways…Wally George once sat in my car as I drove him several miles to East Los Angeles college during the summer of 1984. In those days I was a hard core right-winger…that summer I proudly wore a “Reagan/Bush” bumper sticker on my Maverick’s ass, and though I didn’t go to East L.A. college, I had several friends who did and they were like-minded conservatives. They formed a College Republicans group at the JC which was fiercely enemy territory, to say the least. Wally George accepted an invitation to speak at the campus on behalf of the club, but the limo failed to show up to retrieve him from the house where one of the club members lived in nearby Montebello. With no limo in sight, guess who was back-up? That’s right, yours truly, in his shit brown, squeaky ass Maverick. I showed up, escorted Wally and his sidekick, David Kennedy, into the makeshift limo and off we roared, a miserable motorcade through the barrio of L.A.’s eastern outskirts. Years later my amazement and source of pride wasn’t that I carted around this quasi “celebrity” in my car, but that I was just a couple of degrees removed from Rebecca Demornay! Man, I always wondered if Wally might have hooked me up with his daughter as a display of gratitude for being his driver that evening.

 

And that was my first car. My bridge to the outside world…the vehicle that I rode right out of the nest.

 

And which set the tone for each ensuing vehicular tale.

 

 

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