Car Story

I have always enjoyed driving.  Car selection for me was as much for the style and fun factor as it was for function.  Each purchase provided me with a host of experiences and stories, some of which I find interesting enough to share.

My first car was a used 1957 Volkswagen that I bought in 1967.  It was a rear engine bug with a full sliding sunroof and a center stick shift.  It was in that car that I invented the first mobile phone!  For fun, I attached a big clunky home phone receiver to the console and, at red lights I would pick it up and start talking into it.  I loved the look on people’s faces when they saw me chatting away in this old beat up VW.  Of course the rest is history.  By 1973 mobile phones became a reality.  Just sayin’.  Because it had a sunroof that could inadvertently be left open during a rainstorm, the floors were outfitted with two large rubber plugs that one could open for drainage or, to watch the road go whizzing by as you drove!  The other unusual feature was that it had no fuel gauge.  What it did have was a lever on the bottom part of the firewall just to the right of the accelerator.  When I would run out of gas, all I had to do was to turn the lever to the right with my foot and that opened up a one-gallon reserve for me to get to the next gas station.  Of course, on more than one occasion, I forgot to manually reset the lever after fueling and when I ran out of gas…well, I ran out of gas!

My first new car was a 1968 green VW Fastback.  It was unique in that it gave me a shallow trunk as the engine was underneath the rear storage area and a frunk, which also appears today in the Tesla cars.  Unfortunately if you closed the rear trunk gently, it didn’t latch as I discovered one day while driving my sister back to college and watched, through my rear view mirror, her unstapled term paper get sucked out of the trunk, page by page all over the Bear Mountain Parkway extension. She still hasn’t completely forgiven me. L

Then followed a 1972 blue Pontiac LeMans Sport and a 1963 used Austin Healy Sprite.  The Sprite had neither door handles nor any way to lock the car.  In order to enter, one slid the plastic window to the right and reached in to open the door from the inside.  Another interesting option to this canvas-topped convertible was that not only could you unscrew the windows but also a large Philips screwdriver could detach the windshield!  In size and design it was more of a toy than a safe transportation vehicle.

Around that time I graduated to a used, yellow 1970 Triumph TR6.  It was a two-seater British made sports car convertible.  I traded that one in in 1974 for a new blue one that continued my cruising pleasure for a short time.  By the end of that year my daughter was born and cruising around in a two-seater was a luxury I could no longer afford.

In 1978 I bought a Toyota Celica Fastback in the late fall.  One day in June, I was driving home along route 684 from White Plains to New Fairfield, CT.  It had been a hot day teaching in a hot classroom and as I drove in traffic with my windows wide open but doing little to keep the perspiration on the back of my shirt from sticking to the car seat I watched in envy the many of the cars around me with windows closed and their drivers enjoying air conditioning.  As I looked over my dashboard I noticed a single blue button labeled “AC.”  As I had never owned a car or a home with air conditioning and when I bought the car temperatures were in the 30’s, I had forgotten that my car came with air conditioning.  I remember pushing that button and feeling like I had just hit the biggest jackpot of all time!

Next came a secondary car that was a used white, VW that served more as a gasoline storage tank during the gas crises of the late 1970’s than for primary transportation.  At the time, one could only get a gas on alternate days depending on the last digit of your license plate.  Odd numbers were allowed fill ups or rationed gas (depending on the availability of the local gas stations) on odd-numbered days and even plates on even-numbered days.  When filled (it was either a 12.5 or 14.5 gallon tank), friends from Long Island could visit us in Connecticut and be sure to have enough gas for the return trip home!

Meanwhile, my family car, the Pontiac LeMans gave way to a Chrysler “woody-looking” station wagon that eventually became a black 1987 Jeep Cherokee.  My first Mustang a 1976, 3-speed, was a used purchase and served me well until I bought my friend Ralph’s 1982 blue 4- Speed Camaro.  This one came with a high-end sound system that allowed cassette tapes to create my first intense music experience in a car. 

In 1986 I bought a black Nissan 5 speed 300ZX.  It featured twin glass T-tops and remote controls on the steering wheel for changing the radio station and volume.  It also included a recorded voice that alerted me to low fuel levels as well as when my right or left door was ajar.  It was another first for me to have a talking car.  It was my version of the Knight Industries Two Thousand (KITT) as portrayed in the 1980’s TV show, Knight Rider!  This one lasted many years and eventually went to college with my son, nearly 200,000 miles later.

In the early 1990’s I bought a Nissan Pathfinder with off road capability. I not only explored wooded lots to collect firewood but enjoyed several vacations that permitted four-wheel vehicles on miles and miles of beaches.

In 2000 I took possession of a new black, Nissan 4X4 Frontier Crew Cab.  This enabled me to drive through the woods to collect firewood and generally go where I didn’t think possible.  Once, I tree I cut got hung up on another tree as it fell.  I tied a towrope to the base and the other end to the front of my truck and threw it into reverse to pull the tree down.  Unfortunately, as I pulled, the base of the tree struck a large root and stopped moving as the top of the tree continued, falling forward rather than backward.  With no room to back up any further I sat in the truck and watched this rather large tree come crashing down on the hood and roof of my Nissan.  Yet another lesson learned at an age when I surely should have know better.  

After I paid this truck off in 2005, I decided to treat myself to the newly redesigned Mustang GT convertible.  At the time, they were in extremely high demand and not only were they going above list price but there was a six-month wait for them.  Thanks to the Internet, I was able to locate one and put a deposit on it provided I picked it up by the end of the week.  I lived in New York and the car was located in a showroom in Los Lunas, New Mexico.  I called my good friend who lived in Bronxville at the time and was always open to an adventure and two days later we were on a plane heading to New Mexico.  We literally drove the car out of the showroom on a Friday afternoon and headed east.  Unfortunately, my buddy had to be home by Sunday so we tag-teamed driving the roughly 2100 miles back like two 20 year old kids on a road trip.  At the time, I was pushing 60 and he was 66!

My Frontier Crew Cab gave way to a white, automatic, new version in 2011.  By 2019, my awareness of driving vehicles that were continuing to contribute to the worsening climate crisis was growing.  One day as I was visiting my family in Delaware, I mentioned to my then, 13 year old granddaughter my need for a more environmentally friendly car.  She asked if I would consider an electric car to address my concerns.  The next day, while in the Christiana Mall, Kylie, Ben and I visited the Tesla showroom and scheduled a test drive for the next day.  Meanwhile, the dealership sent instructional videos (mind you there are no brochures or manuals to look at in a Tesla showroom) to watch prior to my appointment.  The test drive was more impressive than I could have imagined and a few months later I took possession of a black Tesla model 3.  There are too many features and attributes to write about but several are noteworthy.  The car comes with regenerative braking which acts as if you are downshifting every time you let up on the accelerator.  As a result of this one-pedal driving, I feel much more in control in traffic and around curves, it’s continuously adding additional charge to the battery, and I almost never need to use my brake.  Plugging the car in each evening assures I’ll have as much mileage in the morning as I’ll need and I only stop at charging stations for long road trips.  I also bought the full self driving feature and am now using the beta version which, takes me from my home to the destination I’ve entered, requiring me to only keep my hands on the wheel. (And, if I’ve already entered my destination in my apple calendar, it extracts it from there and I don’t need to do anything!)  Yup, it speeds up and slows down, stops and goes, signals and turns all by itself.  This is a fascinating but yet unnerving experience!  Tesla also makes the car playful which appeals to my inner boy.  It has built in whoopee cushions that can be directed to any seat an in a variety of styles, a light show that turns lights on and off, opens and closes windows, fold and unfolds mirrors and the charging port orchestrated to a complementary musical selection.  It even has a “dog” mode so when I need to leave Duke in the car while I’m at a store, it presents a large screen display that verifies that I (his driver) will be back shortly and he is sitting in the car at a comfortable 68 degrees!  Did I mention the summon feature?  The other day, Teresa and I left a restaurant with my granddaughter, Kylie.  She took my iPhone and held the target button.  We watched as the car drove itself out of the parking space and over to where we were waiting by the front door.  When I think of my first car and look at my current one I can’t help but think of the old ad for Virginia Slims cigarettes, “You’ve come a long way, baby!” 

Did I mention that I’ve already put down a deposit for the Tesla Cybertruck?  

Soon, one will be able to address the following quote by giving both the proper focus!

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” ~Albert Einstein

True Love

It all started as a young lad attending New Paltz State and preparing for a spring semester of student teaching.  Coming from NYC I only had one friend who had his driver’s license because anywhere we had to go we went by subway or bus. So here I am in my second quarter of my junior year preparing to student teach in the fall.  Then suddenly it occurred to me that a) I didn’t have a car and b) I didn’t have a license.  A generous friend patiently taught me how to drive in her big 5 speed Buick on the mountain roads around Mohonk, including the S curve which was difficult to maneuver in her Buick.  And furthermore she let me take my test in her car and I remember having to drive up the steep hill on 44/55 in Poughkeepsie and praying I could stop at the light without sliding way back if I slipped off the clutch prematurely.  Anyway, she was a very good teacher and I passed the first time.  One major issue resolved.  Now this young lad had to cajole his parents to get him a cheap car for student teaching.  All that summer my parents discussed and lectured me about the responsibility that goes with car ownership.  I all but signed in blood that I would be a responsible adult.. First weekend of fall quarter my brother, mom and dad delivered my very first car- a 1962, it was now 1967, tan Studebaker Lark.  It was considered a compact car but once inside it was like a taxicab. I could have easily fit the entire floor of my dorm in it.  This was a new kind of freedom I had never experienced before and it was intoxicating.  I loved that car but unfortunately after attending my fraternity’s rush party and feeling less than clear headed I looked for someone to drive us home in my place.  My judgment was obviously impaired as he was worse off than I was and on the way home on the Post Road from Gardner, he drove off the road, flew into the air and we landed between two trees.  No one was hurt except I could hear my parents’ rebuke.  And now I needed another car to student teach the next quarter. I will spare you the details of dealing with my parents!

Car #2-1964 Plymouth Valiant.  Silver with an imprint of a tire on the trunk and a push button transmission. Loved it!  Occasionally it wouldn’t start but all I had to do was open the hood and play with the rotar and magically it would start.  Loved, loved that car.  One morning on my way to my student teaching assignment I had stopped for something in a parking lot in New Paltz, got back in and drove off.  When i go to my school I didn’t have my briefcase and realized I had put it on the roof of the car  when I stopped and drove off with it up there, never to be seen again. I passed student teaching anyway!

Car #3-1968 Plymouth Valiant- brand new- dark green.  Served me well- great dependable, practical car but small. Started really liking Chrysler products by then and Car #4 was I think a 1970 Dodge Dart, hard top convertible (which simply meant there was no bar between the front window and the back window).  Light green with a white top.  Loved that car too, but by then the family was growing and we had problems with the Dart so we traded it in for a used Buick Wildcat.  Monster in power and L A R G E.  From there we moved on to used cars rebuilt by my neighbor across the street.  We had 2 Volkswagon 411 station wagons which were constantly breaking down and in his garage for repair and then 2 Chevrolet Citations.  Nice roomy cars but not as gigantic as the Wildcat.  Those were cars 5 through 8.

My dad passed in 1975, so after that point we expanded our catalog of vehicles to non American made cars. The first was a Toyota Tercel Hatchback.  Fun little guy, great on gas, followed by a sequence of Honda Civics.  Drivers in the family were beginning to expand both in girth and number  and the Hondas were a little tight and therefore passed down to the kids.  I moved up to a Nissan Sentra Wagon, my first 4 wheel drive vehicle. and then from there moved on to a Nissan Frontier, their small pick up. From there to a Nissan Xterra which was a great car.  By then I had retired from teaching and opened our Bed and Breakfast in Woodstock, Vermont.  I needed a workhorse for the inn and switched to a Daytona Pickup and eventually to my all time love of a vehicle- a Jeep.

I needed a car that we could lug things in for the inn but I had had enough of pick ups.  I had developed a relationship with our local Chrysler/Jeep dealership and the salesman, Don, knew me better than I knew myself.  He called me and said they had a new product coming out that he thought I would like.  He was right, the 4 door Jeep Wrangler.  It was the size of a pick up but had the comfort of a passenger vehicle.  I had a supernatural experience when I sat in it.  I had to have it.  That was in 2009. Each year new features were added to make it even better, sound systems, heated steering wheels and seats. Traded up to a 2011, lifetime extended warrantee, who could pass these things up?  Stereo radio with free Sirius/XM radio, navigation system, blue tooth, then 2015 Wrangler then followed by a 2018 Jeep Wrangler Sahara.  This is the best car I have even had!  It greets me when I approach by blinking its lights hello to me, and unlocks my doors so I don’t have to put my packages down to get inside.  On cold days it starts while I am still in the house and warms my seat and steering wheel so by the time I get in it,  it is cozy and comfortable.  Who could ask for anything more?  Oh wait, that’s Toyota!  Scratch that last line.  And the best part is everywhere I go friends wave at me with that special wave and sometimes when I go to get in my Jeep there is a little rubber duckee waiting for me!  How cool is that?

P.S.- During our Zoom call Wally and Henry reminded me that I had a few more cars than I described.  Somehow I totally overlooked them during the writing of this piece.  While driving through Europe in 2008 in our little rented Smart car, I fell in love with this tiny little motor car that got incredible gas mileage and felt like you were wearing a glove while driving through the beautiful country side. I said to my partner driving this little toy, how cool it would be to have one in Vermont.  At that point they weren’t available in the States but I just never forgot how cool it was driving around in this cozy, comfortable pretend vehicle.  But shortly after returning home it was announced that the 2009 Smart car would be available in the States through the Mercedes Benz Company beginning in the Fall of 2009.  I could not contain myself and justified ordering one to complement my new Jeep so that we could scoot around Vermont   and conserve gas.  We drove that little guy everywhere.  And I felt like a big man owning two vehicles!  Two years later when I was turning in my 2009 Jeep for a brand new Wrangler, a guest at the inn offered to buy the Smart car at a price I couldn’t turn down.  That January we were in our condo in Florida and going through one of the malls and on display was this beautiful Fiat Cinque Cento in Red with a white racing stripe down the middle of it and it called my name.  I drove it back from Florida in absolute comfort.  To make a long story short, when I turned in my 2011 Wrangler in 2013, once again in Florida I turned in my little red Fiat and purchased a beautiful 2013 Fiat 500 S, which was a station wagon in a dark racing green.  Kept that little beauty until we sold the inn and I traded in both the Fiat and the 2013 Wrangler for my  2015 Jeep Wrangler which I kept until I purchased my present Jeep that I absolutely love and will probably keep for a long time to come.  But I can’t emphasize how much I loved touring the country side in those tiny, 5 speed standard transmission little European roadsters.  That was during my second childhood and I am much more mature now and no longer need as many toys as I did back then.

Arc de Triumph

I really enjoyed Hen and George’s recollection about their vehicles – and I hope to ride in Hen’s cybertruck one day, assuming Elon actually delivers one after all this time! Spurred on by my two old compatriots, I created a list of cars/trucks/vans that I have owned: eighteen up to the present day. How do you write about each of those machines which have provided immense freedom — and sometimes, immense headaches? I think I’ll just focus on one of them – the first!

Before doing that, I need to give a shoutout to my father, who really knew how to pick cars with panache… and could actually fix them as well. This is kind of a backstory to the car he gifted me when I was a college sophomore. My Dad loved British sportscars, so my growing years were spent as a passenger in a variety of British imports: MGA, Austin Healy MK2, TR4, and finally – the epitome – a 1961 XK150 jaguar drophead coupe convertible. The XK150 was a short-lived specimen which bridged the XK140 to the XKE classic sportscar. XK is the Jaguar motor type and the 150 was the miles per hour of the max speed. White with red leather seats and wire wheels, it sounded like a pocket jet engine… I remember being awestruck looking at the speedometer where the 80-mph marker appeared at the middle of the gauge!

Thanks to my Dad I went to my senior prom driving a 1961 Cadillac convertible (which I drove over a median on the way to the restaurant) and departed our marriage ceremony in a 1964 ½ Mustang (which my buddies decorated with white shoe polish). I was a living testimony to his trust – and patience.

Eventually, I inherited the 1963 TR4 – and like Hen – really enjoyed this ride. The TR4 was a step up from the MGA, which featured canvas convertible top and side curtains attached with snaps. The Triumph engine evolved from tractor motors and required constant tuning. While my father and brother dedicated a portion of each weekend to home auto shop skills, my interests lay elsewhere. Cars have always seemed magical to me (how on earth do they work?) and I fully appreciated the magic carpet ride of the TR, particularly up the hairpin turn approaching Mohonk Mountain House, where George learned to drive – what exhilaration! Until the door wouldn’t shut, or the engine wouldn’t start. Luckily, Dad and Bro would fix the window track and replace the burned exhaust valve – and other ailments brought on by my clueless mistakes. 

The TR served me well through college. Once I went to the parking area behind my dorm to find that someone had pried out my gas cap and filler tube! I did remember seeing a TR3 driving around with a rag in the gas tank (a rolling Molotov cocktail). Accompanied by my friend Gube, we drove around college parking spaces until I spotted it – with a new filler cap, which looked remarkably like mine. I confess to prying it out with a long screwdriver and replacing it in my vehicle – does that constitute theft or auto repair?

Well, my British Racing Green TR lasted right up to my first day at a real job in 1970. We drove from Long Island to our new apartment. Linda held our infant son in her lap the entire trip (infant car seats were not mandated until 1986 and the TR had only had jump seats in the back). We pulled into the parking lot and the steering wheel actually disengaged from the linkage. At that moment we realized it was time for a safer, more practical car (which turned out to be a hair-raising saga with a $400 VW411 squareback – a story for another day). 

You can never forget your first love – and I have kept the original gearshift knob and instruction book from my heroic TR!

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