April 16, 2007
Whatever Happened To
Crappy Kid Cars?
Driving by the high school parking lot last week, I was struck by the
fact that every vehicle sitting out there could be clearly and easily
distinguished from a pile of scrap metal. Most of them were newer than
the car I drive. A few were newer than the oil in the car I
What’s up with that?
first car was a 1961 Buick LeSabre. I paid $50 for it, more than two
month’s take-home from my job washing dishes in a family restaurant. The
car was big – the front and back bumpers were nearly always in different
zip codes. It had a huge V8 engine, but since it weighed slightly more
than a truckload of bulldozers, it wasn’t very fast. Of course, every
day I drove my Buick it got a little bit lighter, as bits of trim and
apparently unneeded engine parts fell off.
have never had, nor do I expect ever to have, a possession that I loved
Buick was two-toned when I got it – beige and rust. The first thing I
did was wash more dishes, save up another couple of month’s pay, slap a
little Bondo into the rust holes, and take my Buick down for a $49.95
paint job. It was not lost on me that the car was worth exactly one
nickel more than the paint.
The new color I chose was a sort of leprechaun-on-an-acid-trip green, so
my friends immediately co-opted the Simon and Garfunkel song and named
my car the “Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine.” This was a tribute to
the fact that we could go just about anywhere with eight kids stuffed
into the big bench seats. For trips to the drive-in movie, we could pack
another two or three (four or five if they were girls and had skipped
supper) in the trunk.
After a few more mountains of clean dishes, I treated the BBGPM to the
ultimate touch of class - an eight-track tape player, mounted in the
glove box so passers-by wouldn’t covet it and be tempted to steal it,
along with two massive black surface-mount speakers screwed to the rear
deck. If you turned the volume and the bass all the way up, you could
use the vibrations from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida to liquefy a
The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine burned a lot of gas, but back then
gas was cheap – even for a guy grossing 80 cents an hour. It also burned
a lot of oil, so we carried a case of 10W-40 in the trunk, and we were
always followed by a friendly trail of blue smoke. During the hundred
thousand miles I put on that car, I never got around to replacing the
The engine sang with a deep, throaty growl, owing to the fact that the
exhaust system had been entirely replaced by “muffler bandages” and duct
tape wrapped around the remnants of rusted pipes and baffles. A beer can
jammed behind the left headlight held it in place, since any metal in
the area that could possibly hold a screw (or duct tape) had
I looked across the shining ranks of 21st Century kid cars
outside the high school, all of them with treads on the tires and
fully-functioning head lights, I had a vision of the Big Bright Green
Pleasure Machine rumbling into that parking lot, loaded with eight kids
(since we weren’t going to the drive-in theater) and smoking like a crop
duster, with Iron Butterfly shaking the sheet metal and setting off car
alarms. And I could not help wondering if these kids with their
comfortable, reliable rides might just be missing something.
ght © 2007, Michael Ball
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© 2007 Michael Ball.
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