From Ragged Top to Riches

Driving old junkers when you're young makes you appreciate the luxury of a car with actual upholstery on the seats when you are older.

Back a hundred and fifty years ago, when I worked for DeKalb County, and the law was passed that young drivers going 24 or more miles per hour lost their licenses, I noticed a trend.

Every single one of thee super duper speedy quick teenagers drove a nicer car than I did. At the time (late '90s, early 2000s), I drove a 1994 champagne colored Geo Prizm. Manual transmission. Yeah. Sexy. You know you're jealous. I loved that car, and might actually still be driving it if a guy who thought dialing his wife was more important than actually looking out of the front windshield and totalled my car for me while I was six months pregnant in 2001. 

Don't worry, I was fine, in fact, whatever was wrong with my back suddenly was no longer wrong with my back. The knucklehead apparently properly re-adjusted my spine. But that's a story for another day.

I didn't own a car of my own until I was 21 and I moved to the Atlanta area. In college I just rode a bike, walked, took the bus or bummed a ride. In high school, I lived in a place that had public transportation that took you pretty much anywhere you wanted to go. Plus, the landscape was completely flat, so you could ride a bicycle for miles without breaking too much of a sweat.

When I was at home with my parents, there was a car that I could usually use. It was a sparkly green 1974 Dodge Swinger, with a white vinyl hardtop. Well, the hardtop used to be white. At this point it was sparse and gray and curled up in flakes that flapped in the breeze like an old man's hair while he drives his mid-life-crisis convertible. The green sparkly vinyl that covered the bench seats was mostly gone. We used old sheets to cover the foam to protect our clothes from getting foam balls all over them. 

Since we lived near the beach, anything with trace elements of metal rusted to dust almost instantly. Therefore, the metal floorboards were all but non-existent, so you could watch the road go by as you drove. We covered the floor with leftover vinyl sheets from when we redid the kitchen. And that car started every time I asked it to and I could drive five of my friends wherever we wanted to go (so long as we didn't want to drive more than 55 - what torque that car had! 0-60 in three and a half hours!

The car I bought when I was 21 was my grandfather's cast-off 1985 Oldsmobile Delta 88. That thing was like two plush sofas on wheels. It got about three miles to the gallon. The hood was so enormous that if I drove up a hill with more than a 20 degree incline, it blocked the windshield and I coudn't see anything. 

I drove that car until the transmission took a dive. Then I bought the aforementioned Geo. It was not long after I graduated from law school. I was so proud of that car. It was shiny new and mine, all mine. I researched Consumer Reports, paid for the whole thing, negotiated with the salesman, insured it, financed it, and drove it all by myself. It was truly a day of mourning the day it got irretrievably smushed. I still get misty eyed just thinking about that car. By that time I was married and pregnant, so we exchanged it for a 2001 Toyota Sienna minivan which we still own and drive to this day.  

Which brings me back to one in a long series of my fist shaking, fuddy duddy rants about kids these days. As I said, these kids driving 79 or more miles per hour all drove cars nicer than my several years old Geo Prizm. Who was giving these kids brand new BMWs or even Hondas? Well, duh. Their parents.

My kids aren't yet of driving age, but a number of my friends have children who drive and when I handle divorces, very often we deal with who is going to pay for the children's car payments. 

I know it is easy for me to sit up here looking at the view from my high horse when I’m not there yet, but, excuse me? Who is going to pay for the children's car payments? I know that I appear to be in a tiny minority of people who have this opinion, and I know this will likely make a great number of my friends angry, and I hereby give everyone reading this the right to throw this in my face in five years if/when I cave and buy my son a car because I really want him to have side curtain air bags, but why are parents obligated to finance a vehicle for their children? Are we not in enough debt just buying them food and sneakers? Do our children not deserve the pride that comes from working for and achieving a goal? 

We complain about a generation that feels like it is entitled to everything it desires at the same time we work overtime and go into debt to hand over a vehicle to someone who hasn't done anything to earn it but simply exist. And let's just say that your kid is a football star or busy with the theater and doesn't have time to get a job and maintain grades. And you really really really need your kid to drive himself to practice. So why can't you buy whatever 2013s equivalent of a reliable but rusted fifteen year old Dodge Swinger is?

Maybe I'm just jealous of these kids, since I had to work for what I had. Then again, maybe I'm just grateful my parents made me do for myself, and I fear for the future in the hands of people who think owning a car they won't be able to afford on their own for years is as much a necessary and inevitable part of growing up as body hair and acne. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go to work so I can afford my car payments for my three-year-old Honda. 

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Lori Duff February 19, 2013 at 06:44 PM
I would love to hear everyone's description of the junkers they drove as teenagers.
Joann Ellstein February 19, 2013 at 07:18 PM
I shared a rusted out, pee-green Ford Pinto Wagon with my brother, and t was OLD.....from the 70's. You know the kind that would explode on the slightest rear impact, but was not recalled by the manufacturer. My aunt/uncle gave it to my mom for us go use as she had just gotten divorced and was struggling to make ends meet.
Sharon Swanepoel February 19, 2013 at 07:27 PM
My first car was a mini minor that I paid R450 for - the equivalent of less than $50 here at the current exchange rate. The grill in the front gave great access to rain so it cut out every time it rained. I had to jump out and spray WD 40 on it in order to get back on the road. Needless to say, on raining days I always arrived at work looking like a drowned rat! Ahh, those were the days.
Amie Ray Davis February 19, 2013 at 07:32 PM
I had a VW Cabriolet convertible. Now I have a VW New Beetle convertible. Much hasn't changed for me!
Grant February 19, 2013 at 07:56 PM
I bought a shiny black 1970 Triumph GT6+ for my first car in the spring of 1983 http://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/1921_1065374921027_415_n.jpg Had it about a year before I wrecked it. Bought a shell of a 69 GT6+ from a junkyar and used the remaining good parts from the wreck to rebuild the junkyard rescue http://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ash4/1921_1065375401039_4945_n.jpg And thus a lifelong habit of tinkering with and building sportscars was born
Jane Okrasinski February 19, 2013 at 07:59 PM
I am a bigger fuddy-duddy than you, My son had to get a job and pay his share of the insurance premium, before he could get his learner's permit. He lived, but he still doesn't own a car. Instead he lives in Brooklyn. My first car was a 1970 Renault 16, which I bought in 1974 when I was a senior in college. It had seats more comfy than a Lazy Boy and handled Illinois winter without snow tires.
Pam Reich Hopper February 19, 2013 at 08:52 PM
My first car was a 1971 red Ford Galaxy 500 with a black vinyl top in 1977. You could put at least 2 bodies in the trunk. My dad traded services with his friend and brought this beast home and told me I had to pay half. Say what? I didn't even get to pick it out! My girlfriends nick named my car RB (the red bomb). The gas gauge didn't work and it had a cracked heater core so you can imagine what fun I had driving this thing.
Sharon Swanepoel February 19, 2013 at 10:28 PM
Pam, I'm almost scared to ask how you found out that those two bodies could fit in the trunk. :)
Pam Reich Hopper February 19, 2013 at 10:53 PM
ha! it's a car the mafia should drive:)
Good Grief Y'all February 20, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I had a used '61 (I think) Chevy Bel Aire, 2 door white with red interior. Not a junker as it was pretty sporty and in nice condition. But I left it at home for the first year so my mother could use it while I took the bus to my ATL job. I felt it was really only mine on the weekend.
Candi February 20, 2013 at 04:49 PM
1980 blue Datsun 210 hatchback with no a/c (I lived in Florida) and no functioning radio (we used a boom box that the front seat passenger had to hold). I guess it was only 1988, so I am not entirely sure why those parts didn't work. But that is what I got to drive!
Chris P February 21, 2013 at 09:44 PM
I bought my first car new (73 Pinto) while still in the service. Unfortunately within a year it got totaled in an accident.
Lori Duff February 25, 2013 at 03:45 PM
Lots of Pintos out there. Hmmmmm. By the way, my Dad informs me that it was Dart, not a Swinger, but it did look exactly like the picture I posted, except ours had tires.


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