This afternoon I pick up a new car.
And in doing so, I say goodbye to Club Protege.
My first car was when I turned 17. It was an ’85 Renault Alliance. It was beige, I think, and was very stained and sad and scary. The speedometer didn’t work. Once you hit 45 MPH, it would kick in and point the needle at 98 (the highest number on the dial) and would make an noise like you were revving the engine. The seats didn’t recline, but rather worked like one of those chairs that lift you when your knees give out. The heater smelled like maple syrup. The stereo didn’t work, and a friend of mine offered to fix it. He removed the entire front panel to get to it, and never was able to put the panel back on correctly. We would sing in the car instead. The battery would die every other week. We’d jump the car, charge the battery, and it would die again. We’d buy new batteries, but they’d still die.
All of those things I could put up with, but when the brakes were failing, I got scared.
Initially you’d hit the brake and it would just fall all the way to the floor. The car wouldn’t slow down at all. You’d have to feverishly pump the brake pedal and eventually it would click with something and jerk the car to a stop. The emergency brake was used in quick-stop situations.
I told my father that my brakes were failing, and described the “pump action” I was using to stop the car.
He told me that my cylinder needed “re-pumping” and that he had the perfect solution.
He wanted me to drive the car backwards and pump the brake, which would reset the cylinder.
“Whatever, Ferris,” I said. “I’m not driving home backwards.”
“Pamela, I’m serious. You pump the cylinder back up when you do that.”
“Dad. I’ve fallen for many of your tricks. I thought that the reflectors on the street were so the blind could drive. I thought a landshark ripped through downtown Palm Springs, chewing on poodles and killing innocent blondes in bikinis. I even for just a quick second thought that the number of spots on a dalmatian signified how long the dog was to live. But this, I’m not buying. I’m not driving backwards.”
My father has a look that he gives when he’s not lying at all. His eyes widen, and his mouth opens, just a bit. Usually his fingers will extend and his arms will go out, just a bit. The look says, “How could you even think for a second that I would deceive you? What do I have to gain by lying? I’m kind of insulted that you would think so lowly of me.”
The problem is that my dad is also good at faking this look when he really is lying.
If you still call him on lying after he’s delivered this look, you enter into Phase Two of dad’s “I am not a liar” dance. The mouth snaps shut. The hands come back down to rest on the chair. He usually kicks the recliner back up, and snaps the television on. He’ll stop looking at you and merely say, “Fine. Do whatever. You’re just going to do what you want, and if you don’t want my help, then that’s fine. See ya.”
This is the point where you have to do whatever it is, because you’re getting close to being grounded.
I drove the car to the end of my street, right by the stop sign. I stopped the car, took a deep breath, and popped it into reverse.
I try and imagine what my father’s point of view on this scene was, and how I’ll eventually film it one day. Dad walked out to the front lawn just as I was passing at thirty-five miles an hour, my head cranked sharply to the left behind me, trying not to hit any of the cars parked in the street. A wild look was in my eyes, and the scream that he heard as I drove past must have been:
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaah noOOO BREAKS IN REVERRRRRRsssseeeeeee aaaaaaaaaaaaa!”
I stopped the car by slowing down and bumping the curb of a neighbor’s yard.
I walked back to my dad, standing on the lawn with his hand on his chin.
“Were you really pumping the brake?” Dad asked.
“Dad, I can’t feel my knee, I was pumping so hard.”
“You wanna try it?”
Sometimes things work out just in your favor. Sometimes you get to see that “Well, I’d like to see him try it” image that you just secretly cackle over. Dad must have really convinced himself that this was the way to fix the brake problem, because he took the keys and walked over to the car.
I ran inside the house.
“Ma! Dad’s gonna drive backwards in my car with no brakes because he doesn’t believe me!”
“Oooh! Oooh! Let me see!”
My mother and I watched my dad drive all the way down the street and slowly stop the car by the stop sign. You could stop the car if you were going very slowly. You had to grind the pedal like you were putting out a cigarette. It was once the car was going over twenty that you couldn’t stop.
I do wish I had a picture of my dad’s face as the car was traveling backwards down our street. He was looking back and forth, down and up, forward and backward, with a look of concentration on his face that was screaming with, “Don’t let them know that I think I’m about to be killed, here.”
He hit the curb with the back of the car much harder than I did. He calmly walked out of the car, walked over to me, handed me the keys and said, “You should get the car looked at. There’s something wrong with the brakes.”
He went inside, and there was never another word spoken about it since.
Club Protege entered my life graduation week of 1993. We couldn’t afford to send me to the schools I had been accepted to (dad’s reasoning), and with a car I could come home and visit more often (mom’s reasoning). I was just happy to have a responsive brake pedal.
And this afternoon, when I drive home from work, it’s going to be the last time I spend with Club Protege.
I have to admit, I’m a little sad. Sure, I’ve been angry with this car, but it’s been with me for a long time, my entire “adult” life. It’s seen me grow up.
It’s seen all of my moods. It’s watched me scream and laugh and joke and talk on the phone. I sing at the top of my lungs and cry until I lose my voice in there. I’ve gripped the wheel in anger, and driven with my knee in distraction. I’ve made incredible friends in there. Just me and a new friend, sitting in the dark in a parking lot, getting closer and closer inside the safety of Club Protege. I’ve fogged up the windows. I’ve kicked that one spot where the panelling falls over three hundred times.
I’ve change fuses, tires, horns, seat belts, windshields, windows, mirrors, lightbulbs, batteries, brake pads, alternator belts, radiators, air filters, and cassette tapes. I’ve busted out the speakers. I’ve smoked thousands of cigarettes. I’ve hauled props, costumes, kids, pets, balloons, mulch, hay, furniture, and an entire dorm room. I’ve been stopped for a ticket once. I’ve been pulled over three times.
I’ve driven too fast, and fallen asleep in that car. I shivered in that car. I sweat in that car. I’ve kissed and touched and held and snuggled in there. I’ve been surprised with songs on the radio. I’ve talked to that car. I decorated it. There are things in there that remind me of other people. There’s a sticker on the mirror that Jessica put up there the last time I saw her. A postcard from my mother telling me that she loves me. A photograph of me and ericajackson.com. A clip-on Tigger gift. A medallion that Chuy and Cathy gave me for good luck. Cassette tapes from my elementary school. Eric’s shoes. Glitter from when Andi, Rebecca and I would drive places. A Spice Girls sticker and Bill Cosby’s smile left by stee. There’s a groove in the dashboard from where my ex-boyfriend would always rest his shoe when I drove somewhere. There are stains on the backseat from trips to the lake or the waterpark– piling wet friends back in for the ride home.
The smell is familiar. The sound is familiar. It has been a representation of me. The Breeders sticker that long fell off. The UT sticker. The kitty cat sticker. The melted parking registration from an old boyfriend’s apartment complex. That car kept me safe in some of the worst parts of Houston. That car saved me from the Blair Witch. It started when I had to leave in a hurry. It saved our lives with its responsiveness that time someone stopped their car in front of mine, and I weaved out of the way in traffic. I’ve never been in an accident in that car. When something broke, I’d fix it. And when I was broke, it’d patiently hum along and listen as I cried and yelled and dripped snot and tears all along its interior.
It’s my car. It’s always been my car. And I’ve never had to drive it backwards to get it to stop moving.
Getting it to start, however, is a different story.
We’ve been together for a long time, but I think it’s time to let Club Protege move on and be with someone else. Maybe some young girl just getting out of high school will get it to take her from here to Houston for a couple of years while she’s just starting out. Maybe she needs Club Protege to learn the importance of air conditioning and automotive maintenance. Maybe she needs a cute little car that is relatively sound-proof to find out what it’s like to hold a boy, or laugh with a girl, or find out if she can sing. Maybe she needs a car that can help her move into her very first apartment. A car that takes her to the bank to open her first checking account. A car that can drive her very quickly away from her first bad date. A car that doesn’t mind getting orange juice spilled all over it. A patient car that knows she’s got a heavy brake foot and sometimes forgets to put down the emergency brake. A patient car that might never have that side mirror replaced.
A car that is always ready to hold more memories.
Goodbye, Club Protege. Thanks for being my friend and my constant for the past seven years. I’ll never forget you. You outlived everything else in my life during that time. You saw me through a lot. Here’s hoping your next adventure is just as rewarding.
But just in case, I may leave that Weezer tape in the glove compartment for you. I know how much you love to jam out to it.
Stay chrome, Club Pro.