When I talk about my first car, I actually mean my second car. My literal first car was a 2001 Toyota Celica that my parents surprised me with outside of my job when I was seventeen. Her name was Emma. She had bright cherry red paint and rhinestone seat covers on the front seats. She lasted all of seven weeks before I turned left at a stop sign and got t-boned by a Ford Explorer going 40 in a 25.
So we don’t really talk about Emma.
My second car, and by that I mean my first (real) car, was a 1994 Chevrolet Cavalier. Not exactly an upgrade, but Dad was furious about my terrible driving skills putting his money to waste so I was left to buy a replacement car with my own money scraped up from my minimum wage job at the local grocery store. The steering wheel was a lot stiffer and took two hands to turn, there was no CD player, and the air conditioning didn’t work – not to mention it wasn’t quite the eye candy Emma was. My friends loved to make fun of me but that was okay, because I was the only one of us with a car at the time so that automatically made me cooler than them.
Her name was Baby Blue, named creatively for the color of her paint: a shiny, shimmery turquoise.
I drove Baby Blue for eight years, during which I by and large hated her. She was ugly and she was constantly breaking down. I felt like she was a vengeful spirit haunting me, purposely forcing me to dump more and more money into fixing her millions of problems so that I could never save up to buy a better car.
I finally got my first Adult Car (read: a lease) last year, which meant passing off Baby Blue to someone else – a friend’s little sister. I expected something like a mix of relief and excitement to finally be rid of this cursed car, but instead I ended up getting these little pangs of…something…as I cleaned her out for the last time before I handed her over.
Now I realize that those were pangs of nostalgia and maybe a little bit of sadness, because as much as I always loved to whine and complain and blame absolutely everything on her, the truth is I loved Baby Blue. She was my first car and I’d grown attached, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. She may have had her shortcomings and downright voodoo hexes, but she was a great car.
Here are the five things I loved about her.
She was fast.
Being a snot nosed teen in high school, my logic was that the cooler a car looked, the faster it was. “Downgrading” to the Cavalier made me worry about maxing out at 40mph on the highway or possibly exploding if I dared press too hard on the gas. But something I didn’t know about Baby Blue is that she had a 4-cylinder engine, and she was a peppy little thing despite her age. It wasn’t long until I got a taste for adrenaline and soon all the time and money Dad had invested into that defensive driving course after The Emma Incident had gone to waste. Reckless teens + fast cars = bad news bears.
Luckily, this time around I didn’t total the car. Baby Blue survived through my teens until I realized that driving like I was an extra in The Fast and The Furious wasn’t going to actually land me a spot in the movies. I calmed down eventually, much to the relief of everyone on the road.
She was a beast.
I was not the best mother to Baby Blue. She was in good shape when I bought her – only 60k miles, well maintained, mostly kept in the garage. Original dealership floor mats even included.
By the time I finally traded in Baby Blue for an upgrade she had a total of one rim left on her tires. Her driver side fender had taken a blow in an accident and had been replaced with a black stock part but never repainted. There was a wrinkled dent in the door. The driver side mirror was held on by duct tape. The windows would get stuck when you rolled them down. The speakers were blown out. The passenger side seat wouldn’t lock in place, so whoever was unfortunate enough to call shotgun was in for the ride of their life. The air conditioning didn’t work the entire eight years I owned the car. The gas gauge was stuck on a quarter tank, so I learned to tell when I needed gas by how the car drove…sometimes, I miscalculated and it ended horribly.
The brakes in that car went out once and never fully recovered, no matter how many different auto shops I went to or how much money I dumped into them. White smoke would pour from the hood in the summer for no reason. The check engine light was a permanent fixture in that car. I just considered it ambient lighting.
But somehow throughout all of this, Baby Blue hung on. She may not have thrived, but she definitely survived. And I respect that.
(And yes, the floor mats made it out alive too.)
She was fun.
When she wasn’t busy stalling out in the middle of the street or breaking down on the side of the interstate, Baby Blue was a blast to drive. The nonexistent air conditioning was less of a problem with the windows rolled down speeding down the highway at night. My friends and I were delighted by the retro coolness of the cassette player, opting to scour thrift shops for cassettes and make our own mixtapes instead of just listening to the radio. We slapped stickers all over the dashboard, the mirrors, the steering wheel, anywhere they would stay put. The leather around the horn was old and soft, which let you karate chop it in rapid succession resulting in a hilarious chorus of short, quick honks.
It was always a gamble buckling up because you never knew if it was gonna be a miserable ride or a fun one. But when it was good, it was really, really good.
She was all mine.
The thing about Baby Blue is, I bought her with my hard earned cash and she was mine. My car, to do with whatever I wanted. If that meant I wanted to stick a Hannah Montana sticker on the trunk (that would ultimately never come off), then so be it. If it meant spilling hot chocolate all over the backseat and opting to simply throw some leopard print seat covers on instead of taking a trip to the car wash, then that was my decision. Maybe not a good decision, and maybe one that would come to haunt me when I took the seat covers off six years down the line when it was time to sell the car, but still my decision.
That freedom to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted is something I took for granted. Now that I’m trapped in a lease, I sorely miss it. I’ve become that boring adult who has to slap their friend’s feet off the dashboard, hissing, “It’s a lease!” The plus side is that the friend sitting in the passenger seat no longer has to worry about sliding around and possibly flying out the window or through the windshield, so maybe it’s a fair trade that we should all be thankful for.
She was always there for me.
In a way, Baby Blue kind of grew up with me. She wasn’t there when I was in diapers or anything, but she was there at that coming-of-age period of my life. She was there when I graduated high school. She drove me to the interview for my first adult job. She forced me through my first financial crisis (and the second, and the third…) when she had unexpected breakdowns. She took me on road trips to explore the east coast, tolerated my friends squeezing into her like a clown car, and housed countless numbers of mannequin heads while I was in cosmetology school. Seriously, I would open my trunk and they would just come rolling out. People were horrified.
As I grew up and my friends went away to college out of state and my boyfriends came and went and I moved out of my mom’s house to start my own life, Baby Blue was always a constant in my life. Keeping me grounded. Keeping me completely broke. Keeping me stranded on the side of the highway, waiting three hours for AAA to send out a tow truck.
…But mostly just keeping me grounded.
When I passed Baby Blue off to her next victim, I was up front about all of her issues, problems, curses, and vendettas against anyone who dared to drive her. To my surprise, my potential buyer was totally okay with it all; something about it giving the car “personality” or whatever. And that was just fine by me, because if she came back to me crying about the brake pedal sinking to the floor while she slid right through a stop sign or white smoke flowing out of the hood like the car was turning into a dragon, I could just say, “Hey, I told you all of this and you were cool with it. It gives the car personality.”
But the complaints never came. In fact when I asked around, Baby Blue’s new car mom was happy as ever with her. They apparently had already suffered an empty tank at the hands of the faulty gas gauge, but that was something she’d learn to feel out how much longer she could go without gas, just like I did. I had thrown in my collection of acquired cassettes with the car as a bonus and she already knew all the words to one of the Morrissey ones, even though she’d never even heard of Morrissey before. She’d piled her friends into Baby Blue like a clown car and they drove down to Seaside together for prom weekend, screaming old 80’s music at the top of their lungs with the windows down because the air conditioning still didn’t work.
And hearing it made me smile, because I knew that she would love Baby Blue too.