By KIM POINDEXTER
When I was in college, several of my Indian friends liked to joke about old clunker cars. They insisted if you passed a house with a car up on blocks in the yard, it was probably an “Indian” house. I don’t agree, though. They’ve accepted that stereotype just because a lot of folks who live in this part of the world are, to one degree or another, Indian.
My theory is cars on blocks are a geographical indicator, rather than a racial or ethnic one. If you’re driving along and you see a car on blocks, you’ve probably crossed into Cherokee County – and the homeowner could be red or yellow, black or white. So could the car, which must be precious in the sight of its owner, or he wouldn’t be so loathe to part with it.
My husband is mostly Italian, but he has a vehicle up on blocks in our shed: his beloved 1980 Toyota pickup, or what’s left of it. When I met him in fall 1981, it was still a cute little yellow contraption with racing stripes, but it already had a cracked windshield. From time to time, his friends would rub a bar of soap over the cracks to annoy him when it rained. As time, rough treatment and various mishaps took their toll, the pickup evolved into its current physical state: a primer-black cab, with a wooden flatbed and a ratty interior. There are no tires, and if there were, they would be flat. The transmission is gone – not unworkable, but literally gone – and my husband has several times run off rats nesting under the hood.
Despite its sad condition, my husband refuses to get rid of this truck. When he was in his 30s and 40s, he claimed he planned to “rebuild it” when he retired. Now that he’s in his 50s and getting closer to retirement, he no longer tries to pass off that excuse. Now he says he wants to “get something out of it.” At first, I thought he wanted to retrieve an item inside the cab – like our son’s baby car seat – and was just procrastinating. Then I realized he actually thought it might be worth something. So when we planned to donate to NPR my 1997 Chevy Lumina – which had been a nice family car until our son ran it into the ground his first couple of years at OU – I suggested the Toyota accompany it on its journey. My husband shouted, “NO!” Voice trembling, he explained he wasn’t ready to part with it yet.
He seems paranoid I’ll try to get rid of it behind his back, like wives in horror stories about men who go “off to war” and come back to find their garages empty and their tools sold. I called him while I was writing this and asked him what year the Toyota was manufactured, and he told me, but then asked suspiciously, “Why do you want to know?” He said he was hoping someone wanted to buy it. Fat chance – either that someone would want to buy it, or that he would sell it to anyone who did.
What is it with men and their cars?
The mantra about fixing up vehicles during retirement was one I’d heard before. My father had a white 1962 Comet about which he said the same thing. As far as I know, that hulk is still resting in his yard, though my dad has been retired over 10 years and has better things to do – like riding bicycles – than restore what his kids and their friends once called “The Vomit.”
To us kids, The Vomit was a junker from day one. It always looked frumpy, because its white paint showed all the dust collected on our dirt road, and the interior was kind of a grayish-brown. But the bulk of its dowdy countenance owed to its lack of an air conditioner, and the floppy “four-on-the-floor” link transmission that kept an inexperienced driver guessing about what gear the thing was in.
The Vomit was the only car I was allowed to drive in high school. My friends, who remember the rattling noises and holes in the floorboard, would only condescend to be seen in the humiliating heap if their own cars were on the fritz. My friends, of course, drove things like glamorous powder-blue Montego convertibles, snazzy lemon-yellow Fiats, and sporty Mustangs with vinyl tops or fastbacks, and a brazen little Mazda that backfired on command.
Our school newspaper had a feature called “Bomb of the Month,” but this honor was never bestowed upon The Vomit, even though I was on the newspaper staff. I always suspected “Bomb of the Month” was a title reserved for the cars of popular kids, kind of like homecoming royalty, and I was never that popular.
About the only good thing about The Vomit was its occasional source of unexpected revenue. Because it was notoriously difficult to drive, I often won bets against blustering male classmates who always insisted they had the skills to handle the car. Most of them couldn’t even get it in gear, much less make it move forward, so they’d reluctantly hand over a buck or two that was likely intended for a can of Skoal.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the ‘62 Comet on the Internet, and now know the reason we intuited it was a junker from birth: It was originally conceived as an Edsel model. I also see that it’s a classic, and if in mint condition, it could bring you around $8,000. The Vomit’s condition is about as mint as one of those metal slugs we used to try to fool pop machines with.
I haven’t looked up the Toyota, and probably won’t. I see no reason to upset my husband. Especially if we learn the cinderblocks are worth more than the truck.
Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.