Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Kite and other crappy cars

One might think that based on the posts so far that I must be a Renault fan and maybe the title of the Blog should be “My life with Renaults”. But the truth is, in our experience, in the good old U.S of A, they have not been the best, most reliable cars. Now things have changed of course and there are many a Clio RenaultSport 200 Cup and Megane RS Turbo that might help to sway ones opinion, but back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, they were in a word….crap.

Case in point, my Mom ended up with a…you guessed it, a Renault 8, burgundy with tan vinyl interior. But this one was special. See, my Mom could not drive a manual, so she got one with an automatic, probably only one of a handful in the whole country (and for good reason…). It had some buttons to the left on the cream colored Bakelite steering wheel. In theory, the driver pushed one of the buttons, maybe the one marked “D” for Drive, and once again in theory, the car moved forward. Well it did move forward but at such a slow pace as to fool many people into believing that it was in fact standing very still. Top speed - 50 MPH, but only after several minutes of nail biting full throttle acceleration, with rasping sounds emanating from the rear of the car made by something approximating an engine, making furtive enginey noises. We believed it had the potential to reach 60 MPH, but only when travelling downhill on a very steep hill with a very strong tail wind pushing. It was in a word…crap.

In ’71, my Mom and Step-Dad split and my Mom decided to move back to Missouri. I went on ahead to stay with my Grandmother and finish out the school year, and she drove the distance from NYC to St. Louis with my Aunt. They piled a load of belongings in the front trunk, placed our dog (who had a tendency to puke every time she rode in a car) in the back and started out on what was a perilous journey. First few miles - dog puked. They stopped, cleaned up the puke and continued on. Second stretch of a few miles - dog puked. They stopped, cleaned up the puke and continued on. Third stretch of a few miles - dog did not puke as she had nothing left in her stomach. Much relieved, they continued on and miracle of miracles, the rest of the trip the dog did not puke again. Moral to this part of the story…if you let the dog eventually get all it puke out of its system, they will not get sick ever again in the car….I think. In fact the dog loved going for rides in a car for the rest of her life. I guess she just had to get over her motion sickness. Go figure…

I digress - they continued on and were passed by every car and truck on the highway. That’s easy when the top speed of the Renault is 50 MPH and the Speed Limit on the highway is 70 MPH. They especially watched and prepared for when Semi’s roared past, as the wind in their wake made the Renault sway violently back and forth on the road. So much so that my Mom said that it felt as if they were in a kite, being blown by every tiny breeze…going whichever way the wind took it. The name stuck. One of the tricks they learned was that if they got in between two Semi’s, my Mom could take her foot off the accelerator a little and kind of coast along, being sucked along by the truck in front and push by the air pressure zone of the truck behind. Brilliant…if a tiny bit dangerous. Please kids, do not try this trick at home, it only worked in the early 70’s with underpowered foreign cars shaped like bricks.

We had other crappy cars during this period. Maybe it was God’s way of teaching me patience. Maybe one day I would own a great car, but the early to mid 70’s was not the time. After the Kite expired, my mom somehow found a 1957 Plymouth Fury 2-door coupe. This bad boy was two tone blue; the body a medium blue that had turned to splotchy slate gray and a dark blue top that had the aftermarket accent color of rust poking through in several strategic spots…like everywhere. It was an automatic (of course) and had this multi-colored blue vinyl interior that was so rough it wore holes in your clothing. It was the kind of awful 50’s woven plastic fabric that insured you never wore shorts. If you did, by the end of the trip, you had rash.

But the worst part? The smoke, copious amounts of smoke. It was a deep dark gray odious fume, belching out of the single tail pipe. So much so, that if you saw it you might say to yourself…”Geez, how does that piece of crap stay on the road?” I thought the same thing, as I sank lower in the seat every time we came to a stop light. Billowing clouds of smoke surrounding not only us, but every other nearby car. I prayed for an invisibility shield to make me invisible. We did actually have it…it was called a smoke screen, a clever option really. The car had a nickname too. But as there may be children reading this blog, I cannot reprint it here….email me and I will tell you. If you are of appropriate age that is.

It had one more enduring trick. During cold weather, the battery could not hold a charge and needed to be jump started. My Mom was smart, she spent $50 (the amount of annual dues back then) and joined the Triple A and one of the benefits was that they would give you a jumpstart up to two times per day. So she would call before she went to work and they would come by and jumpstart the car. As a matter of fact, they just started coming by our house every morning, anticipating the call. And if the afternoon, she would call again. They would greet her by name and ask if she was at work or someplace else. And they would dutifully come by and jump the car for the second time of the day. Such service! And for $50 too! It probably did not hurt that my mom was (and still is!) very attractive. But still, I think they may have lost money on that deal.

The ’57 Fury died. Maybe the great car pasture in the sky had called it home. Or maybe it was just the junk yard at the edge of town. Either way; the Fury and its smoke, its leg chaffing interior and its yards of rust where out of my life. So we upgraded to a 1965 Pontiac Bonneville 4-door. This one was a nice medium blue too, and actually the color had held up pretty well. My Mom bought it from my Uncle and he had called it Old Blue, the name stuck. It was an okay car, it ran reasonably well and was the size of a small state; a small state that was trying to annex a couple of counties from the state next door. It was huge. My Aunt said that the trunk was so big; a family could live in the back. Thankfully, we did not have to test that theory. But it was an old car in a new time and by now I was a teenager. I was most embarrassed by it and asked my Mom to drop me off several blocks away from school, so my friends did not have to see me get out. She had offered to take me in the Fury too. But I always declined the offer; I would rather walk the 6 miles in the snow, uphill, both ways.

Until next time.

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