After the football game Sunday afternoon, they aired a spot about a Redskins player who is still driving his first car. The car was originally purchased from his pastor for $2 for at the beginning of his career. The car continues to be his drive of choice eschewing the shiny luxury models symbolizing success often chosen by high paid sports figures. According to the player the car, with just under 200,000 miles logged, reminds him of how many miles he’s traveled to get to where he is in his career. I like that.
Many cars have come and gone during my lifetime with my name on the title. The first was a graduation gift from my parents as a display of their unbridled joy that between my avid interest in boys and social activities and total lack of interest in education, I had nonetheless somehow managed to graduate from high school. As a vehicle it was a junker really, even by the lowest standards. A 1960 Plymouth Valiant, quite likely a high contender for taking the ribbon in The Ugliest Car Contest for cars manufactured in that decade. White exterior with a flat roof and plump midsection, it was reminiscent in appearance of a pregnant Carmen Ghia. Included in the $100 asking price, was an interior smelling strongly of old stale tobacco and a right hand turn signal which when turned on honked the horn rather than notifying the driver behind you of an impending turn. If it wasn’t for the fact it was a modicum of an improvement over my own two feet I would have driven it off a cliff and put the poor thing out of its misery.
The following year I became engaged. Returning from our honeymoon we invested in a brand new car, a Toyota stick shift. Up until that juncture I was only experienced driving an automatic transmission. The Valiant was to be kept in service until I learned the ins and outs of a stick, a job my new husband had signed up for. This is an endeavor I do not recommend most newlyweds tackle, as it does a great deal to put the “ewwww” in newlywed. Seated in the driver’s seat in an empty parking lot, I was given explicit instructions on the workings of the internal combustion engine, where each of the gears was located and how to get there, the function of the additional pedal known as the clutch, and how to balance clutch and accelerator to move the car forward. Easy peasey. Uh-huh.
Pressing my foot on the accelerator while slowly releasing the clutch, or holding down on the clutch while stepping on the brake. What did you say again? The jerking became so pronounced as the car moved forward my right knee bone ended up under my left ear. My husband, not widely known for patience, was shouting most unflattering things while gesturing frantically for me to stop. Sensing this was not the smooth ride he’d anticipated, I did as I was told removing both feet from the pedals. One last bone relocating heave and the car came to rest. Silence hung over the car for a few minutes while his Lordship gathered his composure.
We continued the lesson with the engine in the off position. I nodded my head to everything and hoped the following lesson would go better. First gear escaped me for some reason. I think the fact the frustration in the car was palpable wasn’t helping my concentration. The following day tiring of the parking lot, we jerkily made our way out into the flow of traffic. Between the “air braking”, clutching of door handles, and sucking of air going on on his side, it’s amazing I made it to the first stop light. In first gear, I chug, chugged us through the intersection horns blaring and my teacher screaming commands like a rabid drill sergeant. Three quarters of the way through the intersection when I’d killed the car for the third time, my mentor opened the door and got out leaving me alone with my humiliation. Through the open window he said tight lipped he was walking home. What? Now? Somehow I got it in gear again and continued through the intersection with my husband’s back disappearing down a side street. Fine.
After a couple of blocks without nagging I found I was actually able to traverse all the gears somewhat smoothly and caught up with my husband now nearly jogging down the sidewalk in the hot sun. Waving for me to pull over and pick him up I cheerily waved back as I passed him deciding to meet him at home instead. Payback is a, well you know.
Several weeks later I was ready for my maiden voyage. Handed the car keys, I set off solo for work. Southern California was home at the time. L.A. freeways are the worst, but L.A. freeways in rush hour traffic are just painful. Cars back then were sometimes equipped with a manual choke. It provides a rich mix of fuel when the engine is first started. I pulled it as instructed. Managing the gears like a pro I pulled onto the first of three freeways I was to take to work. Turning on my right hand signal I merged with other commuters onto the single lane connection to the second freeway along my route. Without warning the car shuddered, then died. Several attempts to start to no avail, horns began to honk. Again? Stuck, the line behind me grew quickly. Finally, a man several cars back came to the window and asked if he could help. Traffic helicopters began to circle overhead. I had created a traffic alert. Sitting in the driver’s seat the good samaritan discovered I’d left the choke on, causing the engine to, well, choke. Whoops. My husband, meanwhile, stuck impatiently far behind me said he’d entertained a fleeting thought, “I bet that’s Susie”, and then scolded himself for thinking such a thing.
Now driving a stick is second nature to me, although I haven’t owned one since the 1980’s. It was my dream car, a brand spanking new 1985 300 ZX with all the bells and whistles. I don’t have a big love affair with cars like many do, preferring a vehicle that will get me from Point A to Point B without requiring a tow truck to heated seats and in-flight movies. However I would have changed my name for this car. Long gone now, there was an exhilaration driving that sleek powerful machine on the open road, shifting into fifth gear with the t-top open, hair blowing in the wind, and a tape in the tape drive, definitely special.
Garlicy Potato Fans
3 cloves garlic, roasted and squeezed
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. chives
1 Tbsp. dried crushed rosemary
1/2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove skin from garlic and coat well with olive oil. Allow to sit for 5 mins. Cover each clove with tin foil and bake in oven for 35 mins. or until soft. Squeeze garlic into melted butter. Add salt and pepper.
Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Slice potatoes in 1/8″ slices making sure not to cut all the way through. Slightly fan and pour butter/garlic mixture over the top of each potato. Bake for 1 hr. and 10 mins. basting with pan drippings every 10 mins.
Mix together cheeses and seasonings. Sprinkle over tops of potatoes. Return to oven for 10 mins. or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream.