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My first car was a green 1958 Ford Custom, which meant it was customized to my father’s own frugal specifications. It came complete with a steering wheel, a gearshift lever, turn signal indicator, accelerator, brake, clutch, door handles inside and out, cigarette lighter and ashtray. No radio. No air conditioner. And until we suffered through an epic blue norther one winter, it had no heater, either.
This was the car that took us on vacation every year, when the lack of air conditioning was mourned, but only by me. Dad said an air conditioner only made you feel that much hotter when you got out of the car. Though I have come to realize that he was right about most of the things we disagreed on back then, he was dead wrong about that.
Dad coached our Little League team for a few years, and this project evolved to entail picking up any number of players and taking them to practice on any given day. It was surprising how many people were unable to take their kids to Little League practice or games once they found out the coach would do it. My teammates (and even kids from other teams) had two things in common: We loved baseball, and we found it satisfying to stomp and grind the Ford floorboard with our cleats.
Beneath that onslaught, it didn’t take long for a small but expanding hole to appear. On the other side of the hole, just a few inches away, was the pavement rushing by in a blur. That was exciting for a kid because it looked like a good way get hurt.
Because I spent most trips in the backseat, I had plenty of time to transform my idle brain into the devil’s workshop. I pretended I was Robert Mitchum in “Thunder Road,” dropping random objects through the hole in the floor so they would slow down any enemy following. Or I might be James Bond, dispensing ingenious gadgetry that blew up the bad guys chasing my Aston Martin. I fantasized about how cool it would be to lay my hands on some firecrackers.
If I was quiet, Mom and Dad didn’t pay much attention to me. But when I made explosion sounds, they turned around to see what I was doing. In this case, they had some questions. They wanted to know how long this had been going on and exactly what kind of objects had been dispersed onto the highways and byways. Dad was right about litter. That episode marked the last time I ever littered a street, road or highway. Ever.
My parents eventually upgraded to a snazzy Chevrolet Bel Air, complete with a radio, heater and air conditioning. The Ford was passed down to me. My dream was to leave Lubbock, but I couldn’t see doing it in that car. No radio.
Less than a month after I got my driver’s license, I found myself negotiating a devilish piece of road in Lubbock known as the Tahoka Traffic Circle. There, traffic merged and exited from all directions. It’s been gone for more than 20 years, but back in the day you’d find yourself either slamming on your brakes because someone darted in front of you or getting honked at because you darted in front of someone else. The worst thing you could do on Tahoka Circle was stop. It was raining that day and, fortunately, windshield wipers hadn’t cost extra when dad bought the car.
Just when I thought I had my exit from the circle plotted—I’d been driving the circle for a while—a dust storm rolled in. All of a sudden, with no warning, I was driving blindly around the Tahoka Traffic Circle in a raging mud storm. The nightmare lasted maybe two minutes, but it seemed like an hour before I navigated my way clear of the circle.
When it was over and the Ford and I were off the road, I had a little breakdown there on the side of the road. I vowed loudly and with great emotion that I would leave Lubbock as soon as I could, possibly that very afternoon.
Three years later I did that very thing, but not in the Ford Custom. My dad gave it to our favorite mechanic, who kept it running far longer than logically possible.
I know you’re supposed to feel loyal and sentimental about your first car, but the only thing I missed about my old Ford Custom was the hole in the back floorboard. That made it a one of a kind.
Clay Coppedge, a member of Bartlett EC, lives near Walburg.