24 August 2007

The Little Ford

Now that I’m a grownup, I drive a sober Swedish car – a Saab 900 from 1996, with a stick shift and a hatchback and a large pile of cracker crumbs in the backseat. It’s nimble, it gets good gas mileage, it has a six CD changer. What more could a girl want?

More. I want charm. I want magic. I want my heart to sing when I sidle up to my car in the parking lot.

And once upon a time, and really for a rather long time, 17 years to be precise, I had such a car. A little Ford Fiesta. It lived on the streets of NYC and looked like hell as a result. But it went like stink all day long, got amazing gas mileage, and was surprisingly capacious for a small car.

And it had charm. It didn’t have air-conditioning, but it did have those little tilting vent windows. It had a dent on the nose where I ran (gently) into the back of an (empty) school bus in stop-and-go traffic on the Long Island Expressway when I leaned over to get my Tab. Its gas gauge was idiosyncratically pessimistic – it had about a ¼ tank left when the gauge read empty – and all too easily one could be lulled into a false sense of security and then, oops, run out of gas on the FDR Drive. To lock the door, you had to open the handle while pushing down the lock button – so I developed a second nature method of opening the (driver’s side) door with my right hand while pushing the button down with my left elbow.

And the car was magic. I’ve written about it once before, about the time the muffler fell off. Another time, W. and I were driving leisurely through rural Pennsylvania, near the Water Gap, on a lovely Sunday afternoon, before cell phones were ubiquitous. He was driving, and noticed something awry, and determined that the car was burning up a wheel bearing (he knows these things). He pulled off the road near someone’s barn and we scratched our heads as to what to do next. With that, the barn doors opened and a guy came out. “Can I help you?” “Well, we’ve blown a wheel bearing.” “Come with me, and bring the jack.” With that, the guy takes off across the road and into a field behind another barn. There in the field: another white Ford Fiesta, junked, abandoned, rusting. They jacked up the parts car, pulled off the wheel bearing, and trotted back to where my little Ford was waiting. Transplant in place, $20 to our savior, we went on our way, marveling at our luck, and at the magic of the little car.

And possibly the best thing about the little car? When it was finally time to part with it, its floorboards were rotting out and driving through a puddle on the Cross Island Expressway caused the car to sputter to a halt, meaning that we made that Thanksgiving traffic jam, I’m sorry to say. But, through the miracles of the internet, we found some crazy people in New Hampshire who were racing Ford Fiestas, and they came to NY and paid me $400 for the little car, $400 so it could go off to another life as a racing car. What a way to go, eh? So much better than the ignominious junkyard that most cars go to when they die. A race car. My little Ford.

Someday, sooner than later, the Saab is going to go. Its clutch is weak, the display for the climate control (but not the control itself) is shot, and it really needs new tires. And I’m at a loss as to what could possibly replace it, especially since the poor Saab has never quite wormed its way into my heart the way the little Ford did.

You may well ask why I’m writing a paean to a Ford Fiesta – a car that’s not been available in the US since, oh, 1980. Well, MotherGooseMouse had a post today about her dear, departed Pacifica – and it turned out that her post was in response to a blog blast by the Parent Bloggers Network announcing Car Blabber at Ask Patty – and one thing led to another. Somehow, I don’t think this is what they’re looking for, but it’s what came to mind. I did rather like that Ford.

13 comments:

painted maypole said...

I remember you mentioning the Ford Fiesta when I asked about car names. That magic little car has just been on your mind. :)

bubandpie said...

I think maybe my parenting is like your old gas gauge - nobody pays attention because I don't save my warnings for when I really mean it.

Anonymous said...

My eyes are watering up as I think back on this little beast. One small correction, Dearest M, the gas gauge was OPTIMISTIC -- instilling a sense of future well being -- such that when you unexpectedly ran out of gas, the needle happily registered 1/4 of a tank remaining.

The throaty Italian carburetors....

The wail of its exhaust at max RPM in top gear at 3:00AM in an empty Midtown Tunnel...

The look in your eyes as you gazed upon the knee-high, spit-polished leather boots of the NYS Trooper that time on the Cross Island...

--your Beloved W.

furrow said...

Oh, but you see, I always wanted to be one of those girls with the 10 year old Saab with band bumper stickers all over the back. They went to Vandy and had long blond hair but drove with the windows rolled down and listened to Velocity Girl real loud and bought expensive peasant skirts at the faux-hippy boutiques on Hillsboro Avenue and then went home and smoked pot with their archaeology major boyfriends.

That's what I really wanted, but I always had the rotting Fords. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

BipolarLawyerCook said...

The Better Half had a Ford Festiva that he beat the crap out of while he was living in Manhattan. He claimed he could park it anywhere, barely needed to rent a space. He still talks about it.

I actually really love my Jetta wagon, but they discontinued it, the bastards. Now you can only get a Passat wagon, which is more than I really want. Maybe a 4 door Golf?

slouching mom said...

I really, really liked this post. Not only did you write about territory I know very well (FDR Drive! the Water Gap!), but I think I now have a little crush on your Ford Fiesta.

MadMad said...

I'm with furrow - I always thought a Saab would be very, very cool.... Great post, though!

Eva said...

Isn't it funny, the nostalgia for objects? I still think fondly about my first car, a Ford Taurus. And I am still in love with my current car, a Jetta Wagon.

I think Saabs are sexy. Probably just because they are Swedish, like my husband.

I hope you have fun car shopping. I detest that experience. But maybe you will find the car of your dreams and drive it for the next decade!

mayberry said...

I remember the muffler story and I am so charmed to learn that the little car became a racing car!

Anjali said...

I just sold my Saab 900SE (1995). It nearly broke my heart, because I was absolutely in love with it, but the amount of money we spent on repairs was insane.

I wrote similar post to yours about my car a couple of months ago! There's nothing like that special vehicle!

jen said...

i love rotting floorboards. i love seeing the ground go by. i had a car like that once, not a ford, but still.

Sue (coffeepot) said...

This was such a fun read. Thanks for the memories.

Bill Braine said...

I do believe the Saab is the auto of librarians and arts non-profiteers.

Maybe try a Honda Fit next? Sounds like a nice mix of the two. That's what I'm a-gonna do. This was confirmed for me when I started my 1998 Suzuki Esteem today and it made the Death Gargle.