Sunday, March 5, 2017

Idle Thoughts While Sitting in a Parking Lot

The first car I could technically call my own was an austere Gremlin produced by the now defunct America Motors Corporation. For those too young the Gremlin was an American subcompact-sized economy car produced during the 1970's whose visual appearance was unlike any other vehicles made during that era, in other words most people considered the model quite ugly. Despite its odd appearance, its chief attributes was that it was a cheap, dependable car that got exceedingly good gas mileage, even by today's standards. I got my Gremlin from my grandfather, it was the car he drove to work and when he retired it was passed to me. I don't remember what year the car was made but by the time I began driving it back and forth to school the blue color of the paint job had long since faded to the point it actually had more of a gray tint.

I can't say for sure but I believe the color change was the result of exposure to the chemicals in the air near the paper mill my grandfather worked. Yes I've asked the same question you might now be thinking, if these diluted chemicals had such an effect on the paint job of a car it's an open question as to what they might do to living things. All I can say is that it's a longstanding joke that the paper mill allows my hometown to be smelled long before you actually saw the sign indicating the city limit. At least the color change allowed the outside body to match the interior which was either plastic, in the case of the dashboard, and the vinyl seats.

My Gremlin was about as basic a model as it could come since it didn't have air conditioning and the radio was only able to pick up the AM dial, drawbacks that completely stupefied my son to the point that he once told me he would have rather gone without driving to school. Such were the times because I remember my little car was not the only basic and ramshackle model parked around the high school. The vehicles of the student body consisted of numerous beat up trucks and dilapidated cars that collectively rattled and coughed something akin to a mechanical symphony in the afternoon as we all left for the day.

Sure, there were a few exception like the kids whose parents were wealthy enough to buy them one of the flashy sports cars like the Pontiac Trans Am or Chevy Camaro. And yes, such individuals seemed genetically programmed for the need to make an overt displays of their expensive transportation by either rattling any nearby windows with the sound from their amplified car stereo or producing as large a cloud of dust as possible as they peeled out of the gravel parking lot. On a side note, several years after I graduated from high school, I bought Jane Goodall's first book on her experience observing the behavior of chimpanzees in the wild and was stunned at how similar human behavior could be compared to our hairier and supposedly less evolved cousins.

Years later after finishing up my army enlistment I enrolled in the local community college and quickly noticed that car ownership standards among the students had gone up considerably. For those newly graduated high school students almost all of them drove cars that at best were just a few years old and in great condition. There was also a higher percentage of rich obnoxious a-holes who regularly showed off the perks of being born into a family where daddy, and maybe mom was well, was a doctor, lawyer, or some other high-salary type. The sad fact was that if there was a beat economy car in the college parking lot it probably driven by one of the single moms desperately trying to hold together her sanity while pursuing an education and take care of her kids. Playing the full disclosure card here, my Gremlin had long since passed on while I drove a 1984 Chevy Camaro. Its purchase, made after graduation but before going in the army was severely problematic but, like they say, that is water that had long since passed under the bridge and made it to the ocean.

The funny thing about all those bright and shiny expensive cars rich mommies and daddies had bought their newly minted high school graduates was that as the days and weeks passed after the start of a new semester, they not so slowly disappeared from the college parking lot. About the same time it was not uncommon to see one of these privileged offspring working the counter at one of the numerous fast food places or retail shops in the general area. In fact early one semester a young girl fresh out of high school began asking me about questions about our community college before class. She wanted to know simple things like which instructors were hard and which were the ones that would grade on a curb.

At the time I was around twenty-five years old and found her rather annoying since she was at best eighteen. During her questions she made the statement that her dad had given her choice of returning to school or getting a job. Not an unreasonable demand from her dad, but when she said that if things didn't go well in college her other option was just to get married. It was then that I suddenly remembered I desperately had to go to the restroom and didn't return until after class had started. Thankfully, my seat next the young girl had long since been taken my another person. Several months later, I saw that same girl pregnant and working one of those sunglasses stands inside the old Myrtle Beach mall.

Luckily for me my quota of common sense, or stupid luck, was rather high during that period of my life and I never did get entangled with any young nymphets looking for a meal ticket and a baby daddy.

Maybe it's just late middle age screwing with the wiring in my brain but those memories and many others came flooding back to me recently as I waited in the my daughter's high school parking lot. It seems suburban affluence has spread its decadent tendrils down to that level now. The vehicles in the student body parking lot are a remarkable collection expensive cars with at least a dozen redneck super trucks that belch enough black smoke when running to kill any nearby lifeforms. These trucks, with an suspension that raises them so high it takes a step ladder to reach up and open the door, are literal “screw the planet” statements every time those drivers cause thick plums of black smoke to come out of the exhausts. Then there are about the same number of sports cars, including several BMW's, Audi's, and more than a few Toyota Priuses complete with ecologically minded bumper stickers. The most outrageous car though has to go to the kid driving a Chevy Corvette. He comes out of the school everyday with an entourage of male and female admirers swarming around him like joyous flies. Given his swagger and overall good looks it seems a good bet someone like him will drift towards politics.

I've looked for someone driving a modern version of my old Gremlin at my daughter's high school. I have to admit to a certain amount of melancholy to the fact that I really don't see anyone that even comes close to fitting that niche. The unbridled affluence shown by these kids is nauseating in a subtle way. It makes me feel like a bit of a dinosaur surrounded by swift and more intelligent mammals.

About the only solace I can find in this situation is the belief that events far larger than the petty wants of American teenagers will forcefully insert a degree of reason into what cars parents can afford for their driving age kids. Yes, I know I'm just becoming a curmudgeon but in all honesty there is no teenager in the United States that needs to drive a damn Corvette to school. The little spoiled twits need something to aspire to that will force them to get a real education and then a job.


Ranch Chimp said...

Damn Bum! when I first seen this, I said "wow, that dude's got a Gremlin!" ... Hell yeah I remember them, a roomate of mine in the early 70's had one (he was our guitarist too, but we needed a van to move amps, so he could never haul amps in it), at the time I had a 70(?) Plymouth Fury, huge gas guzzlin ride, but great if you got hit in it. I had a girlfriend back then, who was attending University of Houston, her dad bought her a new AMC Pacer, which you may remember, it had alot of glass, she had a 8- track in it too, we thought was cool back then (her dad couldnt stand me ... and I didnt like his rich ass either). Your son said he rather not drive to school?! ... that sure is cold! ... Hell, let him ride the damn bus! I never went to high school (only to 8th grade, about a month or two of 9th grade) so I rode the bus and train. Damn, you had a 84 Camaro?, bet that was cool, I love Camaro's (cant afford them though, as far as keeping them up). Right now I'm in a 2008 Toyota Corolla 4-dr, 200,000, but runs very good (take care of it). I had a Chevy Nova too in the mid 70's, had no a/c, but I liked it (Hell yeah it's hot in Texas in the summer, and I would sweat bullets!, but loved it, just roll down the windows). Bought a new Ford Tempo in the early 80's once, first of it's kind as far as the transverse mounted engine (trying to compete with the Japanese) ... luckily I had extended warranty, it had nothing but problems, the first 2 years at that, electrical shit, to where you couldnt just figure it out. I also bought a new Isuzu Stylus in the early 1990's ... no problems at all (all made in Japan), I put over 300,000 miles on it in about 5-6 years, sold it to a dude in Mexico for $300 bux, he wanted it, and made me the offer ... I never had to even change the head gasket, and it had "no" leaks (the Japanese cars to me are very good). My buddy Bill next door has a 1980 Nissan RX-7, it is in MINT condition, he bought it in the early 80's and does all his own work on it (he grew up in a mechanic shop in the South Bronx/ NYC ... he's a master type mechanic) ... it is immaculate too! My daughter just went out and bought a new fully loaded Lexus Sedan (she paid for it, she can afford it). When I was working in Fort Worth (couple years ago) ... I wouldnt drive, I caught the train daily, catch a green line rail from my house, transfer downtown Dallas to TRE DFW commuter train, it let me off a block from where I worked! Usually when I go down to Houston I rent cars, but they are building a bullet train (205mph) between Dallas and Houston, will take 90 minutes (usually a 4 hour drive), so I cant wait to ride that. I'm outta here Bum ....

Ranch Chimp said...

BTW, the car in the photo I have is a 08 Honda Civic sport coup

The Bug said...

I rode the bus all through high school. My brother got to drive a subaru (we called it the boobaroo) because he had "stuff" after school. I was older, but boring. Ha! I didn't care - I usually had my homework done by the time the bus stopped outside my house. And now I live three miles from my high school. Will wonders never cease!

But I do remember the parking lot being full of very economical cars back then - 1978-1982. One of my teachers drove a little Ford that never seemed to work, and my cousin had an ancient VW Rabbit.

Pixel Peeper said...

I rode the train to school when I was in high school. It had a coal-fired engine. I win.

When we moved to Florida, I noticed that a lot of the students in my son's high school drove better cars than the teachers did. My son ended up with my husband's old Honda Civic during his last year in that high school. I kept my sanity by telling myself that the retirement account of the parents of the BMW-driving kids probably was the same value as my son's old Honda. Ha!

sage said...

My uncle (who is 6 years older than me and in college when I was due to a stint in the Navy) had a Gremlin. It was a much better vehicle than mine because with the racks he had, he could load a canoe and four kayaks. With my Open (Japanese not German), I could only get a canoe and 2 kayaks on top. Plus, he had all kinds of room for crap in the back! And off we'd go to the mountains, like modern day Beverly Hillbillies, chasing the rivers with the most water.

Harry Hamid said...

I remember Gremlins! My aunt used to have a brown one with beige trim. She loved it.

My very first car was my grandfather's hand-me-down honey gold 1965 Mustang (this was in 1990). It only had AM radio, had to air conditioning (in Houston!), and if I hit a bump, the (original) hubcaps would pop off and go rolling down the street for me to (hopefully) go retrieve.

I once read that 33% of women say a man's car is the first thing they notice. While disconcerting, it sort of narrows the field for me a bit...