A 1994 Buick Skylark.
The last car that I can truly call mine and that I bonded with. That left me with comfortable memories of my single, living alone years, before I
started became part of and married a family.
It wasn’t the car I hung out with my friends in, or had nooky-nooky time in. Those honors went to my 84 Mazda 626, a parental hand-me-down whose status changed from the family car during my high school years (I was driving the former family vehicle then, a 77 Plymouth van that had seen it’s better traveled days) to my transportation and hang-out vehicle during my post-high school, early adult period.
That car I drove all over the place. Back when I loved to drive just for the sake of driving somewhere and gas was cheap (less than $1/gallon), even in California. I took it to the beach. To the mountains. To the desert. To every freeway and back road in LA and vicinity. To San Diego (about a 2hr trip) and the San Francisco Bay Area (6hrs, depending on route). To see Yes Dear and kids back in our lets-play-house-on-the-weekends days (60mi each way). I had joyous times with friends, laughter, and loud music in that car. I had disappointing and depressing times in that car where I felt it was my only friend, the only one that understood me. I pondered many mysteries of life and had many deep conversations about everything and nothing in that car (particularly with Doug).
Eventually when I moved up to the Bay Area for good, it was time to part with the car. The mileage was really creeping up and repairs were becoming more frequent (I had to swap out engines a couple years previously). The problems were becoming of the niggling variety that wouldn’t completely go away no matter what I replaced, including electrical, the bane of many low-budget car owners’ existence. Most telling, I was losing confidence in the car, and was reluctant to push it for long distances anymore.
The final straw was a sticky throttle problem that I fought for awhile, but always seemed to come back. Back then the internet and WWW was in its infancy, so I couldn’t go online and diagnose the problem like I can easily do these days, I actually had to either find a knowledgeable friend or spend bucks I barely had to have a mechanic diagnose the problem. Also at the time I had just landed a full-time job making more money than I ever had before in my life, so the stars had aligned just at the right time for me to make my first-ever vehicle purchase.
Despite my inexperience and naivety I wasn’t a total idiot at the time. I knew that I couldn’t afford something brand-spanking shiny new and flashy (or pay the insurance for it), so I decided on a handful of used makes and models, a price range, a maximum monthly payment, and looked at my options. Dealerships and second tier used car lots scared me with their aggressive sales tactics, so I decided to try out a rental sales fleet lot. And there is where I found, and purchased, my very first car.
The Skylark I settled on looked very much like (and very possibly might have been the same) the vehicle I rented the previous year while my Mazda was in the shop, getting one of its many creeping problems fixed. I liked the Skylark very much, it’s combination of handling, feel, power, and comfort very appealing to me, and was sad to return it when my Mazda got fixed. Now I had one within my grasp. Negotiations were short and I was delighted for my monthly payment to come in a little under budget. Of course I didn’t realize or understand at the time that I was, in the end, really paying too much for this vehicle for the fact that the interest rate was steep and that I would be upside down for most of the five years I was financing it.
But I didn’t care. The bottom line was, I could afford it (sorta), and it was MINE. Payed for BY ME. Not a hand-me-down vehicle. MY new
used baby. Even though it had its quirks, particularly the pointy grille/front bumper, it suited me just fine. The engine, a 3.1 liter V6, was quick and more than adequate enough to merge into and keep up with Bay Area freeway traffic. The heater was nice and warm, and the A/C blew nice and cold. It stopped on a dime with ABS brakes, and it handled very nicely with no pulling or wandering. It was quiet, with very little road or engine noise. And it had a very satisfactory factory sound system, with no need to upgrade to something fancy which would only attract thieves.
The weekend after I bought it I drove it down to Santa Cruz, giving it it’s baptism on the treacherous, high-speed curves of Hwy 17 (anybody familiar with the Bay Area should know the stretch of road I’m talking about and it’s reputation). A few weeks later I took it up I-80 over Donner Pass to Reno for a weekend of binge-gambling the slots and video poker machines. Came back with a net gain of about $20, too. When the holidays rolled around I drove it down to LA to show to my parents and friends down there. For a brief period I even delivered pizza with it, though eventually quit because I didn’t like putting so many miles on it for paltry pay. The only issues I had with the car at the time were that my alignment was slightly off so I tended to wear through tires quickly, a failed ignition switch that fortunately the extended warranty covered with a $50 deductible, and courtesy lights that wouldn’t go out with the doors shut so I ended up having to pull the bulbs, since they shared a fuse with the ABS.
But as far as my take-a-drive, get-in-and-go cars goes, this one was my favorite. This was the time period that I was separated from Yes Dear, who had moved to Arkansas with her family, and our futures were uncertain. Many nights to alleviate my depression and longing for her I would just get into the car and drive a circle around the Bay Area, down to San Jose and the southern marshy tip of the bay, then back up through San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge to Oakland, then back to the Hayward Hills where I lived at the time. I would go and clear my head with KFOG tuned to my radio, with the sedate humming of the engine and the gentle massage of the steering wheel in my hands as I cruised the freeways. At this period in my life the Skylark was my woman, my mate, the one who always understood and was there for me, that I could be intimate with and would be intimate back with me. (No, that wasn’t intended in a creepy or perverted way, get your mind out of the gutter.) The one that would always be waiting for me out in the driveway when I needed her, whether it be to go to work, a trip to the store, or an unplanned drive to clear my head. The one that took care of me while I figured out how to make it out to the ones I cared for the most.
A couple of years later I put it to the ultimate test. I had committed myself to making a life with Yes Dear and the kids, and to move her from Arkansas to Georgia where we would start, or resume, our lives together. So I loaded up the trunk and back seat with all the possessions that I couldn’t part with, and set out cross-country, solo. And the car, in what would be the last times the two of us would be bonded so close, did beautifully. Particularly in Flagstaff, AZ where I nearly got stuck when I stopped at a motel and woke up next morning to an April Fools Day blizzard that, I found out later, continued for four days. With the help of a fellow traveler I located what might have been the last set of chains in town, put them on my tires, and proceeded to practice my very limited winter driving skills as I gingerly made my way onto a very snow-covered I-40 east and clanked/skated past a sobering number of cars spun out off the side of the road. The superb handling and chain-assisted traction, as well as the powerful heater that thawed out my frozen hands and feet, acquitted the Skylark well and after an hour of dubious driving conditions, I had gotten off that frozen hell of a mountain and was continuing my journey through much improved weather in the Arizona desert. Two days later, I reached Yes Dear in Arkansas, and after a week stay there, continued on to Georgia where I set up shop for a few more weeks until Yes Dear & Co. was able to make it out there.
I had the car for another three years, but by then it had become pretty much a family vehicle and totally unsuited and too small for the task. Plus, now having a family to take care of, my single days of taking off and going for drives were done. Like my last vehicle, the wear and tear of family use between Yes Dear & I was starting to take a toll, and the problems and repairs were starting to mount. We did manage to take it on a trip for our honeymoon when we got married, but by then the car had become just another means of transportation. It still had a good motor, started up and ran fine, but it was developing electrical gremlins. Most significantly, the close bond I had with it that sustained me through my final years in CA was but a nostalgic memory by then. It died a violent death in the early summer of 2000 when it got t-boned in the rain by a Crown Vic while Yes Dear was driving. Yet, as a final dying service, she was able to drive it up over a curb and out of the oncoming traffic of a major highway, even though the investigating police officer pointed out that the front axle was broken in the collision and there should’ve been no way the car could’ve moved. I was sad to see the car I was once so close to badly smashed but happy for the memories and comfort it once gave me, the faithful service it performed even when it was unsuited for family use, the protection it gave my wife from serious injury when it was wrecked, and for the full book value we got for it from the insurance which we were able to use as a down payment on something much more suitable for the family.
The five-speed Civic and the Bonneville I had later provided good service (particularly the Bonneville, which I’ve owned longer than any other car and gave me faithful service while out here in Arkansas separated from my family two years ago) but the Skylark, being the first car that I paid for (too much) and owned without any assistance, will always hold a special place in my heart, much like an old friend. Or an old flame.
Anyone out there, regular readers or lurkers, care to share any favorite car stories? Better yet, I’ll challenge you to make a post on your own blogs about your favorite car and link back here. Go on, you know you want to. I double dog dare you.