Bye-Bye, Bessie, Bye-Bye

Apparently a man accused of killing a police officer was on the lam, and the police thought perhaps I had “driven through” their little “roadblock” to help him escape. They asked me to open the trunk, which I gladly did. Bessie’s trunk was huge, so they took their time poking around. I stayed aware of the rifleman’s position the whole time. He just lurked like a cat ready to jump its prey.

Their search turned up nothing, of course, and they let me go after telling me not to pick up any hitchhikers. Little did I know that my chances for making more history in Bessie were coming to a close.

I know this comes as a shock, but when I was a teenager, I often drove way too fast. In Bessie, I was a tan streak through all the streets, residential or not. I fooled myself into thinking I was being safer than most by honking before going over a rise.

Almost every school night I raced to get my girlfriend home by her curfew. Bessie’s tires squealed around every tight curve on the way to J’s house. It included a trip across something we called the “big dike,” (bring it on, search engines), where teenagers of yore went to drag race their old GTO’s, Chevelles, and Chargers. I’m pretty sure I pegged Bessie’s accelerator a few times across the dike, but I never dreamed I could go back and beat any of those cars. Plus, there was the whole “veer off one side, plunge into the lake; veer off the other, flip the car down a hundred-foot embankment” element that would have kept me from trying it. Of course, if Bessie had blown a tire during one of my late-night clock-racing sessions… ugh, I shudder.

About midway through my senior year, Bessie’s time as my mighty steed came to an abrupt end.

I had been looking at a brand new car on the local Chrysler dealer’s lot, and tossed to my dad the idea of buying it. I told him I had checked it out a few times, and that the model had been out a few years. A friend of mine had one and reported no problems, I assured him.

“Now, are you sure this is the car you want?” he asked.

*not dreaming* *not dreaming* *not dreaming*

It wasn’t a muscle car or an exotic sports coupe, but it was brand-shining-new, and Dad had not slammed the door shut on the possibilities.

“Well, yeah,” I said. I was dumbfounded.

A week or two later, when I drove by the lot to check on the car I wanted, it was gone. I went in and talked to the mechanics I knew, and they said another girl in my class, whom I knew had shown interest, had bought it. I was devastated. I drove home with a feeling of defeat, and was not sure exactly where to start. Would Dad be as amenable to something else?

When I got home, I clicked my garage door opener to park Bessie in her usual resting spot. Nothing happened. The other side of the garage was set to manual, so I got out and pushed the door up.

In my side of the garage sat a brand new Dodge Shadow, sunlight yellow, with a green bow on the hood. Although my girlfriend at the time had a lot to do with the choice, I stand by it. (Hey, everybody else had a red one.) Of course, when she made me a mulberry potpourri mesh bag to hang from the rearview mirror, I put my foot down.

I hung it on the headlight knob to the left of the steering wheel.

The only caveat to the new car was that I work to make the payments during the summer. Dad kept me on his insurance, and paid my gas. To use one of my favorite phrases, that was a kindness. I handwashed it and vacuumed the inside weekly and changed the oil and filter every 3,000 miles, religiously. Because I worked for the local auto parts store owned by the Chrysler dealer, I had full use of the indoor car-washing and oil-changing facilities.

Poor old Bessie never got that kind of treatment. I guess maybe her oil was changed at some point during my two years with her, and I washed her only when the mud threatened to keep doors from opening. I didn’t think of it then, but maybe it took driving a car like Bessie to make me appreciate what I got later.

Bessie sat on the front lawn (hey, we lived in the country) a few months before my cousin bought her for some meager but undisclosed amount. In keeping with family tradition, he abused her for a year or two before she was out of the family for good.

She served me well, and I’ll never forget the slow, dying rhythm of her starter on cold mornings.


Bye-Bye, Bessie, Bye-Bye — 4 Comments

  1. I seem to be a bit of an anomoly in that I really have no favourite first car stories or lingering affections. I think my first car was a loaner from my (then) girlfriend’s brother and each subsequent one was similarly underwhelming.

    I like my truck now though. Does that count?

  2. I drove that Shadow quite a while. About 7 or 8 years, I guess. About 137,000 miles into its life, I probably gave up on it before I should have. Lived next door to and was friends with a car salesman. Curses!

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