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.