Friday, 26 January 2007

My first car

Kathy notes her first car, so I thought I’d share the story behind my first car, too.

It was a grayish-blue, 1983 Ford Escort hatchback (aka, “5-door”). This was in the fall of 1987, and it was a gift from my parents my senior year of high school. That little car was built like a tank, and my dad helped me install a decent stereo system. The car had 18,000 original miles on it, with all original equipment, including the tires. The only part that had been changed on this car in four-plus years was the oil filter. My dad couldn’t believe it, and contacted the original owner.

It is literally a “little ol’ lady” story.

The original owner turned out to be a nurse at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, and she lived in the Sherwood Forest development. Sherwood Forest is down Goodwood Boulevard, across Airline Highway from Woman’s Hospital, so this nice lady was probably driving less than a mile a day, round trip. She was a widow, and lived with her sister, also a widow, and also a nurse. At Woman’s Hospital. The Escort owner’s sister owned a Toyota 4Runner, and the two took the larger vehicle on trips, shopping, etc. So that’s how I got a four-plus year-old car with eighteen thousand original miles on it.

It was a great first car for a teenager. Lots of great memories with friends from school, band, and church youth group.

Alas, another nice lady decided, one night in the fall of 1989, to total it for me. This story is worth the telling, as it’s probably the the biggest event involving my first car, other than when I received it.

I was a sophomore at LSU, and on my way to the Air Force ROTC’s annual Dining Out festivity, traveling on Greenwell Springs Road about a mile or so west of Airline Highway. Greenwell Springs Road is not—or at least it wasn’t then—a divided highway on this stretch of road. I was on the eastbound side, in the left-hand lane. I was in my dress uniform, and had the American and Air Force flags in the trunk, along with stanchions, gloves, etc., as I was leading the presentation of the colors that night.

As I reached the old Warehouse Foods strip mall (long-time Baton Rouge residents will recall the location), a wood-paneled station wagon pulled out in front of me. It was either broadside the station wagon, swerve in to the car to my right, or swerve in to oncoming traffic.

I broadsided the station wagon.

The seat belt caught me, ripping off three of the four buttons on my service coat as it did so. My forehead still connected with the rearview mirror, and I had a scratch at the hairline deep enough to bleed but not so deep I would require medical attention.

Traffic pretty much came to a stop. A few people got out of their cars to check on the lady in the station wagon, and myself. Station wagon lady was apologizing, and worrying about her cat, which was in a crate in the back seat.

This was before cell phones were ubiquitous, so I wandered over to the Kean’s Cleaners (another Baton Rouge institution) to ask if I could use their phone. I will never forget how unsympathetic and downright rude the lady behind the counter was. “It’s for business purposes only!” she told me. “Maam, do you see the wreck right outside? I was in that accident.” This did nothing to mollify her.

God was looking out for me, though. (As if He hadn’t been already. I was alive, walking, and talking.) There in the Kean’s Cleaners, picking up his mess dress for the dinner that evening, was Sgt. Chris Hester. (Chris, sorry I don’t remember your proper rank at the time; if you actually find and read this, drop me a line and I’ll correct it). Sgt. Hester was one of the two NCOs assigned to the AFROTC detachment at LSU. I became aware of his presence there in the cleaners when he said, “Chris, are you alright?”

Turned out Sgt. Hester was living in the apartments across the street from the Kean’s Cleaners. He picked up his mess dress and went over to get his car. I dealt with the cops who had arrived on scene, then went to the video store next to the Kean’s where they were nice enough to let me use the phone. First was a call to the folks, who weren’t home, but I left them a message which boiled down to: “Been in an accident, I’m okay, car’s not, got a ride to Dining Out, I’ll call you later.” Then I called Janet, my date, and asked if she could meet me at the Embassy Suites where the dinner was being held. Sweetie that she is (or was, since we haven’t spoken in like 16 years, so I can’t honestly say if she still is, but I would hope so), she offered to come and get me, but I told her about Sgt. Hester giving me a lift.

Next was dealing with the tow truck driver who was hauling my car away. The front end was totally smashed, the bumper kissing the engine block. Both front tires were completely flat, and a mix of transmission fluid, oil, and washer fluid was pooled underneath. Sgt. Hester showed up, and we transferred as much as possible out of my car and in to his trunk. I got the info from the tow truck driver on the junkyard my Escort was going to, and off he went. I don’t recall if the cops gave me any paperwork, other than whatever insurance info they had collected from the station wagon lady. She’d be buying me a “new” car.

At Sgt. Hester’s apartment, we called Colonel Hendrickson, the detachment commander, and he was filled in on the situation. A replacement for me in the color guard would be found. I would be declared off-limits from being sent to the grog bowl for being out of uniform. Sgt. Hester threw on his mess dress, and we were off to the dinner. Janet took me home.

A few days later, my dad and I stopped by the junkyard where my Escort was lying in state. We were there to check for anything I may have left behind, and to see if we could salvage the stereo system. The guy running the place didn’t mind, so we did. And that was the last I saw of my first car.

posted on January 26, 2007 1:49 AM




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