My father decided to buy me my first car. I was afraid to drive so I was 20 years old before I would agree. As usual, the choice was his, with me going along, just happy to have wheels. The choice was a Nash Metropolitan, salmon pink with white trim, a car I could fit into a good-sized closet.
The Oat, as we called it (because the license plate read OAT 007), ranked low in the hot car division in the ’60s, but I didn’t care. I was free at last. My sister, Jane, and I tooled around town in that car, thrilled to go anywhere we chose. We loved showing up at our favorite In-n-Out Burger to show off. We would hear, “What’s that powder puff piece of metal?” from the guys, but we loved it.
I took a break from college and went to work for my uncle’s company in Los Angeles, near the home of the Watts riots. Dad drove to Alameda Street every day to his office, so we commuted together. At first, we drove Dad’s car, a nice spacious sedan. But one day, he got the bright idea that my Metropolitan got better gas mileage and we should drive it to work.
From where we lived in suburbia to the Watts area was an hour of race car traffic, sudden cutoffs with no signals, and nasty looks from drivers if you just dared to look alive. We risked our lives on those freeways in a standard-sized vehicle. Driving a midget Metropolitan on that hell track was like driving a Karmann Ghia in a monster truck rally. Every day I went to work I held my breath and white knuckled it. Sometimes Dad drove. That was even worse because he invented road rage.
Jane was to join us that summer to work at Uncle Bill’s company and Dad decided we could all fit in my car. He insisted someone could ride in the back seat.
“Anyone could ride back there,” he said.
“I just think it would be too uncomfortable for anyone but a child,” I argued. “Please let’s drive your car when Jane comes along.”
I feared I would be the guinea pig. Being a little dull of mind, (which means stupid), I continued to beg, causing Dad to refuse to budge. Dad always had to win every argument.
Finally, he said, “OK, I’ll prove it. I will ride back there tomorrow and show you.”
“Dad,” I protested, “you can’t fit! You’ll be like a sardines in a can back there.”
“I’ll show you there is more room back there than you think,” he said.
The next morning, I got in the driver’s seat, Jane in the passenger seat, and Dad took the back. Now there was no seat back there, so the passenger had to sit sideways, back against the driver side wall of the car, knees bent and head down. When I saw my father all scrunched up with his briefcase clutched in his arms, I put my hand over my mouth so he wouldn’t see me smirk. I did everything to keep from guffawing. I dared not look at Jane because I could hear her choking back hysterics next to me.
So, off we went on our hour commute,with my Dad squeezed into a space big enough for a medium-size dog, all six feet of him. I didn’t dare ask him how he was doing.
I let Dad out at his office, and he stumbled out of the back seat.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m fine! Just fine!” he said, shaking his legs to get the circulation back in them. Then he disappeared through the door of his building, stiff-backed, head held high.
“I dread the ride home,” I said to Jane.
“He wouldn’t give it up, so let him work it out. Chances are he will never do it again,” she said.
After work, Jane and I sat playing music on the radio and waiting for Dad to appear. Out he came, with long strides, briefcase in hand. As he approached the car, he came to the driver’s side and told me to get out.
“I’ll drive home,” he said defensively.
What?” I said. “That’s completely unfair! You are the one who insisted we could fit three of us in here.”
“I know I said that,” admitted Dad with a defiant look. “But it’s a tight squeeze back there.”
— Kay Curren
Kaye Curren writes humor, essays, opinions, and reviews for various publications and on her website at www.writethatthang.com. She’s currently working on a memoir called Seven Days in Spain: How to Survive a Wedding in a Family-Infested Foreign Land.