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TO THE VEHICLE I HOPED SOMEONE WOULD STEAL
When I heard that the anniversary of Henry Ford’s first unveiling of the Model T took place this month exactly 111 years ago, I was immediately reminded of the first car I ever owned. To be honest, it was the type of vehicle you don’t ever forget. Early on in my teenage years, my parents informed me that if I wanted a car, it was my responsibility to save up for it. I worked dozens of random jobs, putting away as much money as I could so, when the time came to go get my driver’s license, I’d be ready to buy my first car. Soon after finishing driver’s ed and picking up my license, my dad and I journeyed to a nearby car auction to find one that suited my needs. I had 900 hard-earned dollars burning in my pocket, and I was ready to find the best bang for my buck. I was sitting next to my dad at the auction with the paddle held firmly in my hand when the announcer explained that the next car up for sale was a small
red Yugo. While Yugos are now regarded in the collective American consciousness as perhaps the biggest automotive failure of all time (next to the Ford Pinto), at the time, they had reached their height of popularity. I took one look at that car and knew it wasn’t the one for me. But Dad had other plans. The announcer introduced the car and said it could be purchased for a mere $500. My dad grabbed my paddle and lifted it up, excited about all the money I’d have leftover. It only took one second for the auctioneer to scream “SOLD,” and just like that, I had my first car, and I was less than enthused. It only took one drive for me to see that the Yugo had all sorts of problems. First off, it was too compact, especially for someone as tall as I am. People at school would poke fun at me every day when they’d see me pulling into the parking lot. They always claimed that I looked like a character on the “Flintstones,” using my own long legs to propel that ugly and ancient car down the road. Also, it had no air conditioning and no radio, so I had to put a boombox in the backseat to listen to music and just endure the nearly unbearable heat. The other major issue was that the passenger seat was broken. Whenever I’d accelerate or brake, the seat would shift from front to back and vice versa. The few passengers I allowed in my car knew they were in for a wild ride from the moment I put the car in gear. This car was so bad that my husband (who was just a guy I was dating at the time) refused to believe it was my car the first time he encountered it. We were both working at The Arizona Republic and decided to grab lunch. We walked into the parking garage, and he looked around and asked, “So, where is your car?” I stood next to the Yugo
and pointed. He laughed and said, “There’s no way this is your car.” After opening the door — which I never locked in hopes that someone would steal it — I turned over the ignition. It was only then that he finally believed me. While I had a profound hatred for my first car, it did give me some good memories. One day, all my friends with trucks and SUVs were driving through a shallow lake to get to an island, and I decided to give my Yugo a go at it. It made it across but flooded on the way back. We let it sit and dry out, and it started right up again! For a car with a bad mechanical reputation and a lot of issues, it sure kept working no matter how much I wanted it to sputter out. I drove it all through high school and the first couple of years of college, but it eventually developed a more serious issue. It would stall every time I made a left turn. After one final stall in the middle of a busy college campus during a giant rainstorm, it officially (and finally!) died. While I definitely don’t miss it, I have to admit that my old Yugo certainly built character. It was a car I’ll never forget … no matter how much I want to!
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