My Red Old Yellow Car

So I was listening to an old Dan Seals album (actually, it was The Best, so it’s less old than Won’t Be Blue, an LP we won on the country radio station when I was young and spun over and over in our trailer park days), and I came across his song “My Old Yellow Car”.

Here it is presented with a slideshow of someone’s old yellow Mustang.

You know, I have a car in my history for which I feel a little affection. Strangely enough, it is not my own Mustang, my third car. A 1984 GT with eight cylinders with high mileage that I bought in a hurry after my second car was totaled when someone sneezed on it (well, rear ended it and pushed me into another car). I pumped a lot of money into that Mustang, replacing lots of parts on it and hoping to have a nearly new Mustang at the end of it, but a transmission failure that laid it up for over a month led me to buy a newer car after renting cars for weeks. I liked the Mustang, but I never got the hang of smoothly starting the car in the cold, and I only drove it for five months in the winter and spring before getting my fourth car.

No, the one I feel affection for was my first car (of course), a 1986 Nissan Pulsar with four cylinders, a manual transmission, a moon roof, and a cassette deck. I bought it with my college graduation money, when returning to House Springs, Missouri, meant I would need a car where buses would did in Milwaukee. I said I wouldn’t learn to drive a manual transmission unless I bought a sports car, but there it was. A friend of the family, a shade tree mechanic, gave me a half hour’s lesson in driving a manual transmission, and I was off (except in this case, “off” often meant “popping the clutch at a stoplight on the highway”).

I mean, the car was nothing special. It didn’t have much horsepower, although with the manual transmission, I could accelerate pretty quickly and beat other cars off the line, especially when they did not know we were racing. The car itself was red, but it was not shiny; the clear coat was mostly peeled off, which meant it was a dusky, dull red. I don’t think I have a picture of it anywhere. I hoped to get it painted, but a couple hundred dollars for a cheap paint job was out of my reach in those early English Degree job days.

It was my first taste of post-collegiate, can-go-anywhere freedom. I drove it an hour to and from work(s), an hour to and from coffeehouses, and up and back to Milwaukee and Chicago on multiple occasions. I picked up my first girlfriend in that car, and I roamed the back roads of my corner of Jefferson County, learning where I could coast in neutral for miles down the hills that pale compared to the Ozarks.

Alas, the car was not as good to me: It had a short somewhere, and it went through numerous headlights, batteries, and alternators which the shade tree mechanic mentioned above would replace without looking for the underlying cause. It left me stranded on the side of the road many times, and when it did so again in a parking lot on Manchester Road, I left it and got car number two (later to be totaled, as mentioned above). The car sat in the back yard of the house where my mother and I lived (and later the shanty of a garage the house had) for years so I could–someday–hunt down the short and repair it. Spoiler alert: I never did, and I eventually donated the car to the cancer society.

But the car is tied to that first bit of youthful freedom, so somewhere in my heart I’m still driving it, listening to a worn Lillian Axe cassette, and smelling a summer breeze full of possibilities.

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