A Car to Call My Own
There’s something nostalgic about spring. Just the warm air brings me back in time. It makes me think of school days, hanging out with friends, and buying my first car. That sense of freedom I felt sitting behind the wheel made me feel on top of the world. I could come and go as I pleased, discover new destinations, and blast my favorite cassettes.
The summer of ’89 was fast approaching, and I had recently finished college and moved back home. I was sharing a room with my sister again and feeling a bit like a stranger in my parents’ house. The freedom I had in college was restricted, and I desperately wanted something of my own.
My grandmother had given me $5,000 toward a used car, and I had some money in the bank. I knew I wanted a sporty-looking car and even researched buying something foreign. But a good friend had just purchased a brand new Honda Prelude, and I loved the way it looked. I decided that was the car for me.
My father knew a lot about cars and wanted me to buy a car from someone who mainly drove on highways rather than on local roads. We lived in Staten Island at the time, and he said that the stop-and-go traffic that we were accustomed to put a lot of wear on the engine. Therefore, my search covered a good section of New Jersey.
Weeks had passed and I was beginning to think that I would never find my car. It was a relief to narrow my search, but I could feel my anxiety rising. I thought that I might have to start looking at other models since I wasn’t finding many Preludes in my price range.
I worked in Manhattan then, so on Tuesdays I would buy The Star-Ledger, a New Jersey newspaper, at a nearby newsstand. One day during lunch I bought the paper and saw an ad for an ’84 Honda Prelude. When I got back to the office, I was so excited. I told my coworker that a Prelude was for sale in the paper. She said, “Why don’t you call them now?” It was the middle of the afternoon when I left my name and telephone number on the answering machine.
That night I received a phone call from a man who said that the car belonged to his wife. He told me that he had received a lot of calls about the car, but since I called first, he would let me see it before the others. I was thrilled. I took down his address and ran into the living room to tell my father. He said the town of Holmdel was pretty far, but that we could take a ride out to see it the next day.
We headed out to see the Prelude the following afternoon. I felt so excited—and so nervous. I didn’t know what we were going to find. My father said that if I liked it, we would have to bring it to a mechanic and get it checked out. Then I thought, what if I really liked it, and my father said I couldn’t have it. I would be crushed.
As we pulled up in front of the house, I saw a beautiful blue Honda Prelude with red pinstripes parked in the driveway. It was love at first sight. I adored everything about it—the dark color, the red pinstripes, the soft blue patterned interior, and the headlights that popped up like eyelids. I had to have it.
My father worked as an auto insurance adjuster, so he asked the owner a ton of questions. As he was looking under the hood, I stood there and prayed that he didn’t find anything wrong. Then we took it for a test drive. After what seemed like an eternity, he said that the car seemed to be in good shape. When we returned, my father told the owner that he wanted his mechanic to look at it. We then left a deposit and my father drove it home.
The next day we brought it to his mechanic and that afternoon he told me everything was fine with my beautiful Prelude. I was thrilled. The first thing I did was show off my new car to all my friends. One of them threw a bunch of coins in the backseat for good luck, and we were on our way.
I remember driving with my father years ago and looking at the cars on the road. He’d often point out new vehicles, and we’d discuss different makes and models. It was something we enjoyed talking about. It also happened that my first boyfriend was an auto mechanic, so he was forever fixing up old cars or working on someone else’s. I guess in some ways it makes sense that I became very attached to my Prelude over the years. I never gave it a name or a gender for that matter. It was just my little sports car, and I always felt safe driving it.
Looking back, I’ll always be grateful to my Prelude for giving me my independence back. It allowed me to feel responsible for something. I had to pay the insurance, bring it to the garage for tune-ups, and keep it looking pretty. It also gave me the freedom to see new places and visit old friends. I’ll always recall driving into New York City for the first time, getting lost in Westchester while visiting my college roommate, and heading to the Hamptons for a weekend.
Several years later I moved into Manhattan, and asked my parents to look after it. I didn’t need a car in the city, but I just couldn’t part with it. My parents divorced so I kept the car at my mother’s house. After about a year, my mother suggested that I sell it. I think she was tired of starting it up every week.
Eventually I gave in, and we put an ad in the local paper. I thought that some nice, young college student would buy it and treasure it like I did. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. There were very few calls about the car, which surprised me because it was in good condition and had low mileage. Then this guy called a few times. He worked in a body shop and was interested in buying the car for parts. When my mother told me, I was so sad. I didn’t want to sell it to him, but no one else was interested, so I told her to let him have it. In hindsight, I should have held out, but I didn’t want the car to become a burden to her. My mother sold the car that weekend while I stayed in the city. I couldn’t bear to see it go.
Now whenever spring arrives or I see an old Prelude, I just smile inside. I’ll always have wonderful memories of my first car and the joys it gave me—the freedom to hit the road whenever I wanted, experience new places, and the opportunity to connect with my father. But best of all, that little car was mine.