My first car was a push-button automatic Valiant, with a weird pinkish-tan exterior; it leaked oil so badly I drove around with a five gallon can of motor oil and a funnel. The radio worked fine. Whoever had owned it before never listened to music while driving. The cigarette lighter also worked, although I didn't smoke. I glued a plastic Mickey Mouse head, green plastic army men, and a few PEZ dispensers on the dashboard, for my own amusement. Hey, I was young. The steering wheel would intermittently shake violently and of course only when I was driving alone. It made me question my sanity, but not for long.

About the same time my first marriage was fading, the Valiant died in the middle of the road halfway between where we lived and the dentist's office, conveniently near the local junk yard. I wish I could say it died bravely, valiantly, but it was more like locomotive smoke began billowing from under the hood. Clouds of white, then grey, then black, obscured my vision and an engine fire was heating up the steering wheel while the steering column slowly glowed red. I can't believe now I continued to drive it, right onto the junk yard lawn. I was young, immortal. The junkyard policy was if you drove it to them, you got 50 dollars. I proceeded to get 50 dollars which in the 1970's was a good deal. However, it was that car that made me turn to Volkswagens and stick shifts.

I knew somebody who knew somebody selling a VW bus with a full moon roof, that after buying, I promptly sewed curtains for the side windows and affectionately named "Mothertrucker", hand-painted a Robert Crumb cartoon knock-off of his Keep on Truckin' man, never dreaming I'd become a mother myself at the age of 20, while sliding into marriage number two. I joined a community theater group for the purpose of making costumes and sets, eventually getting talked into a few acting roles because I could memorize everyone's lines. I had to fill out an application citing previous roles. Not really wanting a part, I wrote I had been a firefly in a French play (first grade), an ear of corn in a Thanksgiving play (third grade), Adam (as in Adam and Eve)...(fourth grade, still flat-chested), and the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz (fifth grade). Apparently the director didn't care about my bizarre resume, because he went on to cast me in Jesus Christ Superstar, Charley's Aunt, and The Lion in Winter.

I almost drove from the east coast to California because my older brother had just bought land there and offered to help me build a geodesic dome for my daughter and me to live in. Hey, I was young, full of dreams and divorced again. That was before I found out his land had the San Andreas fault running underneath it and before my mechanic told me my VW bus would need MAJOR WORK. Fond memories of that mechanic, the son of a Volkswagens-only mechanic father and grandfather, an old barn full of Volkswagen parts waiting for resurrection, plus he made house calls. He charged for parts only if he had to buy new ones, didn't charge anything for his time because he loved what he was doing and didn't need the money. Plus he was older and happily married. He kept that van going as long as he could, then I sold it to a folk singer who drove it another three years. Hey, we were all hippies. The folk singer and her band had the money to fix it, said it carried good vibes. I felt like I was selling a part of myself that day.

Next was a light blue VW compact station wagon that had such chronic fuel injector problems I had to date the VW dealership salesman and a mechanic just to keep the darn thing on the road. Hey, I was still young.

The following cars are a bit blurred as to what order, but there were three Beetles in a row, white, blue, and green. By then, I had learned to change my own oil, install and gap the spark plugs, taught my mother and one sister how to drive a stick shift, and vowed never to own another automatic. Then, after leaving school/work in the last Beetle, with my four year old daughter, we got hit almost head-on by a guy driving his Dad's Cadillac, who was going 45 in a 15 mile per hour zone. My car was totalled, my daughter was okay; I was on crutches and a cane for about a year.

My Dad bought some Frankensteinian Ford, patched together by a young professor in the math department where my father was the chairman. It was an awful green automatic with one door panel that was reddish-orange. The heater didn't work, nor the defroster. The door handles were all from different other cars. I hated that Ford. My daughter delightedly covered the interior with stickers of Hello Kitty and horses. I even let her draw with crayons on the windows as high as she could reach. My Dad put more money into that car than if he had purchased a new one. It was always breaking down. The only good things I can say about that car were I learned how to change tires by myself and how to recover from a 180 on an icy road, as well as the very practical life lesson to stay off the roads when there's bad weather. No job is worth losing your life.

Then I met the millionaire boyfriend, who drove a convertible two-seater Mercedes with vanity plates and the first car phone I'd ever seen. It was the 1980's and the guy made Don Draper look decent. Within a short period of time, he not only bought all of my clay sculptures, let me design and build a studio on his property, but got the Ford towed away and paid $7000 cash for a used pale yellow Audi. He put the car in my name, me not knowing he was laundering drug money. That car and relationship were cursed from the get-go. It took three years, too much living in the fast lane, and a maroon limousine for me to drive away and finally start growing up.

I have driven other cars, but those were the memorable ones. A little like love, you never forget your first real heartbreaker. Although if given a magic wish, I'd take the VW bus with the moon roof over the Valiant, hands down.

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