Your first car: a rite of passage. You turn sixteen and get behind the wheel with your license for the first time and so many doors are flung wide open. The options seem endless when you’ve got a full tank of gas, a high school student’s ambition and four wheels beneath you.
My car’s name was Chuck, before my family sold him and traded up. His full name: Chuck the Astounding Adventure-mobile. Yes, I know, men are supposed to name their cars and boats – all manner of vehicle, really – female names in the tradition of our seafaring ancestors. But I was not a man when I named that car. I was still a boy, and regardless, that goofy, cherry red Mercury Sable was definitely a male in character: sturdy and loyal, but not above playing the occasional prank. I went without air conditioning one sweltering Texas summer while we saved money for that fix, and I discovered the hard way that the 1999 model doesn’t come with anti-lock brakes.
But Chuck was an ideal companion for me, a high school student actively looking to escape the shelter of his loving parents. He was deceptively fast, and louder than he had any right to be after some slight modifications to the air intake. Growling engine and highway racing aside, I was still behind the wheel of a grandmother’s car. It helped to keep me humble.
Chuck was steadfast throughout my high school years and into the start of college, and was with me for a lot of “firsts.” No, not that kind of first. Get your mind out of the gutter. I went on my first movie date picking up my girlfriend in that car. I got pulled over for the first time when Chuck had a busted taillight. I stood up to my father for the first time, while driving him home one afternoon. I drove into the city, went on my first road trip, got in my first – and hopefully only – car crash on a rainy day while behind the wheel of Chuck.
I have so many memories that I associate with that car, because it had so much character. I still remember how my high school girlfriend’s face looked bathed in the pale blue light from the radio display on the dashboard. I remember how infuriating it was to change CDs by parking and getting to the disc changer wired in my trunk. I remember running across the parking lot, slamming the doors and racing to the donut shop with my friends in between classes, trying desperately to get back to school before the bell. Chuck's speed never failed me.
I can tie most every high school memory to my first car. If you think back on your own first car, it’s the intimate little details that only you noticed that made it special, made it almost human. To most others, a car is just a car, but to me, Chuck was a companion, and one to be missed.