Many readers can empathize with Kacie Cooper’s desire for a car when she was in high school and also working. When her dad drove her to Wilmington to look at a used vehicle, the purchase didn’t end up quite as she expected. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns It was a Saturday night in June of 1969 and I was working, as usual, the evening shift at the nearby Taco Bell. I had been working there for two years at that time. Even though I complained about the place, I was happy that I had met my boyfriend there.
That night all of my peers had just come from a football game at Excelsior High, and there I was – putting on red sauce, folding bean and cheese burritos, wrapping Bell Burgers, and filling cups with “Pepsi,” not Coke.
I did all of this with a smile, and although I hated football games, I would rather have been at one of them than cooking for its rowdy spectators. “Maybe tonight won’t be busy,” I thought as I slammed the head of lettuce down on the counter to remove its heart.
But as I placed the lettuce onto the slicing machine, I looked up and caught an eyeful of my classmates jumping out of their cars and running up to my window. Some of the burley football players stayed close by the fire pit that was out in front of Taco Bell. They were laughing and teasing each other, and even though it was an outdoor fast food restaurant, they were “raising the roof.”
When they were done, I watched from the backdoor as they pulled away in their shiny cocoa brown ’65 Chevy Impalas, their ’57 Chevy’s, and their ’65 Mustangs. I could hear the laughter and screams of joy. Someone in the last car was screaming, “Excelsior!” as he threw out his soda cup before speeding off.
It wasn’t so much that I was jealous of what they were doing; I was more envious of what they were driving. Their cars all looked like classic cars even then. Some of the students even drove brand new cars, and I wondered if any of them were driving their daddy’s car.
Later, as I swept up the debris in the parking lot, I wondered, “Where do they all get their cars? If they bought the cars themselves, how come they aren’t working right now like I am?”
“They think they’re so cool…in their cars!” I screamed out to the empty parking lot. “That’s okay. My dad’s taking me tomorrow to buy my first car, and that car is going to be the baddest car you’ve ever seen! Jerks!”
It was well after dark on the day that my dad and I set out to get my “new” car. My father was always wheeling and dealing with guys when it came to cars or car parts. He worked on cars, traded cars, and usually got the better end of the deal when it came to buying them. So when he told me that there was a 1962 Ford Comet that he wanted me to see, I was quite happy. I mean, the car was only seven years old….how bad could it be?
There it was, this 1962 Ford Comet. But let me tell you, it did not resemble any celestial star or comet that I had ever seen. It was the color of the sky - when there was a storm brewing, and the tail bumper on the right side was smashed in. If you wanted the window on the passenger side rolled up, you had to place your hand up, inside the door panel, lift the glass up and place it on a shaft that didn’t always hold it tight.
“Now let’s talk money,” the man told my father. I was secretly praying that it wouldn’t be too pricey for my dad. When the bartering finally came to an end, the man turned and looked at me.
“Then $35.00 it is, Young Lady.”
I just smiled and looked over at my dad. It seemed like an eternity before my dad said anything to me. “So do you have enough?” he asked me.
Do I have enough? I repeated inside my head. What are you talking about? What do you mean, do I have enough? Does he think that I’m buying this car? It takes me almost a whole week to make $35.00!
In my head, I kept screaming at my father as I reached into my pockets, scrambling to see how much money I had brought with me. As I pulled out a twenty, a ten, and a five, I could see no change in my dad’s expression. It was apparent that I would be the one who was paying for this “Cadillac.”
I must have been furious for a long time. I guess I was very angry with my dad and hurt. My high school classmates had cars and I didn’t. And I had to work late at night, sometimes until 2:30 in the morning.
For years I told the story to anyone who would listen of how my father had driven me to Wilmington, but how I had paid the $35.00 for my first car. Of course I was proud that I had paid for it.
It wasn’t until forty years later that I realized what a petty little fool I had been. One evening my father stopped by and asked about the car. I was close to sixty years old then. He started the conversation with, “What year was that Comet that I bought for you in Wilmington?”
I felt like I had been slapped in the face. I responded quickly in one last effort to be heard. “Oh, no, Dad! You drove me over to Wilmington, but I was the one who paid for the car.”
I suddenly felt guilty for calling him on it. I finally realized that it didn’t matter who had bought the car. My father had taken the time to help me when I needed it and he had gotten me a really good deal. For the next several years that car got me to school and to work, and to Cerritos College for a bit. My dad had rebuilt the engine, and I had a good time with that car.
Now, whenever I tell that story, my dad always laughs. I know what he’s thinking, “Yeah, that taught her character.”
Now I think, “Yeah, Dad. Thanks for driving me to get my first car. I think it was my best one.”
Published: Sept. 25, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 24