I love cars.
They don’t love me back.
I think they’re afraid of me. I would be. My handling of cars over the years has been horrific. I have smashed them, crashed them, lost their mirrors, lost their doors, and, on numerous occasions, lost the cars altogether. Whenever my family sees me slide behind the wheel, they say, “Wait. You’re driving?” They have reason to be scared. When I approach a vehicle, I should be wearing a shroud.
I bring this up because Saturday was the Woodward Dream Cruise, Detroit’s annual outdoor parade of cars. I wasn’t in it. I have never been in it. Had I been in it, you would have read about it. Not here. In a police report.
It wasn’t always this way. I started like many American teenagers in the 1970s, riding around with my older friends, my elbow hanging out the passenger’s window. I loved it. I felt born to ride. And perhaps I was.
Just not born to drive.
My early road to ruin
The trouble began with my very first vehicle, a used 1968 red Mercury Cougar that I took to college. Back then, we named our cars, and stickered those names on the side. This was dumb enough. But for some reason, despite a virtually nonexistent love life to that point, I named the car “The Ruby Romancer.”
I know. Doomed from the start.
Old Ruby began falling apart a month after I bought her. Transmission. Brakes. Alternator. Steering column. Others blamed the fact that she was used. But I knew. The car was collapsing from shame.
Two years later, on a late-night, 6-hour drive to Philadelphia, I fell asleep at the wheel 3 miles from my parent’s house and smacked into a median on the Ben Franklin Bridge. I blew out two of Ruby’s tires and clomped on the rims like a Flintstones car, coming to rest a few feet shy of the tollbooth. The attendant just looked at me sadly and shook his head, as if to say, “You know you can’t leave that car there, right?”
When Ruby finally died, I bought a used Chevy station wagon. I left it nameless. I thought, OK, I’m on my way. A mature driver now.
And I got hit by a truck.
The car was totaled. I walked away. God was watching over me. God was also saying, “Kid, stay off the road.”
So in time, I moved to New York City, where you don’t really need a car. And what did I do? I bought a used car. And what happened? It was stolen. And what did I do? I bought another used car. And what happened? It was stolen. And what did I do? I bought another used car, a pale green Impala. And I got every lock known to man – including the famous Club, which clamped on the steering wheel and was supposed to be thief-proof.
And one day, I came out, and the car started, but it wouldn’t go. I called the repair guy. He slid under the chassis and yelled, “Holy bleep!” And I said, “What?” And he said, laughing, “They stole your drive shaft! I’ve never seen that before!”
Trouble knew no borders
Of course, that sentence could sum up my driving career. In my travels as a sportswriter, I smashed a car in the French Alps, slid into another car in Switzerland, had my driver’s door jimmied open in Spain and again fell asleep at 4 a.m. on a road in Yugoslavia, hit another median and blew out another tire. Miraculously, a taxi pulled up, the driver radioed his friends, and in the freezing cold, they changed my tire. Wouldn’t even take any money. We shook hands. They left. I got back in the car, feeling great about humanity. I started it up, drove off.
And the axle collapsed.
In the years since, my damage has been less severe, like an aging pitcher losing steam off his fastball. I still scratch rental cars. I dent bumpers. Once, during spring training in Florida, my young cousin left the passenger door open at the airport, and a rent-a-car shuttle bus drove past and whacked it right off its hinges. That was different.
Most recently, with my black Lincoln, I was asked, “Hey, what’s that white stripe down the side?” I realized it was the paint from my garage door. I swear I don’t remember hitting that.
So needless to say, no Dream Cruises for me. It’s better that way. The lesson here, kids, is obvious: Never name your first car something truly embarrassing. Trust me, cars talk to each other. And they never forget.