Commentary by Bill Buchanan
While channel surfing the other night, I came upon an auction program featuring antique cars. Some were before my time, but several conjured up memories of my childhood and teen years. One in particular brought a smile to my face — a 1960s’ model Chevrolet Impala.
My first car was a 1964 Chevy Impala that was given to me when my mother bought a brand-new 1970 Ford LTD. It was extremely plain, and about as no-frills as a car can get — –a leaf green four-door sedan, with no power anything — steering, brakes or windows. It had a lousy air conditioner and no radio. The transmission was a three-speed manual column shift or “three on the tree” as it was known. It wasn’t exactly a hot rod; senior citizens on bicycles could pass that car. But it was mine.
When I was a teenager, cars were vitally important because they meant independence. I grew up in a small town with very little to do. There was no cable TV, and our old Motorola television received three channels if the weather was favorable.
To do anything and to see anybody, you had to get out of the house. And to effectively do that, you had to have a car. Now, it’s not that I didn’t have a perfectly pleasant home life with my mother, my sister and my spinster aunt. But a big Saturday night found us eating supper at five in the afternoon and cleaning the kitchen in time to watch “Lawrence Welk” and “Hee-Haw.” Not exactly the stuff of which a teenage boy’s dreams are made.
I thought my 16th birthday would never come — I couldn’t wait to get my driver’s license. Of course, I had friends with cars, and I rode around with them, but it wasn’t the same thing as having your own wheels. In order to be the master of my own destiny, I needed my own car. In my little town, that meant cruising up and down the five-mile-long main drag from one end of town to the other, making a U-turn, and doing it all over again. For variety, you could make a few passes through the parking lot of Jack’s Hamburgers, to see if anyone interesting was parked there. I may have traveled only 10 or 15 minutes from my house on Hamilton Drive, but it felt like I was light years away. And even though I had no radio, blessedly, there were no tedious Lawrence Welk polkas or corn-pone “Hee Haw” tunes.
When I finally turned 16, I passed my driving test and got the keys to the Chevy. When it was officially mine, I did not see a slow, stripped-down, 6-year-old clunker. I saw a thing of pure beauty.
It was freedom on four wheels, and I loved it.