Frustrated, I sorted through the jumble of keys looking for a fob.
“How am I supposed to unlock the door?” I muttered.
Ruby Sue (my Ford Escape) had to spend the night at the dealer for a part recall issue and I was driving my youngest son’s car (formerly mine). That’s when I discovered how thoroughly I’d been spoiled.
We didn’t have an electronic key fob for the 2002 Oldsmobile Intrigue. I had to unlock the door with the actual key.
I’d forgotten how low the Intrigue sits, and instead of smoothly sliding into the driver’s seat, I sat down hard and looked for the push-button ignition. Nope. Once upon a time, you had to insert a key to start a car.
The gray cloth interior has held up well, but our frigid weather had me longing for Ruby Sue’s seat warmers.
Times have changed since my dad bought me my first car, a 1970s model two-door Toyota Corolla. He bought it from a guy at Fairchild AFB and paid $900 for the rather battered navy blue car.
“I gotcha a car,” he announced. “Here’s the keys, let’s take her for a spin.”
We went out to the driveway and I slid behind the wheel.
“What’s this other pedal for?” I asked.
Dad raised his brows.
“That’s the clutch. Forgot to tell you, it’s a manual transmission.”
I’d never driven a stick shift, but Dad said it was super easy. He gave me a quick rundown on how to shift, and we lurched out of the driveway and immediately stalled mid-street. After an agonizingly jolting trip around the neighborhood, my father pronounced my skills “good enough.”
The Corolla didn’t last long enough to get a name. A few months later, I drove through an unmarked intersection on my way home from work at Pioneer Pies and was T-boned by a kid driving a big pickup.
I got a trip to the hospital from the EMTs I’d just served pie to and the totaled Toyota got a trip to the junkyard.
No more stick shifts for this girl. Instead, Dad gave me his white Chevy Nova. Fun fact, those Novas looked just like Spokane police cars at the time. On the rare occasion I ventured somewhere I probably shouldn’t have, the gatherings broke up quickly as teenagers fled muttering “cops.”
That Nova earned me another trip to the ER when a driver crashed into me after speeding through a light.
Dad decided for safety’s sake I needed to drive a tank, but tanks weren’t street legal. He settled for a 1978 Pontiac LeMans.
He thumped the hood.
“I think this beast is made of solid steel,” he said. “But I still want you to wear a helmet when you drive.”
Loretta was my only red car until the advent of Ruby Sue. Her white vinyl interior was cracking, but she drove like a dream. She took my best friend and me on our first road trip, to Davenport, Washington. Loretta took Derek and me on our honeymoon. A couple of years later we drove her all the way to Disneyland for our final BC (Before Children) fling.
Sure, she didn’t have air conditioning and we roasted on our way through Oregon. Yes, we found out what vapor lock is on the side of a California freeway, but by golly, that car body didn’t ding, dent or crumple.
When we started our family, Loretta made way for a boring Ford Taurus, followed by a succession of necessary minivans. As our nest began to empty, we adopted Golda MyDear (the Oldsmobile) before Derek bought sparkling red Ruby Sue.
It’s impossible to count the hours I’ve spent on the road hauling kids to school, sports practices or jobs, and journalists spend a lot of time in their cars. That’s why I’m so thankful my minivan mama days are in the rearview mirror and I finally have a car that I can boss around. I can pull up maps, adjust the temperature, make calls and change radio stations all by voice command.
When I picked up Ruby Sue after our 24-hour separation, I sat for a moment reveling in the warmth of the heated leather seat, and then I planted a big kiss on the steering wheel.
“I’ve missed you, girl,” I said.
And I like to think she missed me, too.