My first car was a 1990 Chrysler LeBaron, the four-door, not the coupe, and not that tacky convertible either. This was the grandpa model, with the leather seats, and the digital dashboard, and the power everything.
I bought that car (with considerable help from my mom) my sophomore year in college, and it changed everything. No longer was I stuck on campus. Now, the entire city of Los Angeles (and surrounding communities) opened up to me, a new frontier to be explored.
Now, twelve years later, she’s not the beauty she once was. Upon taking your seat behind the wheel, you find that you are welcomed by the creak of well-worn shocks and struts. If you try to roll down the driver’s side window, it falls into the door. Turn on the radio and you get nothing but static and the the hiss of shorted out speaker wire. That’s assuming the battery isn’t dead entirely.
And while the dust of years spent sitting under the carport blankets the car inside and out (in fact, the word “Bonus” is still clearly visible, written with a finger in the dust of the instrument panel), I still remember another time when chrome gleamed and the world seemed full of adventure.
I gave that car away today. The tow truck from the charity I donated it to has come and gone. The economics of the thing being what they are, it simply made more sense to donate it than to attempt patching it up one more time. Maybe the folks at the charity will get it running again, sell it, and someone else will get to enjoy it as I did.
So today, in loving tribute, I present my Top Five LeBaron Memories.
5. What Parking Meter? -- It was a frosty winter morning in Los Angeles, and my defroster was on the fritz. That year, Jason and I had an on-campus apartment, but my parking garage was off campus with a shuttle running between.
We were returning home from an all-night computer game session at a friend’s neighborhood apartment. (For my younger readers, back in those days, if you wanted to shoot your friends in a virtual deathmatch, you had to have all the computers in the same place and hook them together with a cable. I know, it’s primitive, but it worked for us.) Since we couldn’t very well carry both computers and both monitors with us on the shuttle, we decided to park temporarily in the lot adjacent to our apartment building (the one with parking meters on every stall), unload the computers, and then go park the car.
Everything went perfectly, up until the “going to park the car” part. Because I had no defroster, and because it was winter, the windshield was probably 65-70% fogged up. I could sort of see, but not very well. Being a somewhat impetuous young man, I didn’t see this as a reason to not drive the car over to my garage right away. Unfortunately, while maneuvering out of the lot, I ran right over a parking meter, bending the post it was mounted on to the ground, and leaving a massive impression in my front left quarter panel. Didn’t see it at all.
My friends mocked me mercilessly, especially since I drove professionally at the time.
4. New Years Eve -- I don’t remember the year, nor the exact circumstances, but suffice it to say, I found myself on New Years Eve at about 10:30, trying to get from my house in Lake Elsinore to Katherine’s house in Simi Valley to share a midnight kiss with my lovely and enchanting girlfriend. Ordinarily, this is a two-hour trip. I decided to see if I could make it in an hour and a half.
The freeways were absolutely empty that night, partygoers already settled in at there destination of choice for the turning of the calendar page. And it was a good thing, too, because I was flying. I don’t remember my exact speed, but I do recall looking down at the digital dash, seeing a monochrome number that read “108,” and thinking maybe I should throttle back my 3.8-liter V-6, just a tad.
Amazingly I arrived, safe, sound, and ticket-free with about four minutes to spare. Happy New Year. Smooch!
3. Point Doom -- After an impromptu late-afternoon decision to round up our girlfriends (though they lived counties apart), I found myself in the car with my best friend and roomie Jason, his girlfriend Christi, the lovely Katherine, and our buddy Scott, attempting to navigate backroads through the mountains of Malibu on our way to the beach for a nighttime stroll. I say attempting, because it came pretty obvious pretty quickly that we were lost.
It didn’t take long, driving as we were on a deserted, windy, mountain road in the middle of the night, for our imaginations to run away with us. It occurred to us that this was a great opening sequence for a horror movie. Five college kids get lost on their way to the beach for a midnight stroll, when their car breaks down and they are forced to walk to find help. Little do they know, a knife-wielding maniac lurks in the underbrush, waiting to pick them off, one by one.
We began discussing plot points and assigning character roles. We figured Scott would get killed first, since he was the only one without a girlfriend. Jason and Christi would be the couple who sneaks off to fool around, only to be punished for their indiscretions by the aforementioned knife-wielding maniac, probably wielding a pitchfork or other farm implement by this point in the film. The plot would culminate in my heroic attempt to save Katherine, which would fall dreadfully short, leaving Katherine to deal with the monster on her own. She would concoct a brilliant rouse, dispatch the maniac, and return to her life on campus, where she would go on to date a much better looking, more athletic boyfriend. But she would forever be haunted by the events of that night...
Just as we were really getting into it, laughing and yelling the entire way, we rounded a corner and saw a sign that read, “Point Dume.” Instantly, we had the name for our film, “POINT DOOM!!”
And yes, we eventually found the beach.
2. Dates with Katherine -- In college, our favorite hangout was Burbank. Katherine and I would often head out after an evening of studying or ballroom dancing or whatever to catch a 10:30 or 11:00 movie, then off to the Corral Cafe, an all-night greasy spoon that Burbank cops frequented, so you knew it had to be good. We’d sit there for hours, talking and dreaming together.
Then, somewhere around 3am, we’d head back to campus. Katherine would sit in the middle seat of the big leather bench so she could snuggle close to me as I drove us home. Often, I’d drive a little slower than necessary, just to prolong the moment.
1. Our Wedding Day -- The best day of my life, and my LeBaron was there. It was the chariot that carried my brand new bride and me from our ceremony to our reception, and then later to our bridal suite, and then the next morning to our honeymoon cruise. I laugh when I look at the pictures, taken carefully from the right side of the car so as to hide the gash left behind by that parking meter.
I remember sitting in the backseat on our way to the reception, surrounded by layers of tulle and petticoats, looking into my wife’s eyes, and feeling blessed beyond measure that she would be mine for my whole life.
That day will be ten years ago this Friday. So much has changed since then. And yet, so much remains the same. The car is gone, but I still know that I am blessed beyond measure.
I love you, Katherine. I always will.