From Driving Miss Daisy to Cruising with Pablo

The summer before I turned 16 my gearhead dad brought home a car for me–a 1971 442 Cutlass convertible, royal blue with white hood scoops, white pinstripes and white interior–and with a monster 455 engine under the hood.  In my dad’s mind, it was the perfect first car for his oldest daughter who was just learning how to drive.

I hated that car.

Or, at least, I hated it in the beginning.  I had wanted a neon green Volkswagon Beetle, something cute and tiny that I could zip around town in, but my dad had deemed such vehicles as accidents waiting to happen; a bottom-heavy, hot roddin’ muscle car was much safer for his little girl.  And so, because I had no choice, I grudgingly accepted his gift and waited impatiently for the day when I could finally grab the gearshift without dear ol’ dad riding shotgun.

And then . . . what glorious freedom!  With driver’s license in hand and Three Dog Night blaring from the eight-track, I hit the highway for the very first time and almost immediately learned a life-altering truth:  Maybe I wasn’t crazy about that 442 Cutlass convertible . . . but the boys were.  First they noticed the car, and then they noticed the scrawny little girl behind the wheel, and suddenly my teenage world became infinitely more wonderful.  I started seeing that car through their eyes, and she was beautiful and sleek, fast and strong.  I named her Daisy (in honor of Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby), and I remember driving Miss Daisy all over the county and beyond in my first baby steps toward self-discovery.

And isn’t that how we all felt about our first vehicles?  Some of my best–and worst–memories were created behind the wheel of that car.  I remember cramming it full of laughing girlfriends for Saturday-night cruises from one end of town to the other (over and over again).  I remember driving down our gravel road when the boy in the passenger seat sheepishly told me he loved me for the first time, and I remember all the times I stormed out of that car when the same boy proved not to be so loving after all.

More than anything, I remember the sheer joy of wandering aimlessly down country backroads, disappearing into the black of night with the top down and the hot summer breeze whipping through my hair as I outran the mosquitoes and kicked up dust clouds behind me–and then parking near the bank of Cane Creek under a star-studded sky and letting the calming stillness consume me.  I could sit for hours writing poetry by moonlight while listening to the rush of the creek and the chirp of the treefrogs–perfect solitude–until rustling from behind a nearby tree would convince me that hobo killers or giant cottonmouths were closing in, and I would rev up Miss Daisy’s 455 and pummel my would-be attackers with spewing gravel and choking dust.

But for all the nights Miss Daisy transported me into another world where parents didn’t argue and boyfriends didn’t disappoint, for all the times she saved me from boredom and saved me from myself, I couldn’t save her . . . one summer night before I left for college a drunk driver slammed into her, sending me to the emergency room with a concussion and my beautiful, my beloved Miss Daisy to the salvage yard.  Oh, the indignity.

Fast forward 20 years.  After borrowing my mom’s ’71 Nova SS to get back and forth to college for a couple years, I finally scraped up $800–just enough to buy a ’68 Mercury Monterey tank that I affectionately dubbed “Mildred.”  After a few years Mildred was sidelined for Big Red, a ’78 Ford Bronco that served me well until a second transmission and mommyhood convinced me to take my kids and carseats, juice boxes and Cheetos, t-ball gloves and beach towels and enter into the ho-hum world of minivan mediocrity.

I had traveled many miles since driving Miss Daisy, but I had never forgotten the rush of the wind in my hair and the warmth of the summer sun on my shoulders. And then one day not too long before my dreaded fortieth birthday–when middle-aged madness was beckoning every time I looked in the mirror and saw only faded remnants of the wind-blown girl who used to be–on a routine trip to a neighboring town, I spotted just the pick-me-up I needed to feel young and alive again.  There, on the side of the road, its emerald greenness glinting in the afternoon sun, was a beautiful 1997 Camaro convertible, and it was shouting–screaming!–my name.

I rationalized and begged, scraped and borrowed until that Camaro (henceforth known as Costner) came home with me.  My three sons loved Costner, and I was a cool mom–for a little while.  After a few years, though, their little legs outgrew the cramped back seats, and they tired of holding their book bags and band instruments and ball uniforms in their laps.  And so I bid a sad farewell to Costner and traded in coolness for cross-over practicality.  Comfortable.  Safe.  Boring.

But the wind was still whistling through my soul.

My sons are grown and gone now, and it dawned on me a couple months ago that there was really no reason to continue driving a 7-passenger vehicle when I am almost always the only person in it.  I needed (okay, wanted) something smaller, more economical, and (could I dare hope?) sportier.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but there were two mandatory requirements–it had to be blue, and it had to be a convertible.

And then I found IT . . . a 2013 Mustang convertible in the prettiest shade of blue imaginable.  It has a V6, not a V8, which seems to disappoint every man who asks, but I don’t need anything faster because I am retiring and setting my life on cruise control.  I’m in no hurry, gentlemen.  All that really matters to me is that it is beautiful, it makes me smile, and it makes me feel young and alive again when I slide behind the wheel, lower its cloth top, and once again feel the rush of the wind.  I thought for a long time about a suitable name for my latest convertible; I had already dubbed my camera “Clooney,” so that was out, and somehow “Pitt” just didn’t sound right.   And then it hit me–I would name my little pony after my favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, whose poetry is sexy and beautiful and sleek, which is how I imagine my car to look as it is cruising down the highway–sheer poetry in motion.

A friend of mine over at The Laughing Bunny has taken some stunning photos of the lines and angles, curves and colors of beautiful cars (you can check out some of his shots here–and see even more photos and “like” his Facebook page, Laughing Bunny Photography, by clicking here).  He recently wrote a post on our fascination with our vehicles and pondered why we usually name the “hot and sexy” ones but seldom the boring minivans.  It was an interesting observation, and I think the answer is that we spend so much time in our cars that they become an extension of our personalities, an intimate part of our lives, and we name them because of the way they make us feel about ourselves.  My minivans made me feel old and frumpy and dull; I certainly didn’t need to put a name to that (Helga?  Agnes?  Ethel?  I don’t think so).  But, ahh, the convertibles!  When I hide behind my sunglasses and let my hair fly, I can be anybody (at any age!) I want to be.  In fact, right now I’m pretending to be Heidi, a foreign exchange student from Sweden, but I’m thinking next week I’ll be RainBo Derek, a hippie chick from a California commune . . .

I have a lot of plans for Pablo and me in the months and years ahead, a lot of country backroads yet to explore.  It won’t be the same as driving Miss Daisy, but I have a feeling that cruising with Pablo might be even better.  Just as soon as I can figure out how to use the built-in GPS system and all the other new-fangled gadgetry he offers, he and I will be hitting the road and following the wind.

How about you, readers?  Have you had a favorite car, and if so, what made it your favorite?  Did it have a name?  And what would your dream car be?

This is me at age 16 with my ’71 442 Cutlass convertible “Daisy.”

Another view of Daisy from the rear.

This is a picture of my ’97 Camaro, more affectionately known as “Costner.”

And this . . . this is “Pablo,” my little pony and my current love interest.

And this is me with Pablo.  Notice the hat–I wear it when I’m driving to keep my hair out of my eyes (and you can’t see them, but there are little white daisies around the brim!).  My family laughs at my hat, but I think it’s the perfect accessory for a self-proclaimed hippie chick.

About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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23 Responses to From Driving Miss Daisy to Cruising with Pablo

  1. What a GREAT post! I love Miss Daisy – you were one lucky gal. As you are today, with “Pablo.” Love that car, too!

    I keep asking AA Hubby if we can trade in my Jeep Liberty for a convertible – ANY convertible, any age, and any amount of mileage at this point. If I do get one, I couldn’t possible find a hat that goes so perfectly with it as yours does with “Pablo.” (I received as a gift from AA Hubby “100 Love Sonnets: Cien sonetos de amor.”)

    One of the last cars I owned as a single person was named “Scarface,” and I can’t say that I ever owned a car that would have been worthy of a prettier name – though none had the as many dents (I didn’t cause any of them!). “Scarface” was a Pontiac Sunbird (boring, but practical).

    You might enjoy this, post:

    • Thank you, AA, especially for approving of my hat! And I HIGHLY recommend purchasing that convertible–once you’ve driven one, the wind gets in your blood, and you can’t imagine being happy with anything else. (Kudos to AA Hubby, by the way, for such a perfect gift–what a romantic!) And “Scarface” sounds like one of those “character-building” cars that just might have given my Mildred a run for her money …

      Thanks for the link … I’ll definitely check it out!

  2. Kip Light says:

    Ahhh, the memories this post brings back. From the 1971 Mustang Fastback w/302 that my Mom let me have ’cause she just HAD to have that Monte Carlo with a bigger V8, to the 1975.5 MGB convertible (the first ones with the “rubber baby” buggy bumpers), the 1981 Turbo V8 Firebird w/T-tops, hood scoop and giant gold Eagle on the hood and gold pin-striping, the 83 Capri RS (Mercury’s version of the Mustang) with a 302 and 3 speed w/overdrive, the Lincoln Mark VII Town Car (more sport than luxury), skip the junkers and not so mini van during the leaner years, to my current sportier than I thought it would be “Chilli Pepper Red” Hyundai Elantra Touring. Strangely, none of them had names (except maybe the Firebird which got called “Bandit ” a lot (from the movie Smokie and the Bandit). Thanks for sharing your automotive history and in such an entertaining way. You are quite correct that the hat is the perfect icing to the “hippie chick look” cake. You’re a gearheads best dream, a hippie chick in a hot car 🙂

    • Wow, that’s quite the carlot, Kip! (Especially that MGB convertible and the Firebird with T-tops–nice!) And thank you–certain members of my family are the ONLY ones expressing disapproval of the hat (and suggesting I should be embarrassed!), and so it will stay proudly on my head until such time that I finally get up the nerve to put the “pedal to the metal” and send my little pony flying down the road in one direction and the hat flying in the other! 🙂

  3. Norman Eubank says:

    In 1977 (high school days) I drove a 1975 cutlass 442, forest green with white stripes. There was a girl there, I didn’t know her, an underclassman, who drove a beautiful blue 442 ragtop. That car was a power beast, top of the line muscle car for our day and that little girl was behind the wheel. I can remember even now wondering how and why a girl was driving so much horsepower, it just wasn’t right. I knew not to even approach her, my newer 442 only had a 350 in it, she had a 455 in that monster she was in.
    Funny, a few years later, while I was in college, I was introduced to a girl from my hometown. I still had my 442. In a conversation we were having about cars, I found out it was the girl with the 442 ragtop. Man she was small, she couldn’t have been over five foot tall, and she couldn’t have weighed 90 pounds. It hurt to learn from her that the beautiful blue power beast had lost its life in a wreck with a drunk driver.
    Even today, behind the wheel of Pablo she looks like a lttle kid (I wish you would have posted THAT photo). Good luck and safe travels. And honey, your 442 was VIKING BLUE (guys know these things).

  4. Lovely read thanks. i love the look of Daisy. Sorry to hear of her demise. Have a good weekend cruising in your new motor!

  5. Jamie Adams says:

    The 442 would be a joy to own today if wasn’t for gas prices! Cool summer (or fall) evenings cruising around with the top down would definitely be peaceful. Pablo is a beautiful car… I love the color. Be safe!

    • I was preparing to sell the 442 when it was totalled by the drunk driver–it was 1978 and gas prices were nearing .80 a gallon(!); it was a gas-guzzling monster that was just too expensive to drive back and forth to college. Thank you … and I will.

  6. Shawna says:

    I love seeing a different you than when I was in High School. I love to meet a person with passion for what they want in life. I remember the red bronco and I remember you getting a chevy blue van (right?) when you became a mom.
    I know all about daddy’s protecting their little girls. (Phil). I will continue to read your other posts at they are funny, encouraging, and ready for the next chapter in your book of life.

    • You have a good memory–it was a blue Chevy van, purchased after the birth of my second son. And thank you–I love being able to show my former students that their teacher had another side to her besides the one they saw in the classroom. I’m glad you liked my blog, and I will look forward to continued interaction with you because of it! And as for that passion in life, I think you’ve found yours–and I am so very happy for you.

  7. bakearama says:

    I loved my convertible too – a royal blue Ford StreetKa, bought for me by my dad after I’d written off my previous car. He didn’t want to buy it for me but he also knew that his little princess had set her heart on it!
    Although I only had it for year it was just so much fun to drive around in – there is something unsurpassed about having the wind blow all other thoughts right out of your head.
    Sadly we had to sell it earlier this year because it was no longer practical for what I need – my commute to work is15 miles of winding country road, and I needed something that would cost less in insurance, repairs, and most importantly, petrol!
    But your post tells me that good things come to those who wait – so – in 20 or 30 years time, when I’m married and my children are grown up too – another soft top may grace the driveway.

    • You’re right–that wind blowing “all other thoughts right out of your head” is an addictive feeling; I have no doubts that you will one day own another convertible. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. I love it! We girls do like cars too! I must say my first car was a 51 Plymouth given to me by a cousin. Talk about a tank, and the linkage would pop off once in a while and I would have to lift the hood and put it back on. That same car was later sold to a young man that made it into a low rider. The next was a 57 Chevy which I liked Ok but needed some work. On my 19th birthday I bought a new Chevy. It had not been my first choice though. I had wanted a GTO. Dad and I took one for a test drive, we got a little ways out of town and he popped the clutch and spun us around about three turns in the road and said, see this is not a good car for you. So I bought the Chevy, small engine, standard shift and it served me into being a married lady. After that I had many nice cars and some not so nice in between. My husband was a dealer. I had the first Chevy Monte Carlo in our part of N. Arkansas. Loved it, it was fast!

  9. bronxboy55 says:

    My first car was a 1968 Chevy Impala, also $800. I kept it for one year, then got a Volkswagen Beetle with a manual transmission, which I didn’t know how to drive. Once I learned, it was much better on gas and easier to park, especially on city streets.

    You look great with Pablo, and nothing like a recent retiree. How does the hat stay on?

    • So YOU got the Volkswagon Beetle that I wanted! It’s just as well; my husband tried to teach me how to drive a manual many, many years ago, and it did not go well (at all). And thank you for the compliment! Between the car and the recent retirement, I’ve had a lot of reasons to smile lately. As for the hat, I pull it down as far as it will go, and my big ears help anchor it in place. 😉

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