First Love

I do this often. I’m looking at an old picture from the fall of 1975. I have a good idea it was taken with a Kodak 110 Instamatic. A little fuzzy. Not the best quality.

Boy, were those the days!

No one wanted to waste film back then. You only had 12 shots. You didn’t just go around taking pictures of food and painted toenails at the beach. You took pictures of things that mattered. Good friends. Vacation spots. Your best dog.

Then you had to take your camera down to the drugstore. Put the film in a little envelope, pay a few bucks, and have them sent off to get developed. You waited two weeks. You had no idea whether or not you would have any good pictures. Some came back blank. Some came back so blurry you couldn’t make out what it was. But a few were good enough to put in a box and hold on to for the next 50 years.

This one is a picture of my first love. Even though the picture is faded and grainy, I can see that her curves are perfect. She glistens in the hot Georgia sun, just sitting there beneath the tall pines in the background. Just looking at her, I remember how my palms got sweaty when I held her, and my heart raced every time we cruised down the highway together.

I dated a gal named Susan in high school. Long sandy hair. Blue jean bells bottoms. If there was a school dance, we were out on that floor doing what the old folks would call ‘cutting a rug’ until midnight. There was a time when I thought that we might make it forever, but she moved away. Far away. And I never heard from her again.

This picture is not of her.

The summer after graduation in 1974, I met Alicia. We were camp counselors for a junior week of camp at Woodland Christian Camp. She was athletic. The perfect tan. By midweek we were holding hands when no one was looking. I drove hundreds of miles later that summer to see her in East Point. It all ended six months later in a stupid argument that was all my fault. I kept a picture of us in my dresser drawer.

But this one is not of her.

This picture is my 1971 Chevelle Malibu. Royal blue. A navy-blue vinyl landau roof. Chevy rally sport wheels with the chrome center hubs and the chrome beauty rings. White letter 70 series tires all the way around.

I’ve said this before, so forgive me, but there’s nothing quite like a guy’s love affair with his first car. Even this computer doesn’t quite get it. Right now, while I was typing out that last sentence, auto-fill wanted me to say, ‘first wife’ instead of ‘first car.’ Which would be true, but which only proves that this modern-day bundle of circuits and wires has no concept of the effect that a truly beautiful machine has on the male species.

This picture of my car showed up on a memory in FB yesterday. The original post is 5 years old now, but because an old college buddy of mine just commented, “I remember that Chevelle,” I’m getting new comments and likes. All guys. Which proves my point.

Guys are crazy about their cars.

My buddy also commented that he remembered when that car had Mag wheels before the Rally Sport rims. Which is where the story is.

It was 10:00 at night. Sitting around the dorm. I’m sure we were digging deep into our study of Western Civilization. Could be we were watching Monday Night Football with Frank Gifford, Dandy Don Meredith and Howard Cosell calling the game.

One guys says, “I’m hungry.” When you’re 19 you stay hungry.

Four or five of us headed for the door. Curfew was 11:00. We had just enough time to make a run for the Waffle House. “I’ll drive,” I said. And we all piled into my Chevelle.

The problem with young boys and cars with big V8 engines is that all that power goes to your head. You think that you can drive like Steve McQueen but in reality you drive more like Jethro Clampett. Add to that the fact that it had been raining and the pavement was wet, and what you have is a recipe for disaster.

We pulled out onto Ben Hill Road. The 8 track was playing ‘Born to be Wild.’

“Get your motor running.” Those horses were meant to be free.

“Head out on the highway.” The road was calling to me.

“Looking for adventure.” The Waffle House late at night was always just that.

“And whatever comes my way.” Which happened to be a hard right-hand turn onto Dodson Drive.

I coasted through the traffic light at the intersection and halfway into the turn I goosed it. The rear tires got loose on the wet pavement. We slid wide to the left. I had driven my dad’s pickup enough on wet Georgia red dirt roads to know how to turn into a fish tale. The rear end came back to the right, but we were on the wrong side of the yellow line. Steve McQueen was behind the wheel, and he wasn’t about to let up.

When the rear end came back to the left, the car slid into the six-inch-high granite curb in front of the church building on the corner. God was watching the whole thing. We barely missed a telephone pole and hit the curb hard enough to bounce the car back out in the middle of the road. When it was all over, my left front tire was set in a permanent right-hand turn and both Mag wheels on the left side were cracked wide open.

How the tires still held air, I don’t know. We limped my beautiful Chevelle back to the dorm parking lot and took my buddy’s Volkswagen to the Waffle House.

She had about 70,000 miles on her when I got her in the summer of 1975. I swapped out the stock radio for a Pioneer 8 track stereo. She already had speakers in the front dash, so I ran speaker wires under the carpet to the trunk. I cut holes in the back window shelf and put in a pair of Jenson 6×9 speakers.

The bench seat up front was where the true love of my life sat next to me. Beth and I drove away from our wedding in that car all the way to Myrtle Beach. I made weekly trips from Georgia to Tennessee during 1981 trying to finish up grad-school. She was my daily driver to work. I kept her clean and waxed.

Then, one day, life changed. Child number one arrived. We had a mortgage to cover. It seemed like it was time for this 29-year-old to be responsible for a change. The old girl had 210,000 miles on her. I sold my Chevelle for $1500 to a wide-eyed teenager and got a Nissan truck.

All I got left is this grainy picture and a few old memories.

I guess that’ll do.