The Long and Winding Road

"I'll take you to get a car."

Those magic seven words from mom signaled the end of my minivan days, and the start of a new, high-flying era of after-10 curfew and unlimited QuickTrip runs.

But like all things that come from the golden land of Detroit, there was fine print under this new lease on life. You have to pay for it.

I cashed grandpa's birthday checks. I redeemed every I.O.U. since 2nd grade. I broke my Bugs Bunny souvenir bank. I felt like I had just betrayed my childhood innocence, but this was a moment I'd been waiting for since birth.

We went to our first lot and enlisted the first salesman who put his best, polished and gleaning foot before us. As soon as we told him I was buying my first car, his face brightened and he had just the thing.

Right then and there I knew it was the one. As soon as he said "Corolla" I nearly swooned out of the plush seat. It was infamous for great gas mileage, was known for reliable mechanics and even had side air bags.

Overcome by this newfound desire for Japanese manufacturing, I demanded we see it immediately. He showed us a 2000 that had been traded just last night! It hadn't been detailed yet and was covered in dirt, leaves and Lord knows what. It didn't matter. One spin around the lot and I knew it had to be mine.

But my Mom warned against falling for the first car, and so we ventured to other lots, a la Dealership number two, which had advertised a $4,000 Corolla in Thursday's classifieds. We had called a salesman in advance, but the rest of the office didn't know that when we walked in.

Spring-loaded, a salesman pounced into commission-earning action as soon as he caught our scent. He held open four doors at once; pulled up the most comfortable chair he could find and would have baked cookies if he knew we were coming. He was devastated when we told him someone was already waiting on us.

Fifteen minutes later, an eternity in the used car business, our man showed up. He didn't look me in the eye and had the type of handshake that said you're-wasting-my-time-because-I-don't-get-any-commission-on-a-$4,000-used-car.

Nonetheless, he drove us three lots over to the used car junk yard and showed us a 1999 Dodge Neon that had just been traded in last night!

At an overpriced $6,000, it came complete with stick shift, roll-down windows and an interior design that deserved to be the pilot of "Extreme Car Makeover."

Then we found the Corolla: a dirty '92 jalopy that looked like it had just come out of a "Die Hard" film. The tag valued it at $4,500, but I don't think it could make the trip out of the lot.

We skidooshed off the lot and went to Shawnee, Merriam and Missouri lots in pursuit of "other cars." But the others couldn't compare. Escort, Taurus, Camry, nothing was like my first and only love.

Every dealer laughed us off when we asked for a car under $5,000. But I didn't care what they thought. Nobody else mattered; it was just me and my Corolla against the world.

We even visited a fly-by-night salesman, decked in a blinding lime green shirt and novelty sun hat. He showed us a car that had been traded just last night! It was a '92 Honda Accord that looked like a D'Lorean on a diet. It very well could have been the Corolla's ugly cousin. Yet, I was almost convinced because it came with the salesman's word and a free coke!

I admit, I did cheat on my Corolla. I spent an evening with a 2001 purple Malibu with full ashtrays and a sub woofer, a car that had been traded just last night! But after finding oil in the brake pads, the family mechanic said forget about it.

Just when I thought I could come home with flowers and chocolate to make things right, tell my baby I loved her and would never leave her again, Dealership number one called. The Corolla was spewing black smoke and they wouldn't sell it to anybody. It was off the market. I almost wept.

I was heartbroken. I felt alone in this dark and sketchy world of excessive hair gel and "Great deals!" In dire desperation I looked through millions of Craigslist ads and tore up every classified since Apr. 5, 2008.

Nothing. It looked as though I would be bumming rides from friends and taking the bus to school for the rest of my life. I would live in the basement eating Hot Pocket lunches and Ramen dinners. I would never get a job or ever aspire to something more than a car-less bum.

Yet there was hope. Dealership #1 called once more. They got a car that had been traded just last night!

It was a 1996 Oldsmobile Ciera. The periwinkle blue four-door looked, sounded and smelled like a car my grandma would drive before me, but that didn't matter. It was $4,000, and our mechanic's approval. I knew the Corolla would have wanted it this way. It was better for both of us.

The Long and Winding Road

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