Sassy is her name. She’s a white Volvo. New enough to have the nerve to have power windows and a Blaupunkt stereo, but certainly vintage enough to have window motors that have gone on strike and an aircon system that recently quit in Malaysia’s unrelenting heat. And we’re riding in Sassy. The wind is whipping in through one of the 3 operable windows while the aircon blows tepid air. 3 kids under the age of six occupy the back seat in an array of forward and rear-facing seats. We’re hollering and laughing as we speed down KL’s highways and byways. We’re laughing because the wind is currently flinging our hair into innumerable configurations and hollering because the howl of the wind is deafening.
Heidi asked before I even boarded the vintage express, “Are you sure you want to ride in Sassy? The aircon has quit.” I assured her it would be my pleasure. Heidi, this is the point where I tell you why.
The location is Añasco, Puerto Rico circa 1987. My parents (like Danny, Heidi’s hubby) have never believed in new cars. If a car isn’t at least 10 years old it hasn’t started to live, so why waste the money? Their belief system was taken a bit to the extreme when the 1970 Chevy Nova became their car of choice. We never named her, oddly enough (I don’t think people were as attached to their things back then), but if I were to give her a name today it would be something super unoriginal like the Orange Machine, or Sunkist. Yes, she was very orange. An oft repeated urban myth of marketing failure, the Chevy Nova is rumored to not have sold well in Latin countries like Mexico and Venezuela because “no va” means “doesn’t go.” I was surprised to discover that this urban myth is not true and explains why so many Novas circulated Puerto Rico at this time. But I digress.
It was almost cliché that she had a vinyl, perforated, tan interior that grafted itself to any exposed skin in Puerto Rico’s humid, sun pelting heat. She had no aircon, unless of you course you wanted to count the rusted out floorboards, long ago stripped of carpeting, that bore holes the size of baseballs and generated some air flow. Those holes were legendary. Back when littering wasn’t uncool, that’s where we would dispose our bits of trash and whip our heads around to see it become a dot on the asphalt horizon. It also served us well when a friend fell sick shortly after a Ruben DJ concert. He had to vomit so my mom instructed him to vomit in one of the holes. Said holes were also responsible for us having to raise our feet when crossing over one of Puerto Rico’s many flooded bridges during the rainy season. “Kids, pick up your feet,” was said many, many times in the Nova.
She was a two door which meant the only way the people in the back were going to be able to breathe oxygen was to scoot all the way forward in their seat and squeeze their head between the headrest of the front seat and the narrowed triangle end of the front window. Obviously, that left absolutely no chance one would be wearing a seat belt while riding in the back. Oh yeah, that’s right, it didn’t have seat belts ! I think they were optional that year of the Nova. To be fair my dad installed some he rescued from a junk yard after we were pulled over by a well-meaning police officer who couldn’t believe that people still allowed their kids to ride around unbelted.
There was always a rag kept in the car for when it rained. The windshield leaked like a sieve and fogged up to blinding, so it was always someone’s task to be the interior windshield wiper.
That car, nonetheless, was famous. I was never embarrassed by that car because my mom used it to take us EVERYWHERE – Us AND all of our friends. She never used it’s hoopty status as an excuse to say we couldn’t go somewhere because it was raining or too hot. Mind you, she was the lone adult who schlepped 6 kids to a Ruben DJ concert (“La Escuela” and “El Alcohol” were his top hits); something most other parents weren’t even remotely interested in doing (Yes, that’s 3 people in the front and 4 in the back).Till this day if you ask anyone that knew the Orange Machine you will see their eyes light up and a trip down memory lane will follow. A trip filled with a ton of heartfelt laughter.
Fast forward to modern day and I find myself doing market research on luxury mini vans. Seven seaters just won’t do. I think I need 9 seats plus. And I think to myself how far I’ve come. From the Nova to now. But then I wonder, how do I give my kids those same kind of memories? The memories that force you to face your modern day luxuries and be ever thankful for them. How do I help them to understand that nice things aren’t a right? That they are a privilege that SOMETIMES accompany hard work and dedication. And I think that maybe like Heidi and Danny I should drive around a Sassy. A car that when they do upgrade will cause their kids to appreciate the cool breeze of aircon and the wonder of functioning power windows. There may be less laughter, though, because who laughs at a perfectly operational car?
I must admit that It’s pretty poetic the current car I drive, though. What’s it called? Wait for it…A Toyota “Innova.” Phonetically in Spanish it means, “And, it doesn’t go!” And the circle of life continues.