In the late 1980s, I was starting elementary school (primary school in the UK). Back then, a car was a shoebox of parental disappointment emptying on you as it shamefully took you to school when you missed the bus. A car was a brown chamber that smelled like Christian decisions. This rolling fatalistic Bastille was the reason Saturday night was a school night. “Don’t stay up. You have Sunday School tomorrow,” my mum would say.
I mean, think about it. When you’re single-digit years old, you control nothing. Your meals are prescribed. Your bedtime is non-negotiable. If mum and dad were going out for a dim-lit restaurant meal, you were going too. “And you will be good this time.”
When you are a single-digit surf, a car is no different than a commuter train. You go where it wants to go. There are controls for the operator and a radio, but you are forbidden to touch these. Heaven forbid you reach for the electric window controls; the driver will tell you to stop because “you’re going to break it.” There are two things to listen to: dad’s nose and KYW News Radio 1060 AM Philadelphia. Oh boy, here comes the weather report. Dad’s going to listen to the weather and then repeat it to me.
My parents drove a 1985 Dodge Caravan with a four cylinder engine. The minivan didn’t have enough power to satisfy the moderate needs of Appalachian foothills and run the air conditioning at the same time. My parents loved minivans so much, they bought three throughout my youth. My dad adores minivans in the same way he loves to jackhammer plum-farts into his chair while reading National Geographic and eating Extra Chunky Jif straight out of the jar using a butter knife.
Fun cars, however, were never on dad’s radar. Cars were things that would jump out and kill you if you didn’t look left and right before crossing the street. A car was a moaning coffin that took you to a consistory of moaning hymns.
One Saturday morning in 1986, however, mum came home driving a silver Chrysler Conquest. Do you know how every pomade preacher-curl airline passenger whores-out the phrase “paradigm shift?” The following sentence is a correct use of that word pairing.
The sleek and toyish Conquest caused a paradigm shift in my understanding of cars as boring machines. Or, you could describe the same thing this way; what is this living Hot Wheels creation?
Penises aren’t just for peeing. Optimus Prime is real! The Turtles want to be my friends. It looks just like a Hot Wheels car. Where are the headlights? All I see is an uninterrupted expanse of metal and…oh my, Lord’s vainy name, the headlights go up by themselves!
The sky brightened. Report cards lost their edge and Pastors lost their volume. Here is a car that wants you to be happy. Here is a wedgy machine with only two doors. This is a car that wants to play. Its eyes perk when it’s time to run. It has a turbocharger. What’s a turbocharger? I don’t know, but everyone in Saturday morning cartoons says “turbo” when something bodacious is about to happen.
‘I don’t know what this Chrysler Conquest is,’ I thought, but I want to meet all of its friends.