I was living in my parents’ basement, waitressing, attending college part-time, flat broke and in need of transportation. My parents, desperate to get me on the road out of their basement, offered to take the room and board I had paid them over the summer to buy me a car. My dad talked to a guy who knew a guy who worked at an auto dealership with a “great deal” of a car for sale.
We bought the car for $150, sight unseen.
I had to work on the day the car was ready, so my sister and a friend picked it up for me.
I was excited. Life with wheels was certainly preferable to one without, and I could think of little else as I served sandwiches and poured coffee.
My mother called me at the restaurant: “Your car’s here,” she said. “Your sister said it drove real nice, but I want you to know that if you don’t want to keep it, you don’t have to.”
Not want to keep it! Was my mother mad? This was my very own car, my ticket to ride, my $150 freedom buggy.
“Is there something wrong with it?” I asked.
“Just wait until you get home,” she said. “You need to see it for yourself.”
When I got home, there it was waiting for me: a 1967 Mercury Brougham, Detroit’s vision of power and luxury from the previous decade, a hulking mass of gleaming purple metal that seemed to fill the driveway. I saw it from clear down the street — it was hard to miss, after all — and I looked past its color and saw a chariot awaiting its princess to take her rightful place behind the wheel.
But, wait…there was something painted on the door. Words? A picture, perhaps?
I squinted to make out what was on the door; the closer I got, the more awful the truth became. There, on the passenger door, was a naked blonde woman balancing a ball on her knees while reclining on a seal. Well, she wasn’t completely naked: there were three white stars covering particular areas of her anatomy, and she was wearing red-white-and-blue striped boots. She looked like a performer in a naked circus.
My mother looked on nervously from the safety of the porch. “Remember what I said,” she called out as I ran around the car, gasping. “You don’t have to keep it!”
There, on the driver’s door, was a similarly star-spangled, naked woman, only this one was a brunette; she, too, was balancing a ball while reclining on a seal.
The awful truth smacked me upside the head: My chariot of fire, my ticket to ride, was actually a pimp mobile.
Anyone who knows me well knows that deep down inside I am an eternal optimist. Beneath my sometimes crusty exterior beats the heart of someone certain things will always, always work out for the best.
And so it was that I got behind the wheel of my purple pimp mobile. The eight-cylinder engine roared into service and I drove it through my East Detroit neighborhood, onto the main drags and then the freeway for a cruise.
I ignored the hoots from other motorists. I kept my eyes straight ahead when drivers honked their horns at me. I didn’t acknowledge the “hey, baby, follow me” invitations shouted my way. I held my head high, focused my eyes on the road and drove mile after mile, deciding what to do. Keep it? Send it back?
The longer I drove the car, the better it felt. It had the 8-cylinder heart of a lion, I thought, and the price was right.
I kept it.
The next day, I headed straight for the neighborhood hardware store to get some paint mixed to cover the naked women. The color was a shade of purple no one in the hardware store ever saw before. Matching it took a lot of trial and error. The man behind the counter tried to keep a straight face as he eyed the car and held paint chips to the door.
When he finally got a color sort of close to the original, I started painting as he watched. He couldn’t take it any longer. “Hey, ya gotta get a load of this,” the man called inside to his co-workers and the hardware store regulars. They came outside, gathered around my car and admired my naked women as I brushed on the paint to cover them.
“Such a shame,” one of the men said.
The car, as it turns out, had been a consolation prize at a golf outing. I drove that beast for nearly two years before selling it to someone who gave me a $50 deposit and drove away — presumably to the bank to get the rest of the money for it. The buyer and car were never seen again.
I have fond memories of that car. But that’s all that’s left. I never took a photo of the purple monster and the naked women; how I wish I had.