Four years ago this week, I was just a boy, standing in front of a 1970 Plymouth Duster, asking it to love me...Sorry, Notting Hill fans, I couldn't resist.
That said, I thought it would be fun to revisit the columns that I wrote in the days before and after I (spoiler alert) brought the Duster home. The following is an excerpt from my first release, The Best Of Aloha Kugs, Volume I, available at Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited... or by clicking HERE!
Why do they call it a bucket list anyway? I mean, who puts things of value in a bucket? Or do they go in the bucket after you’ve done them? I’m confused, though I’m sure there’s a logical explanation but I don’t feel like googling it just now. I’m too excited and nervous.
So, here’s the backstory:
My older sister had a 1974 blue Plymouth Duster that she drove through high school and beyond. We called it “Monstro” after the giant whale in Pinocchio. We were clever. I loved that car. When she was ready to move on from it I bought it from her for $500, a tidy sum to me then as well as now. I was sixteen and not even legal to drive yet, but, I owned a car. Along with that came the promise of freedom and excitement and I was just in love with that thing and all it represented. I still have the handwritten receipt that we wrote on an index card somewhere in a box. I washed it and waxed it and treated it magnificently. I saw such promise in it. It wasn’t the BMW’s or Suzuki Sidekicks that some of my classmates were driving and it certainly wasn’t the convertible ’68 Mustang or Vintage Oldsmobiles that a few of my friends drove. Those were awesome and I felt like my Duster fell somewhere in between all that. It was cool, but not head-turningly so. I liked it. It had character. The car needed a few repairs and I was saving up for them in the months leading up to my seventeenth birthday.
It was during this time that my father developed the cancer that would take his life. Needless to say, the car and its needed repairs and pretty much everything else in my life got put on hold. When my birthday came, my ex-girlfriend drove me to take my road test in my mom’s old Nissan Sentra. That one was nicknamed “Challenger” for a variety of reasons. I received a new car stereo as a birthday gift from my parents and it was decided that I would have it installed in the Sentra, “For now. We can always put it in the Duster later.” It was a difficult time and a lot of it blurs together now but the Nissan became my daily use car and my hope was to get Monstro up and running in time for the Senior Prom, at least in my mind.
After Dad died a lot of things changed and a lot of priorities shifted and I’ve talked about that in previous musings here, so I won’t belabor it, but in general, life became very much about somehow muddling through the rest of high school and getting myself into a college. The Duster didn’t make it to Senior Prom (my lovely date was probably OK with that) and my new plan had been to work towards saving up for repairs over the summer so that it would be ready to cruise down the shore the following summer, after my freshman year of college.
When I left for college, I remember patting the Dusters’ hood and thinking that it was getting to be time for us to fulfill the promise I had felt when I’d been allowed to test drive it in the elementary school parking lot at sixteen. I had to pretend I’d never driven a car before but I think I pulled it off. When I settled into my dorm room I remember hanging a few pictures of friends of mine, mostly in formal wear in front of the car. It had become kind of a thing for us before Proms and semi-formals, I’d usually do a picture with my date or friends in front of it. And then I went about having a freshman year. I didn’t think much about the Duster until I came home for Thanksgiving Break and noticed its absence from our driveway.
“Um, Mom, where’s my car?”
“Oh, I sold that to one of Mac’s friends. He needed a car to drive to Texas. The Sentra can be your car now. It’s newer anyway and your stereo is already in it.”
She’d taken $200 for it. It had been a hard year for all of us with Dad passing and the challenges that brought. As I recall, I don’t think I said anything to her about it at all. I just said, “OK, mom.” I never really told her how it made me feel to have that dream, that promise, so suddenly and irrevocably interrupted. In the years before she passed we would kind of joke about it, yet there was a small part of me that was deeply and profoundly disappointed. It seems a silly or possibly even selfish thing for me to have felt, especially considering the year our family had had. But the memory of that promise lingered.
Life moved on and “Challenger” gave way to a 1991 Mercury Tracer that we nicknamed “Bullseye” because people kept hitting it with their cars. Then there were the Outback years, which ended when we sold my Green Outback before moving to Hawaii. Our family has been a one car, Honda Odyssey family ever since.
Over the years, I would peruse the old “Auto Trader” magazines and once the Internet became a thing I would check online for a ‘74 Duster now and then. Craigslist and eBay would occasionally present a temptation and then real life would pull me back in from those fantasies. In my heart I always hoped I would get the chance to have one again, but as the kids got older and our priorities shifted, fantasy was just about where I had to leave such thoughts.
While I loved the car, I’m not a mechanic or even all that knowledgeable about classic cars, so I always felt intimidated by the prospect of even pursing one for real. That said, every now and then I would see one on the road and it would all come back to me: that dream of freedom and driving down the shore with the windows open and just the promise of fun. It was all about fun and being open to it that would make me start to search all over again. If you’ve known me for any length of time, it’s likely you’ve heard me talk about this a little or maybe I’ve talked your ear off. While I would look occasionally, it never really went anywhere. There was a romance to the idea that was intoxicating but I was always able to come back down to Earth.
That is until last week. The wife’s Uncle, who is a big-time car guy and among my favorite people, has been keeping an eye out in his world for a Duster that would work for our family. I told him last summer at a family wedding that all I really wanted was “A Duster that’s in good shape that we can actually use as a second car for the family.” I don’t need to be a Car Show guy or garage the thing and never use it. We’ve managed as a one car family for almost eight years now, though we get a rental a few times a year when we simply can’t get things done with the one vehicle or public transport. As the kids’ lives and activities get more involved, it’s become increasingly difficult to manage.
So, Uncle calls me while we are on the concession line before we saw the “Shaun the Sheep” movie. He says that he’s found a possible car for me up in New England. Says he’s talked to the guy and likes what he’s heard so far. He gives me his number and says good luck and to keep him posted.
So, I call the seller and I like what I heard too. It’s very low on original miles and it’s been garaged pretty much for ever. He sends photos and Uncle and I and anyone else whose opinion I could get pore over them. Long story short, it looks promising.
But beyond that, something started to happen as I learned more about the car and the people involved. The previous owner had bought it from the original owners’ family back in the late 1990’s. He had a Duster in college and wanted to revisit that experience as an adult. That certainly resonated with me.
I liked what I was seeing and liked what I was hearing but, I figured there’s no way I should really think about this right? This isn’t the sort of thing people actually do, is it? I started to get a little intimidated by the process and started looking for someone in my life to talk me out of this and off the ledge. I asked my wife, my cousin, my sister, my friends, my in-laws, my financial advisor, total strangers, the kids, our fish, God and anyone else that was in ear shot. “What do you think?” I asked. Outside of a few logistical and safety related inquiries, in general almost to a person the response I got was “Go for it!” My finance guy even asked for pictures and recounted stories of one of his pals back in high school who drove a Duster.
So, no one was going to take this cup away from me. I was either going to have to drink it or pass on it all on my own. And it still kind of scares the daylights out of me. But I was reminded of something my pal said to me when we were debating whether or not to make the move to Hawaii back in ’07. I was having real anxiety about leaving Jersey. He said to me, “Dude, this would be a huge move out of your comfort zone, and you seriously need to be moved out of that-take a chance.” And we did, anxiety and all, and it turned out to be a very good thing for our family. So, I’m reminded of that in this process as every potential roadblock to this coming together has miraculously worked out. I wanted an “impartial car-guy” to look it over for me but didn’t know anyone up there…and a friend found one. I didn’t think I’d be able to get the paperwork to drive it home and wasn’t going to ship it…and a friend found a way for me to take care of that. I figured I was being selfish and didn’t deserve to even think about doing something like this and while I still don’t think I deserve it, I was told by the wife that, as long as she gets to drive it too, it’s something the family needs anyway.
So, I’m going up to see it in person next week. I don’t know for sure if I’ll be driving it home or flying home alone, but I only booked a one-way flight. So, I know what I’m hoping for but plan to be smart about it. I’m nervous and anxious but only a little more than usual. Realizing that is actually quite a bit of growth for someone who has struggled with anxiety in the past. When I really look at the things I’m anxious about as this process pulls me further from my comfort zone, I find that it’s probably a good thing to be a little scared. Buying anything from 1970 is likely a risk these days. But I find my anxiety is tempered somewhat by my excitement. I won’t know until I put my hands on it and sit behind the wheel whether or not I’m going to buy it, but I can’t wait to find out.
Life is short. The years I owned my old Duster, where our time together was over before I got to really enjoy it, were turbulent and challenging. This won’t be that car any more than I will be that seventeen-year-old kid and I’m glad for that. It’s been over twenty years but I feel like I’m ready. If this one doesn’t pan out I’ll be disappointed but, as a wise man told me recently, “There’s always another car.”
I’ve been chasing this car for years and I feel like I’m pulling into the parking lot where it’s waiting for me. The kids think it’s cool. The wife thinks it’s cool. Outside of that, I’m not sure what else I need. I’m not sure I did a particularly good job of explaining what this possibility means to me but I’m not sure I can articulate it. I just know I’ve felt like I had a place in my heart and life for an old car. An old Duster. I’ve always felt like it might bring full circle that feeling that anything is possible that I remember feeling before my dad got sick.
Or maybe I just want to look like a badass in the pickup line at school…I dunno, but I hope to find out. Stay tuned.