In the summer of 1986 my Aunt Betty offered me a job driving (and writing a payroll application) for the courier service she owned. I told her I’d love to take the job but her office wasn’t on a bus line so I couldn’t get to work. She said, “I have an old Ford Pinto here that you can keep for the summer. I was going to have you drive it for deliveries most of the time anyway.” And so I got what I consider to be my first car.
I drove that car from LaPorte west to Goshen, and from Plymouth north to Sturgis, Michigan, all summer running papers and small boxes to manufacturers. It was a great summer job, even though an old Pinto was neither a stylish nor, in this case, particularly reliable means of delivering anything.
The car’s color masked the considerable side-panel rust, but body color couldn’t help that much of the frame and undercarriage had rusted too. Two of the three bolts securing the front passenger’s seat had rusted out, but my girlfriend was kind not to complain about how her seat bobbed considerably over every bump. One day I stopped to change a tire. As I cranked the jack into place against the car’s frame, the metal crumbled away. I was glad somebody who drove the car before me had left a bumper jack in the trunk.
The car had manual brakes, making stopping an adventure. I ran many just-turned-red lights rather than come to a stop somewhere mid-intersection. I also couldn’t back the car up, its reverse gear having been stripped somewhere along the way. You’d think I would have learned to always park so I could drive forward to get out, but I ended up pushing that car out of a parking spot about once a week. One client on a hill offered parking against its building. Twice, meaning I did not learn the first time, I pulled into a space only to have to push my car out later – and then chase it down the hill. Have you ever caught a 3,000-pound car by an open door and tried to climb in?
Late that summer the car’s cooling system crapped out. After every trip of more than about ten miles, the radiator spat its contents out the overflow hose and onto the ground. I carried water everywhere with me until Betty finally put her in the shop for repair.
Still, I really enjoyed that car and count it as my favorite. I have never had a job where I had such freedom, and my little brown 1975 Pinto represented that freedom. It was my buddy as I explored different routes to clients, stopped at the 7-11 for Big Gulps, listened to top-40 music on WLS, soaked up the sunshine all day, and got paid five bucks an hour for the privilege.
Maybe someday I’ll find an old Pinto in decent shape and have it restored.
I also wrote about the hassles of my first new car.