My First Car

I was 22 years old and headed to the Marine Corps. I had finished college a semester early with a decent, but not stellar, GPA and was still walking. No vehicle. No way to buy one. The Marines wanted me but didn’t want to pay me until I was actually in uniform and marching around. I hoofed it everywhere, didn’t even have a bicycle, and skateboards had not been yet invented, although I was a whiz with a pogo stick and a pair of clip-on roller skates.


“I need a car,” I told my dad. “I’m tired of walking every place, besides I’m going to be in California where nobody walks. And there are beaches with Marines on them. Maybe I’ll get a date.”


He ignored my rationale, “A date? That would be good, why don’t you get married instead of going into the Marines. Do you have money?” he growled, already knowing the answer. Of course, I didn’t have money and no credit as credit cards were not yet popular. I didn’t have a job and had a college loan of $275 hanging over my head. This was in 1968 and $275 was a heck of a lot of money.


He sighed, “Okay, I’ll co-sign a loan for a car for you, but I’m picking it out.” Oh, great. My father loved Studebakers and I figured my first car would be a Lark, boxy and not very snazzy, probably used. But they were reliable, so it was better than nothing. We lived in Emmett and drove the 30 miles to Boise, and he guided me to the Mercedes dealership. I was ecstatic, a Mercedes. Woohoo. Thank you, Dad!


“They have just the car for you. I saw it advertised in the paper. $1,800, in good shape. I’ll loan you $100 and you can pay the rest out monthly, three-year loan, under $50/month, plus insurance. You can pay me back when the Marines start paying you.”


Oh, man, this was gonna be great. “Are you kidding, a Mercedes for under $50/month? Is it a convertible? Red, preferably, but…any color really.” I was thinking of the Beach Boys songs, Little Deuce Coupe, Fun, Fun, Fun, and the various other surfer songs. A red Mercedes convertible in California at Camp Pendleton. Hot.


We parked and a salesman approached us. I was looking at the various Mercedes in the lot, but I didn’t see a red convertible. Too bad, I’d have to settle for a sedan.


The salesman and my father moved toward the rear of the lot. I mean, to the back-est part of the lot, in the corner. There sat a navy-blue car. “Is this the one you were talking about?” he asked my dad. I shook my head, but my dad said, “Yes, this will work just fine. Let’s take it for a spin to see how it handles.” The salesman handed me the key and said, “Take it around the block, see how you like it.” In those days, salesman didn’t sit in the car while you took it around the block, so we took it around the block and when we returned, my dad said, “Perfect. We’ll take it.” At that moment I developed a love-hate relationship with my dad. I had a car. Yes, I did. Dad wrote a check for a hundred dollars, and I signed a bunch of papers and committed myself to three years, at 4% interest, for my two-year-old, repossessed, navy-blue Opel Kadett. My first car.


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