Art by Toti Cerda

Wind in my hair.  Dreams in my mind.  Joy in my heart.  Behind the wheel of my very own car for the very first time.  Not a loaner.  Not a hand me down.  Not the back seat of my brother’s maroon Chevy Impala where every day after school I’d be accused of tilting the car to one side by him and his stupid friends:  four-foot tall Perla, la pelona, Edwin and Edith, the twins, our randy and pimply neighbor Victor and a whole lot of other stupid kids from our high school.  No sir! This car was all mine.  I’d worked all summer mixing paints, putting up with crazy customers, stocking shelves, and running shopping carts inside of Walmart to scrounge up enough money to make a down payment.  One thousand dollars to be exact. 

At 16, without a lot of car dealers willing to sign me up for a loan, I’d managed to find a small mom-and-pop shop willing to give me a shot.  They needed the money and I needed the car.  With my mother huffing and puffing all the way there, we’d stopped at the bank, collected my money, and signed on the dotted line as cosigners for my 1989 grey, four door, Ford Taurus.  Ay mijo are you sure you can afford to buy a car right now?  You are so young, you’re only 16, I don’t know if you are going to be able to make all these payments.  Pero bueno, si no entiendes (if you won’t understand – she still uses guilt like nobody’s business to get her points across) I’ll go ahead and sign for you, but I want you to keep up with this responsibility.  This is no joke. 

I was just happy me and my younger brother wouldn’t have to run to the multi-colored car my sister had given me a few months earlier anymore, immediately after the last bell rang at school every day.  This was long after I had stopped riding in my older brother’s Impala.  When that bell rings you better hurry up and get to the car or I’m going to leave you, I’d warn my brother every morning.  To avoid being seen, we’d park in the visitor spaces of the apartments across the street from Eisenhower High School.  When school was over we’d run through the hallways, out the door, across the staff parking lot, and into our car.  If the school buses started leaving before we did (they drove by right in front of us) we’d sink down into our seats hoping not to be seen or get out of the car and stand far away from it until they had all left, anything to avoid embarrassment.

Thinking back, her car was actually not so bad except for the fact that it had a black hood, a grey side panel and a cream body, which didn’t look as great together as you’d think. 

My car was all one color.  It had soft, cushioned, grey, cloth seats that matched the interior faux-wood paneling.  It had a working cassette player, power windows and locks, a functioning air conditioner, that new car smell, and rode smoother than any other car I had ever driven.  It was my pride and joy even though I had only owned it for a few weeks.  And while it had more mileage than I cared to admit, it very rarely let me down.  Five thousand dollars all paid in advance, a year and a half later, when I was still17, it was all mine.  After I was done with it, the car became my mother’s, and 10 years later it finally gave out.  We got rid of it.

That Taurus had no hydraulics like my brother’s Impala, it didn’t have a booming sound system either, and it wasn’t very impressive, but it did teach me a very important lesson.  About striving for what I wanted, working hard to get it, and about what it meant to be the one able to hand down an entire vehicle to somebody.  More than anything it was a personal triumph.  I was becoming a man.  ¡Un hombre hecho y derecho!   Well not entirely, but it was my start.