Driving and Biking in the Big City

Sailing the roads in the car of your dreams

with 6 comments

Cars have been considered a reflection of their owners’ personalities at least for the TV generation since 1958 and the second episode of 77 Sunset Strip when Efren Zimblist Jr. handed his Thunderbird over to Kookie.

For men, their vehicle can be a symbol of their success or of their machismo. My car always has been an important part of my identity. So please excuse my brief stereotyping. As a woman who loves cars, I’ve never considered it a guy issue any more than my own personal issue.

I take great pride in buying my own first car, a green 1971 Pinto. That’s right. Take that, Ralph Nader.

My mom’s car was falling apart one night when I was running the roads more and more. I was late because of terrible car trouble, and we got into a huge fight at midnight.


My dream hood ornament

“I will never touch your car again,” I shouted. She didn’t acquiesce. The next day, I biked to the nearest used car lot and bought my Olive for $1,999. Payments were $60 a month. It was part of the dowry I would bring into my marriage my freshman year of college.

In fact, that last evening in the Ford Cartina had been terribly dangerous – especially by today’s standards. I had been as upset and angry as my mom. Her silly maroon Cartina had been a major mechanical failure since my renegade brother and usually motorcycle rider had borrowed it and attempted to pop wheelies in it. He’d drop it into reverse, get going pretty fast and then switch quickly to drive. Not smart but then how many 16-year-old boys are.



Eventually the gears were stripped and untold damage caused. My mom had boo-hood on my shoulder at the expensive repair bill, but the car was never the same. It was even more unreliable than I was but a far cry from as unreliable as my brother.

The night my mom and I had our falling out over my transportation, the Cartina’s electrical system wouldn’t work when my friend Penny and I decided to go home from the Beaumont drag at about midnight. The engine would run but the lights would not. I couldn’t see the dashboard or how fast I was going. Everything inside and outside was pitch black.

Penny and I were pretty good at finding some male companionship back in those days and may have lined up a couple of new friends already. I can’t quite remember. Nonetheless, we had two Romeos who were perfectly willing to follow us home, shining their car lights on us for the 20-minute drive. OMG! Perhaps their plans were different, but ours were merely to get home alive.



When we arrived safely at my house, I turned Penny over to the two strangers for her own lift home.

Dear God in Heaven: Please forgive me for my foolishness as a teenager. Thank you, God, for giving me far less to handle with my own kids. And thank you for delivering my best friend and most fun running buddy home safely. God 1; Denise -XX, at age 16, I think it was just double digits at the time.

I’ve not always gone up in car ownership since the Pinto and never quite made it to the Jaguar level – the car I admired most as a kid. Of course, I’ve lived in the two places where car ownership is a sense of pride – Texas and Michigan. Or, shall we say, Houston and Detroit.



I had a series of used and superfluous vehicles until I bought one of Lee Iacocca’s first convertibles back in the 1980s when he’d returned to Chrysler to save the car maker. I had a new high powered job at the Dallas Times Herald and would be commuting to Dallas. I wanted to travel in style.

I raised my two babies with car seats in the three-quarters backseat of that Chrysler ES Turbo. It moved with me to Detroit for five years when I freelanced at the Detroit Free Press.

I finally faced change and bought a Grand Caravan when my kids were in middle school. Ironically, by then, they never wanted to be in the car with me anyway. Later I would buy Vinny, the Xtera and now Clarence, the Rogue. I still aspire to a Jaguar but may not be the right character for a chic car.

I have a desire for flames or lightning or a full-fledged mermaid on the front of my car – perhaps the reason I’m drawn to the big cat on the Jag. I want to hang fun items from my rearview mirror and put unique signs on my bumper or in my windows.

Thus, I’ve settled for elf ears on Clarence this Christmas. I’ve conformed to a degree and so far. Clarence prefers a bit of dignity and is not quite a fan of the elf ears. When I find just the right mermaid for his hood ornament, I think he will be happier.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

December 7, 2014 at 8:54 am

6 Responses

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  1. Fond memories of that Chrysler Convertible … great story!


    December 7, 2014 at 9:21 am

  2. Hey, I had a Pinto too,! Bought right before Nader said they were the most unsafe car on the road. Of course I sold my ’64 Corvaire to buy the Pinto which if you remember was Nader’s most unsafe car on the road before the Pinto! Luckily I broke out of the cycle, or wait, maybe Nader halted the list. Whatever.


    December 7, 2014 at 9:35 am

    • Haha. That Pinto was an albatross. Had my first wreck in it shortly after buying it. Then, it became a life lesson to the newlywed Hensleys. When it got too unreliable, we let the insurance lapse on it. Finally sold it, and, when we were driving it to the new owner, wrecked it — for the second time. My brother helped John rebuild it and we finally sold it again. When I saw it in the neighborhood, I swear it appeared to be coming at you sideways on the road. Yikes!


      December 7, 2014 at 11:04 am

  3. Loved the stores. I have reindeer horns on mine. Feel much better today. Are you going to book club? If you are, may I hop along on Clarence?

    Sent from my iPhone


    Janet Wallace

    December 8, 2014 at 7:24 am

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