Story told from the car’s perspective:
Sudden Mood Swings
I was born in 1986 given the name Caprice, which I later learned is defined as a sudden change in someone’s mood or behavior. Seemed fitting for the city I live in, Los Angles, California. A city that suffers from constant mood swings.
When I was new I had dark blue paint with classy wire hub caps and a tan interior that people would let themselves drop into and bounced up a little. The salesmen would say that I was a Caprice “Classic” which I never fully understood since I was brand new with less than 10 miles to my VIN. Nevertheless, I was at the dealership for less than a month before I met my first owner. A middle aged man who looked like he wouldn’t even hurt a bumble bee if it buzzed near him. An urban Buddha.
As nice as he was to people and animals, he was cold when it came to machines. I had to beg him to change my oil by flashing warning lights on the dash or misfire whenever I wasn’t feeling well. The bastard hated spending money on me. He felt that the monthly car payment was enough of an expense for me and that anything else was just “big business working together to try and squeeze an honest dollar out of hard working Americans.” I did not like him…
His driving style was even worse! I lost count of how many curbs I ran over or bumpers I kissed in parking lots. He had a ham-fisted approach to driving in traffic where he felt that everyone around him was a motoring maniac except for him; even though he was the one who refused to speed up in the fast lane. I hated him for that because it was so embarrassing to be the one who was holding up traffic and feel other drivers wishing death upon us when they drove past us on the right.
I stayed with him until 1989 when I couldn’t take it anymore and broke down on the 101 in the middle of summer. I over heated and forced him to pull over. I never seen him so mad and he began to pound his fist on my steering wheel in a fit of rage, but I didn’t care. I was not going to move another inch with him behind the wheel, I rather be towed.
South Central LA
He got rid of me at a used car lot when he traded me in for a newer car. I felt sorry for the next poor engine who had to deal with his moronic behavior. By this time I had lost a lot of my charm. Missing hub caps from sudden wheel jerks, my paint baked from being in the sun all day, interior full of cigarette ash from his two pack a day habit, and I had trouble performing due to years of unkempt maintenance. I felt like a real junker.
I bounced from owner to owner over the next two years. Each one worse than the last. I would get a new owner but my condition meant that they didn’t care what happened to me. I was repossessed twice! I didn’t notice at the time, but with each new owner I was traveling further south and before I knew it was 1991 and I was sitting in a beater used car lot in South Central Los Angles.
Feeling angry at the poor owners I’ve gotten, and growing bitter, I thought about clunking out altogether. Sitting in a junkyard waiting for the cold embrace of rust seemed much more peaceful than being used like a rental by the rotten fruit of humanity. Then one day a young man visited the lot.
The Kid Owner
He was more kid than man, just entering the age of young adulthood. He was strolling through the lot just walking around kicking tires. I was parked next to a Checker Cab with a 1000 yard stare who kept to itself. That poor engine had seen more than most vehicles will in 300,000 miles. Once, in the middle of the night long after the lot had closed its gate the Checker whispered a confession to me. It told me that part of him wanted to be crushed, he was tired of rolling. To this day I don’t know why it decided to tell me that, but I suspect it was because it had just made it’s peace with the reality that it still had plenty of miles before it’s wish came true.
When the kid came up to us he stared at the Checker. He looked at it from top to bottom and even underneath. A half smile drew across his face as he padded the hood of the Checker and whispered, “Solid as a tank. Good car.” I had never seen a human talk to a car politely. Usually it was a string of foul language followed by a kick to the door or fender, but this kid was different. He didn’t want the Checker but he admired it for what it was. That blew my engine block and I started to watch him like a hawk.
He walked over to me next. I tried my best to sit straight and not look like I was losing air in my rear left tire. Just like with the Checker, the young kid inspected me all over and checked my engine bay. He seemed happy that I was fitted with a V8 small block. I was bracing myself for the hood slam but instead he gently lowered it and then pressed down firmly, another first for me. I was perplexed by this kid. Who was he? What did he do? And would he be interested in a worn sedan like me?
Turns out he was and paid for me in cash. For the first time since I left the dealership I felt optimistic about the road ahead. This kid knew cars and I hoped he knew how to take care of one. We started on the trip home and passed Crenshaw Boulevard and started going deeper and deeper into gangland. I was just a worn sedan with no hubs so what did I have to worry about?
The young kid lived by himself in a small home that had a dirt backyard which is where I was parked, hidden behind the house. There I noticed that all the windows on his home and the houses on either side had bars on them. I could hear dogs barking in the distance as well as police sirens yet everyone seemed to go about their day as if they couldn’t hear it. I still didn’t know the kid’s name but that first day he walked out into the backyard with a tool box and started taking my hood off.
Over the next 6 months he worked on me every night. Starting with the basics; spark plugs, wires, filters, fluids, and replaced my radiator. Then he greased my joints and gave my interior a complete detailing. Finally he pulled my engine and started souping it up. Shaved pistons, swapped camshaft, bigger valves, the works! He changed the rear-end and gave me limited slip and a turbo 400 transmission with a floor mounted shifter. Every night he worked he would play music cassette tapes on this boom box he had. He called it “rap.” I liked this music. I didn’t always understand the lyrics but the beat made me wish I could sway along with the rhythm, it was intoxicating.
By winter of ’91 I was finished and the once ugly duckling was now a pissed off black swan. He left my steel wheels but fitted beefy Goodyear tires which lifted my rear-end higher than the front so I always looked like I was ready to launch. I loved blowing past other cars who only saw me as a boring sedan. My paint was still faded but now I was so fast that I didn’t care how I looked. I blended with the tarmac and at 120 mph I looked like a shadow zooming by. This owner was an inner city hot-rodder and I was his sleeper.
Escape from LA
We had a reputation around the neighbor by the spring of ’92. Everyone called my owner Wrench and wanted him to work on their cars. One night in particular he was invited to a cook-out and I could hear them talking. The owner of the house wanted Wrench to join their crew or “gang” as he called it, but he wanted no part. I knew why, he was saving up to move out of this neighborhood and had dreams of starting his own speed shop somewhere far away from here. I often overheard him talking to himself about it while he worked on me.
I couldn’t hear much over the sound of music and beer bottles being thrown into trash cans, so I decided to take nap under the orange grow of the street light I was parked next to. Suddenly. I heard the sound of gunshots! Bullets started cutting through my side windows as a car sped by shooting at the house where my owner was at. Fire was spitting out of the windows of the car as it drove by. Immediately, five or six men came running out from behind the house with handguns and started unloading rounds as the car drove off into the night. Bullet casing rolling to rest was the last sound before everything fell silent. Everything happened in less than minute…
I was fine but my driver and passenger side windows had been shot out and bullets had torn through the headrests of my interior. My owner was more angry than scared and quickly hopped in when police sirens started ringing in the distance. It wasn’t until we were on the road that he started to cry out of frustration. He was fed up with the neighborhood, fed up with the sudden life threatening chaos that could erupt at any moment – he wanted to escape. When we got home he sat in the one patio chair he had outside in the backyard with his boom box.
The music began to flow out of the plastic box and filled the area with head bopping rhythm, while he rolled a cigarette by hand and took long drags. The night seemed so peaceful. There was silence for once and all I could hear was the beat of his music. I kept wishing my suspension was softer so I could sway and bounce to the beat. Imagine getting into a song and not being able to move freely to enjoy it. Wrench eventually got tired and turned off the music close to sunrise.
Chaos in 1992
He didn’t wake up until three in the afternoon and began to put items of his life into my trunk. A garbage bag full of clothes, a boom box with a shoe box fully of tapes, and his tools was all he felt worthy of taking. By the time we left it was after 6 pm. While stopped at an intersection I saw a crowd of people huddled around a window that was showing the news. They looked concerned.
We were traveling on West Florence Avenue, passing the 110 to get on the 405 and head north out of Los Angeles, when Wrench slammed on the brakes at the sight people running from everywhere in a panic. When we reached the intersection at Normandie Avenue, the city was in chaos as people everywhere were smashing stuff in adrenaline filled fury. Wrench was debating on whether to cross the intersection until we saw a man in a red truck being pulled out and savagely beaten by a group of rioters. The level of violence could glue you to the floor in frozen terror.
Wrench didn’t wait to see what these people were going to do next and threw me in reverse and hard into a J-turn to get away from the chaos. We took the side streets but war zones seemed to be happening everywhere as we saw over turned cars and store fronts engulfed in flames. Fire fighters were trying to put out the blaze when gunshots started echoing off buildings and sending people stampeding for their lives. Wrench turned me around and floored it after I saw a firefighter collapse to the ground in an attempt to dodge gunfire.
Night had fallen when we finally got out of the city and Wrench pulled over to see the landscape of the LA as part of it burned to the ground in orange amber patches. Black smoke being carried up and blending into the night sky. A depressing sight that Wrench identified when he talked openly to himself as he looked upon. “All this violence won’t change nothing… just adding gas to the fire that’ll never go out…” He sat on my hood pondering his next move. Where would we go? What will he do? The angels had left the city and left only demons.
The Bandanna Man
Wrench went nomad for a few months picking up odd jobs at different garages here and there throughout southern California. At the beginning of ’93 a man in a bandanna, who worked with Wrench at a repair shop in Long Beach, made an offer to buy me that Wrench couldn’t refuse. Just like that, with one handshake I never saw Wrench again. It hurt me that he sold me as if he had no sentimental value for me at all, but he was much more mature now and needed to money to open his own shop. I take comfort in knowing that I helped him get out of gangland in my own way.
The bandanna man was just as good with cars as Wrench was and took me to his family’s garage to work on me. They were drooling over my engine and modifications but I kept hearing them say they wanted to chop and drop me which didn’t sound too good. Before I knew it I was been taken apart piece by piece until I was stripped to the bone and everything went dark.
I don’t know how long I was out for but when I awoke I felt very strange. Something was different, I felt like I was wearing new wheels and tires a size too small and could tip over with a strong breeze. My engine was back and it sounded quieter but with a deep rumble that made me sound stern. They drove me outside into the sun and that’s when I noticed that I had been repainted silver! Sunshine danced all around my hood in diamond shaped sparkles. I never thought I could look this…cool.
My wheels and tires looked like they belonged on a shopping cart and took some getting used to but I did feel looser. The ultimate surprise came when they inserted a cassette tape and a song started playing by an artist I recognized as Wrench’s favorite, Ice Cube. The man in the bandanna flipped a set of switches on my dash board and I started to dance! Up, down and side to side, I was worried I was going to roll over with how high was I was bouncing. It quickly dawned on me that I was finally dancing to the music I had been listening to all these years.
Today Was a Good Day
He took me out driving for what seemed like hours. Just for fun. The city no longer in flames and a cool breeze hung in the air as a memo that fall was arriving. I still think of Wrench whenever my new owner drives fast, but now I mostly attend car shows and get treated with care so my paint doesn’t get damaged. I have to admit, I enjoy being spoiled. Now every day is a good day in LA.