When you grow up in New York City, weeks can go by with your ever getting into an automobile. Generally, the only cars you travel in are subway cars. That’s how I managed to reach the ripe old age of twenty five without ever getting a driver’s license.
I’ve always loved cars though. I can identify most makes, models, and years from a distance. Particularly those made when cars were still cars and not just interchangeable silver blobs. I read somewhere that people love the cars most that were manufactured the year they first became aware of cars, usually around five or six. That’s why my very first car was a 1965 Ford Fairlane. I bought it for $800 in a used car lot under Route 1 overpass in Jersey City, when I was 25 and still a month or two away from taking my driving test. I’d moved out of Manhattan to live in Jersey City with a friend and for the first time actually needed a car to go buy a carton of milk.
Despite its age, the Fairlane had about 40,000 miles and its original paint which was a buttery bronze color. Patti (who managed to go to her grave without ever getting a driver’s license) dubbed the Fairlane “The Color Of Money” after the Scorsese movie which also came out that year. It was big and boxy with a fat stripe down its side. It had a manual transmission, “three on the tree”, and suited my old-mannish driving style. The thing was perfection.
Patti and I would take it around town but were always a little nervous about taking it on a road trip. It ran fine and I was obsessed about looking after it. I bought maintenance manual and endless tools. I’d change the spark plugs and oil myself and way more than necessary. I would hand wash, then wax it, buffing the bronze till it glowed like a Marine’s buttons. Perfection.
I let my roommate Simon drive it occasionally. One bleak day he came back from running errands and casually mentioned that he’d accidentally dinged the driver-side door in the supermarket parking lot. I rushed down to survey the damage. The door looked like a moose had run into it. It was crumpled like one of Simon’s empty cigarette packs. As I pulled open the door, it emitted a pitiful screech and a groan.
I was bereft. Sure, we could probably have gone to a body shop and had the door undinged. But The Color of Money was now imperfect, soiled, sullied. Instead of a classic, it was just an old beater. A few weeks later, I moved out of the Jersey City house and into an apartment with Patti. I gave the car to Simon and never saw him or it again.
I thought about The Color of Money today because I was listening to Episode Six of The Unmade Podcast, one of my current favoritest indulgences. This podcast is about podcasts which is rather meta but deeply entertaining. Actually it’s about podcasts that have never been made (hence the name) but could conceivably be one day if anyone could be bothered.
In each episode, two Australian chums swap ideas for potential podcasts, then delve into what they might be like, and whether they’d be any good. Then they move on to the next idea. Some of the ideas are great and unspool into hilarious explorations, while other are dead ends which are equally amusing to demolish like the door of a 1965 Ford Fairlane.
I love this podcast because it is all about creativity. These two blokes come up with ideas on the fly, then bat them back and forth, twisting and shaping them then tossing them aside. There’s no obligation to prove the ideas, just the raw pleasure of invention and problem solving.
It really gets my wheels turning as it did this week when they discussed another unmade podcast idea called “My First Car.” In this nonexistent podcast, guests would come on to describe their first vehicle and tell stories about what it meant to them, what adventures they had,what memories it provoked — and that would be it. Simple, dumb, and wonderful.
I’ll never be a guest on My First Car — because it doesn’t exist. But I wanted to share my memory of the Fairlane somewhere. What stories would you tell if you were a guest on the show?