The Color of Money

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?

17 thoughts on “The Color of Money”

  1. My first car is my last car, because I live in a city where you don’t need a car, just feet, a bike and a ticket for the tram. (Isn’t that real luxury?) It was a Ford Fiesta built in 1989. Blue metallic, no servo-assisted steering, no seat heaters, no electric windows. I could change lamps on my own. It was a trusty, well-smelling, sweet-tempered car that brought me to where I needed to go- I called it “fish sandwich”. I had beads of sweat on my forehead every time I wanted to overtake a truck on the autobahn- 60HP serves not that kind of speedup you need sometimes 🙂 Then I changed my job and gave the Fischbroetchen to my nephew- and after a week, he crashed it.

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  2. Memories of the Sixties from a Woman in Her Sixties

    I grew up in Santa Ana California. 1305 So Hesperian Street was my address. We moved there when I was four years old. It was just a few blocks from Mater Dei high school, where I graduated in 1967.
    I grew up watching the jitterbug from my parents era and dancing the polka and waltz with my dad at a father-daughter dance. I couldn’t get enough.
    As an 8th grader the twist was one of the first new dance moves I learned. It was the craze and considered to be maybe too suggestive, like Elvis. The mashed potato and the swim and of course the Bristol stomp were the news ones as we welcomed the Beatles and British invasion.
    We all loved the dance shows on TV. American Bandstand, Shebang and 9th Street West. Good ol’ Dick Clark and Casey Kasem. I never missed a high school dance.
    One of my friends managed to somehow get tickets to Shebang and 9th Street West Dance shows in LA. I sill remember the dress I wore. It was bright yellow and black with polka dots and of course black patent leather shoes to match, which I bought from my earnings as a clerk at a dress store. It was a taped show so we all got together to watch at a friend’s house when it was aired. We were celebrities.
    In the summer my friends and I would hop into my Dad’s parts car and head to Newport Beach just 30 minutes away. It was an oxidized blue 49 Plymouth Station with a 3 speed on the column. Did I mention I stripped the gears learning to drive it? My dad

    had to replace the trannie.
    He owned his own gas station (Phillips 66 and Flying A) on Bristol in Santa Ana and kept this vehicle on the lot to pick up car parts. I wanted to paint it in the worst way, but he didn’t want his customers to think he would overcharge them by sprucing up the car. Oh well, I really didn’t care. We had a car to take to the beach and dances whenever we wanted.
    Gas was 28 cents a gallon and my dad insisted on a full tank at all times. He didn’t want me to run out of gas. How would that look, since he owned a gas station? He also taught me to change a tire, just in case. I also learned how to pop a clutch, which came in handy over the years.
    So at least 2 or 3 times a week in the summer we hit the beach. The station wagon original radio was shot, so my dad improvised and wired up a huge radio that sat on its side on the hump on the front floorboard. We’d roll down all the windows and blare the radio from the hit stations KRLA, KHJ and others and sing along. If we hit a bump the radio station would change. It was a great laugh.
    We’d spend the day sun-tanning at 34th street in Newport Beach where we would meet up with friends. And made sure to leave no later that 2:00 pm to drive straight to Disneyland, paid 75cents admission and left making sure we got our hands stamped for our return that evening. You see after 3:00 pm it went up to $1.50.
    We went home to shower making sure not to wash off the stamp and would get all

    dressed up in our long dresses. That was the popular style of the day. Most of us sewed so we made our own dresses. They didn’t have Target or bargain deals unless you went to KMART. So necessity made us inventors.
    Tuesday and Saturday’s were dance nights at Disneyland and it was packed. It was a favorite spot to meet up. We’d dance until the park closed pausing only briefly to use the money we saved on admission to buy an E ticket ride on the Matterhorn which was 50cents.
    “Those were the days my friend, we’d thought they’d never end. We sing and dance forever and a day.” Mary Hopkin 1968.

    The End

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  3. My first car was an ugly black Volvo my dad bought for us to learn on. It was heavy and sluggish, and the power steering was shot but I was too inexperienced to realize it. (My cousin made fun of me for that, but she made fun of me for a lot of things.) I drove it until I got married and my husband decided it wasn’t worth the maintenance anymore, so we sold it to a friend of my parents who needed a car for her son to learn to drive on. It was pretty beat up, and I can’t say I miss it.

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  4. My first car was a hand-me-down, which I first started driving after my older sister was finished with it. It was a 1971 silvery-blue Plymouth Valiant. A fine car in itself, except this particular one was obtained from a junkyard for $800 because the rear end was badly smashed like an accordion. Being the frugal and talented man that he was, my father resurrected the thing and put his own signature welding and body work job on it. The results were less than perfect. There was a hideous welding crease as well as Bondo marks that ran from the top of the car to the bottom, right in front of the gas cap. But no worries, the coat of paint tried to cover all that up. Sort of. Being the adventure-craving teenagers that we were, we did not care and drove it without an ounce of embarrassment (or so we told ourselves in our conscious mind), grateful to have any wheels at all to take us to our next rendezvous. After several years of driving the Valiant I got married, and wouldn’t you know, my father gifted me the Valiant as my wedding present. I drove that thing until my father gave me another car from the junkyard again, this time a 1976 silver Plymouth Volare. This Volare’s signature feature was that the frame was bent and consequently drove down the road slightly sideways. Sigh…
    So I put an ad in the paper to sell the beloved Valiant. A brother and sister came to look at it, saying the car would be perfect for their mother, but could I wait until they obtained the money. In the mean time, an automobile savvy American Indian came and looked at the car, berating me for letting the transmission fluid level get low, and bought it for $25. Then the brother and sister came back and were upset that I didn’t hold the car for them. What a poor car salesman I turned out to be!
    Goodbye Plymouth Valiant! You were good to me.
    Thanks, Danny for spurring the memories of my first wheels.

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  5. I love this car drawing! Please tell me what medium I used! Apple Pencil and Procreate? Old fashioned watercolor like the car itself?

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  6. I giggled when I saw your tag line. What is he up to now? You and ajmorgee triggered memories of course. Technically my first car was one that five of us bought for $7.50 ($1.50 a piece) an old Hudson Hornet (the year eludes me now but it is recorded in my journals). My real first car was a 1958 two door Anglia which my Aunt and her partner (they owned a custom lamp shade factory) painted a metallic copper which came out beautiful. ajamorgee talked about a huge radio her dad hooked up; this reminded me of a radio given to me by an uncle from an old Pontiac which took up most of the foot room in the passenger side. It was like having one’s own personal jukebox.

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  7. I really don’t have a cool story about my first car but my sister has a cool blue vw beetle bug for her first. We spent many a weekend driving 5 plus hours in it from home to college – Florida State University. The roar of the motor was so loud you could barely converse on these long trips. It was a stick shift and I was terrified on the hills in Tallahassee when we rolled backwards towards other cars as we attempted to get it into gear and forge forward. Fun times in 1975!

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  8. Ajmorgee.. I just went down memorie lane with you. Fun.. I graduated in 65 from Costa Mesa high..Nit far from Santa Ana. I had a 62 Renault stick..that I drove my girlfriends around in. Spending lots of time at the beach in Huntington Beach or crystal cove in Newport Beach with the radio cranked up. Memories are the colors of my mind..Barbara Streisand . 🙂

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  9. In 1979 I needed a car for graduate school so my father bought me a 1971 VW Beetle with a sun roof. It was British racing green. After having it for only about a week I went to drive it after a rain and when I backed out of the driveway water dumped on my head from the leaky sun roof. I loved that car but never could get the sun roof to stop leaking.

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  10. First of all I love your story! It actually made me tear up a bit! My first car was a Toyota Corona 1961 or 62, it was new and my first husband and I made monthly payments. I’m still not sure how we could afford it! He had a job in a magazine warehouse where he tore covers off magazines and boxed them to be sent somewhere. We had a baby and I worked as an aide in a nursery school, went to community college to get an early childhood certification and then created an in home nursery school so I could raise my son myself. We needed the car for everything, as we lived in the suburbs. Groceries, laundry mat, doctors visits, life! We drove that little blue Toyota till it died a natural death. Actually I think it outlived the marriage. I remember feeling proud when we’d oaid it off!

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