There is a special relationship shared between a boy and his first car—some sort of combination brother, confidant and therapist. There’s a certain newness and feeling of adventure. It’s maturation. It’s responsibility. And it’s an intimacy that will never exist in any way again.
Unfortunately, such relationships are seldom understood until the end.
I first met the 1994 teal Camaro on a cloudy day in the early summer 2006. Despite the rough exterior and abused interior, the car was the right price.
I did my best to clean it up. Countless hours were spent scrubbing the dark stains in the carpet and upholstery. I polished the cracked dashboard, covered obstinate stains with fresh floor mats and placed a seat cover over the gash on the driver’s side.
A black leather car bra—to conceal the front bumper’s peeling paint—inspired the name Max, from the Klinger character famous for wearing women’s clothing on “M*A*S*H.”
I finished fixing Max’s appearance in early 2007 with a fresh coat of paint. But the addition of a real piranha head keychain to the rearview mirror made Max unique.
It made Max mine.
The summer I bought Max was perhaps the summer that I really started to grow up. In addition to a brand-new-to-me car, it was also the summer of my first job. It was the summer of my first airplane ride. And the summer of my first love.
And I continued to realize my entrance into the grown-up world with Max by my side.
After graduating from high school, it was Max who drove me to my graduation reception. And then a couple short months later it was Max who took all my stuff to my first dorm room.
Even though I fixed several of Max’s major cosmetic issues, mechanically he was still a mess.
The automatic window on the driver’s side never worked because apparently a car from 1994 is new enough to offer this feature, but old enough for it to not work anymore.
Throughout the years, Max leaked virtually every fluid possible. In fact, it took several attempts to finally seal off leaking motor oil. And early on, a full tank of gas often led to fuel dripping back out while driving.
Of course, I’ll never forget the time when, unknown to me, my parking brake went out and this announcement blared over the grocery store’s P.A. system: “Um… There’s a green Camaro rolling backward through the parking lot.”
And more recently, a wisp of white smoke started curling out from behind the air-condition knob.
But each little problem—from not knowing when my turn signal would work to figuring out the clanging sound in the trunk—was just another addition to Max’s character.
I have to say, though, that there are some things that Max did well. The “Low Traction” light, for example, informed me without fail every winter that I was sliding directly into oncoming traffic.
There are a lot of great stories that are part of dealing with a temperamental car.
One night, for example, I realized a little too late that Max’s tank was empty. Max—dry-heaving all the way—made it to the nearest gas station, barely running out of momentum right as we pulled up to the pump…on the wrong side.
But the best story has got to be the time when Max got a major flat tire from a key on the road that just happened to be mine.
Funny stories aside, we also went over quite a few “speed bumps” during our years together.
I’ll never forgive myself for the sickening crunch I heard when I backed Max into a telephone pole, scouring a patch of fresh teal paint.
And I still remember the anger I felt when I saw that someone shot out Max’s headlights with a BB gun.
It was Max who drove with me through the pain of a first break-up. And it was Max who took me to a place of peace the night a family member was in a serious accident.
At times it seemed that Max and I were two friends barely hanging in there together after getting beat up by the world.
But for every bad time, there were twice as many good times.
For one, Max and I shared a lot of music.
Like the 90 percent of Americans who sing in their cars, I sang loudly whether the radio was on or not. And Max always seemed to listen appreciatively.
It was Max who also slowly took me through my first high school promenade, although he did get the shakes when he idled too long.
And it’s Max who drove me and my current girlfriend of nearly two years to Sonic for approximately 87 consecutive evenings.
Plus, I can’t help but smile each time I think about the summer when, for several weeks, a spider nested inside his driver’s side mirror.
But as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
I took Max to the carwash for the final time last week. I was careful to relieve the water pressure each time I came to a developing paint chip.
And on Tuesday I took Max for our final drive. It was that drive when I realized how far Max and I had come together. Then I handed over the keys and kicked the tires one last time before saying asilent thanks.
My new vehicle has working windows and turn signals, no clanging sound in the trunk and the piranha head is dangling from the rearview mirror.
But there will always be a spot in my heart for teal 1994 Camaro named Max.
And that spot is made of leaked motor oil.