I mentioned this ride in a Throwback Thursday blog post a couple of weeks ago — the plum-colored 1992 Ford Taurus.
Yes, mine was purple. No, I did not pick the color. This was a gift of a used car from my generous mother. Writers in their early 30’s couldn’t easily buy the new sports utility vehicles that their classmates loved so much. My friends called my Taurus “The Barney Car,” and that was not an appellation of which I was fond. (It means I was inside “Barney.” Did the purple dinosaur eat me? Does he eat a lot of adults so that their children are left unprotected from him? The implications are troubling.)
I myself gave it a girl’s name, because I am weird like that, but I’ve now forgotten what it was, because I am old like that. (“Maris?” “Amanda?”)
I also liked to think of it as “The X-Files Car,” because early-1990’s Ford Tauruses made frequent appearances on that show. Seriously! Mulder and Scully used them, along with nameless pursuing bad guys. And there is a truly kick-ass scene in which the Alien Bounty Hunter rolls up in one at night at a factory in his lethal pursuit of Jeremiah Smith — Mulder only manages to slow him down with a sucker-punch stab (sucker-stab?) to the base of his skull, with that weird, whooshing, alien-technology ice-pick.
The Taurus was a good car for a very long time. It needed either minimal or zero repairs. Then, one day in the mid-2000’s, there was a sea change in its general mechanics.
Everything started breaking down at once. Things just broke on it in rapid succession over a period of several weeks, as though it were affected by the spell of a vengeful witch.
The first thing to malfunction was the dashboard’s electrical system. Then it was the alternator. Then a tail-light went out. Then the brakes stopped working (which was a little scary). Then, something went wrong with the steering column, and the car’s path started leaning heavily, clumsily, dangerously to the right, like those “low information voters” in today’s Republican Party. (Make America Great Again.) And as soon as I had one problem repaired (and glumly paid for), the car would break down in another way.
One night, the heat suddenly failed. That wasn’t fun. It happened on an otherwise lovely evening during a freezing February. My girlfriend and I had gone out for an amazing night of dinner and dancing, at some opulent restaurant at the top floor of a building in Queens — it actually had a great view of the site of the 1964 World’s Fair. We were traveling north on the Clearview Expressway, returning to my apartment in Whitestone, when the heat simply ceased.
February nights in New York are not mild. They suck. And we were racing north on a downward slope on an open highway that terminated at the Little Neck Bay. My feet got so cold that I shiver a little even at the memory. She fared far worse in her dress and high heels; I still remember her fairly twitching in the cold, cold air. I couldn’t even find it in myself to get mad at the situation — I was too busy praying that nothing else on the car would break, so that we could arrive home and … not die of hypothermia.
Postscript: if you’re a millennial reading this, and you don’t know who “Barney” was, that’s a good thing. You are far richer person spiritually, and happier too.