June 3, 2016
I know it’s not cool to drive my ’76 Gremlin, but to me, it’s my identity.
I remember the day it all clicked in for me. I was fourteen. My dad had bought the Gremlin new. He was proud. It was his first new car. Working as a carpenter was good, honest, steady work, but it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing that made a man wealthy. We always had enough but never had a lot.
So he bought the Gremlin, an early Christmas present to himself and his small family, late in 1975. My first thought was horror. It was an ugly, almost scary, green. And boxy. And small, cramped. He’d traded in a ’67 Impala. A boat. Roomy. The back seat was more than spacious enough for me and my two sisters. There was even room for Max, our dog, a mix of mostly German Shepard with some sort of retriever or pointer, most likely—we never knew.
For two weeks I made excuses to stay home. I didn’t want to be seen in the car. Hank’s parents had a Lincoln and a conversion van they’d take on short camping trips. John’s dad had a Cadillac. And we had a Gremlin. The horror!
Then the moment came that would change my perspective in life, for the next thirty years, and likely far beyond. I was in English Lit class, Hank on my left and John on my right. We had been nearly inseparable since John moved in next door six years earlier.
Miss Simple was talking about Fahrenheit 451, and she was talking about what was real and what wasn’t and what mattered and what didn’t. Heady stuff. I usually dozed off in school, especially in English Lit, and paid more attention to Miss Simple’s legs and her tight dresses than the material. But that day she had my full attention as she read selections from the book, pausing often to editorialize. Then there was this line of dialog that stuck with me, that I still remember, thirty years later. It read, “I don't talk things, sir. I talk the meaning of things.” And it struck a chord. It twisted me up and changed how I looked at the world. The Gremlin was just a thing and Hank’s family’s Lincoln was just a thing and so was John’s dad’s Caddy. Just things. And things didn’t matter, not really, at least not very much. Not very much at all.
So seven years later, when Dad was talking about trading in the Gremlin, I asked if I could buy it. He wouldn’t take my money, a pride thing, except a single dollar. I gave him a dollar and he signed over the title and I drove away in my Gremlin. It’s a constant reminder that things don’t matter and I’ve got no interest in “keeping up with the Joneses,” whoever the hell they are.
I’m an attorney now, and I get my share of ribbing for the Gremlin, but I simply don’t care. I do pay attention though. The people that judge me or chastise me for my choice of vehicles are the people I choose to steer clear of.
I’m grateful for Mr. Bradbury, and for Miss Simple for sharing his wisdom, his great book. My life would likely have been a lot less content and rewarding had they not intersected briefly.
I smile as I turn the key and my ugly green Gremlin sputters reluctantly to life. I back out of my three car garage and face a new day.