When I was a upcoming graduate of Del Campo High School, I’d saved a little money. I worked at the A-1 Grocery Store. It was a little mom and pop store in downtown Fair Oaks. Mr. Lee was a Chinese man who hired me because he thought I was “good boy”.
Riding the bus home from school was never much fun. I didn’t get along well with most of my class mates, and the confined space of a bus didn’t help that situation much. So often I would walk the few miles home instead. When I walked, I often passed this home that had a car parked on the side of the house.
With the grass grown high in front of it, the headlights appeared like the eyes of a cat stalking me as I walked past. I always wondered why it just sat there. It seemed like a nice car with the exception of all the dust that had settled on it. From what I could see, it had a teal blue interior. A Pontiac. 1964. The year Pontiac’s started getting really good.
The 60’s certainly were the grand years for the brand. I don’t know, looking back, if it ever got any better than that. Certainly years later, 1985, driving around in my friends Korean made, front wheel drive LeMans, it was clear that someone at Pontiac completely had no emotional connection to the 60’s.
But I digress.
With just a few hundred dollars in my account from my work at the cash register and helping Mr. Lee with sides of beef I walked up to the door one day and knocked. I didn’t know what I was going to say but the mystery of what seemed like a perfectly good car sitting there with GTO dual-hood-scoops had to be solved. The woman who came to the door was very nice.
She said her son Billy had parked it there when he left for college back east. He’d since decided he was not returning to California, having accepted a job out of school – also back east. He’d ok’d her to sell the car, but she just never got around to it.
I was not very good at the game I would later learn of being a disinterested buyer. It didn’t occur to me to not tip my hand, that I really “had” to have this car. I think I might have even hopped up and down there on her front porch at the prospect of buying my first car. I think Mrs. Billy’s Mom was fighting a smile as she anticipated my next question.
Might she sell the car to me?
“Well”, she wondered, “The car has been sitting there for a while. It runs fine, but the battery may be dead”. “I don’t care” I said – losing any pretense of a poker face.
And, so it was, 1 battery for $29.99 and a hundred dollar bill to Mrs. Billy’s mom, I was driving home in my 1964 Pontiac. I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited to drive a car home since. (Although my husband Rob might declare that he can’t imagine me being more excited than the day I bought my first BMW convertible, or when I finally landed the rare 1989 Dodge Dakota Convertible that I’d wanted a long time).
Having that memory and also the one of the other Pontiac I drove (a 1975 Firebird Esprit with a 400 Cu Inch engine and a 4-barrel Quadra-Jet Carburetor) made it especially sad today to hear that the many years of GM mis-management have resulted in the demise of this brand.
Remember? Pontiac was supposed to be the ‘excitement division’. Sure, many of the cars were knock off of Chevrolets but they were nicer, sportier for sure, and often times, I thought – far better cars. One of the things about growing older that I’m finding is the melancholy that comes from remembering good times when we didn’t worry about things like the downward spiral of American manufacturing preeminence. Or that these products, which we emotionally connect with – like cars would be perceived as one of the pariahs of our social ills and economic collapse.
It’s going to be harder as time marches on, I supposed, to fight the resistance to be one of those “old” people we used to make fun of. You know, the ones who’d claimed about how things were better in the ‘good ole days’. I don’t know if they were, or they weren’t. But they sure seemed simpler.
I just know that as I watched that 1964 Pontiac hooked up to a tow truck to be taken off to Rancho Cordova Dismantlers that I had a feeling of sadness. And, I’m experiencing again watching a whole division full of history being dismantled.
I was holding two one hundred dollar bills in my hand as the tow truck turned the corner. And, somehow that didn’t provide any comfort – knowing that I’d made a hundred dollar profit from the price I paid for the car.
My hope is that all those executives at GM who have plundered this company for personal gain and have, for years, disregarded the brand value and historical trust they were charged with steering have just as little comfort counting their money knowing that the whole division has been hooked up to a truck to be taken to the wreckers.
But time marches on. Things change. Products come, products go.
Then again, right now – some high school student somewhere might be walking home looking wistfully at an old Hyundai. I just can’t imagine – in my mind – that once he or she turns the key and pulls it out on the road that the experience will be the same. No Hyundai of any year will be a 1964 Pontiac. No way.