I was thrilled when, at the age of 16, I was given a white Volvo sedan, one of my dad’s company cars, to drive — thrilled mostly because my other option was an ages-old Hyundai, a sort of puke-colored thing that always reminded me of a Flinstones-type of car with two running feet in lieu of an engine.
The Volvo was reliable, a cool color, and, people often reminded me, one of the safest cars on the market. And everything was great, until I decided to have that party.
It wasn’t so much a decision as a necessity. See, my friend Molly had explained to me that when my parents went out of town, I simply had to have them hire her “babysitter” Gretchen — for the sole reason that Gretchen, a recent Brown graduate and confirmed Deadhead, allowed, and in fact encouraged, party throwing.
So how could I refuse? With Gretchen off at a Dead show, and essentially my entire high school over at my house, I relished in having swung this one. How does this all possibly relate to my beloved Volvo, you ask? Well, let me tell you.
The party, as you can imagine, left quite a mess and the next morning, I remember tossing a good couple hundred empty beer cans into trash bags, which I then shoved into the trunk of my car. Before I could get rid of them, however, I suddenly remembered I was supposed to have lunch with my uncle in the city. No problem, I assumed. The beer cans could take a trip to the city before being trashed.
The problem, however, is that I got rear-ended on the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t remember much except that I was stopped and the guys who smashed into me — surfers who, if I recall correctly, were on their way to Baker Beach — told me they thought they were going about 25 MPH. We stopped, exchanged information and pleasantries (they were surfers — i.e., cute), caused quite a traffic upset, and moved on. Shockingly, my car drove just fine — it just happened to be missing, essentially, its back seats (the “dent” basically pushed the trunk up to the front).
All I could think about during lunch with my uncle (an attorney, natch, who took photos of my car and kept asking if maybe I didn’t have a headache or some other sign of whiplash) and the drive back home was these God-damn beer cans in my trunk. If I tried to remove them, I’d surely never get the smashed-all-the-way-in trunk hood closed again. If I didn’t — and waited the few days until my parents came home — I’d get busted for having the party.
I was a teenager — nothing could seem worse than getting busted for throwing a party. I opened the hood — and couldn’t close it. Driving a car that was not only completely smashed in but also had a demolished trunk hood stuck upright — making seeing anything through my rear-view mirror an impossibility — seemed a small price to pray. I drove it to school and back the next few days, allowing it to endure the jeering it definitely deserved, and explained the situation to my parents when they got home (excluding, obviously, any mention of the beer cans or party).
The whole thing went off without a hitch. The Volvo went into the shop, I was in the clear, and Uncle Tony was assuring me that this accident could net me quite a bit. Best of all, the car was so destroyed that nobody questioned why the trunk hood was upright.
The next night, however, I walked into the living room and saw my mom holding out a tightly clenched fist. She opened it, revealing a single beer bottle top. “Did you have a party while we were gone?” she asked.
I’ve always been a terrible liar. “Yes,” I confessed, adding every other unnecessary detail before I could stop myself. The accident, I told her, was surely my bad karma for having lied to them.
Mom, always a fan of punishment by guilt trip rather than grounding, shook her head. I don’t know what Dad was told. But I do know that the day he went to pick up the Volvo from the shop (a good four months after it had been brought in), he drove it around the corner, where it — and he — were the third car in a four-car pile-up. At least the repair shop was right there.
Yep, so that car reaped the karma that I sowed. Not really fair, I realize. Then again, those next few years in the Hyundai didn’t seem fair to me, either.
(Postscript: Gretchen ended up becoming a math teacher at my high school the next year, where she lived in mortal fear of the administration finding out she’d allowed parties to take place at Branson kids’ houses. The Volvo’s seats were destroyed when someone broke into the repair place and vandalized the cars there during repair #2. It made it out again, served me well for years and even came to college with me in Hartford, Connecticut. Eventually it was turned over to a relative, per Dad’s instructions, who gave it, I’m sure, a far more stable home life.)