Category Archives: cars

Hitting the Road

I’ve always loved traveling, no matter how short or long the trip.  This wanderlust has taken me on so many wonderful adventures over the years, and fortunately for me, so many of my best childhood memories were made hitting the road with Grandma Reid.  The woman just loved to go.  She rarely spent time at home, at least until age caught up with her.  In fact, she spent over forty years selling women’s clothing from a variety of catalog companies.  So many of her customers were housewives who lived out in Michigan’s Thumb.  She’d drive to her customers, bags and bags of clothing samples in tow.  She quit selling in the early/mid-1990s only due to the fact that she could no longer find a quality company to represent.  The last company she carried sold more home goods than clothing.  Unfortunately, the quality was nothing compared to the companies she worked for during the 1950s-1980s.  Even as a teenager, I loved to go clothes shopping with Grandma.  She had a way of helping you find the right fight and could be brutally honest if need be.  I learned to love the road and basics of business, at least in part, at my grandmother’s knee.  

During my preschool years, Grandma would pick me up from time to time.  At the time, I was used to her late ‘70s/early ‘80s blue Chystler station wagon, the same one that I tried to make Grandpa Reid promise to take care of as it was now his.  If you knew Grandpa Owen, it was a futile effort, even if asked by his adorable granddaughter.  I can still envision the station wagon parked underneath the old apple tree at the canoe livery – or as we always called it, the park – Grandpa napping in the backseat in the heat of a Michigan summer.

Then one day, I couldn’t find Grandma’s station wagon in the preschool parking lot.  Grandma’s new vehicle was one for the books.  She purchased one of the first Chrysler minivans, and what a vehicle it was!  I have no idea how many miles she put on the thing, but I do know that she replaced the engine at one point.  She finally totaled it in the early 90s in an accident on her way to one of my sister’s softball games.  That iconic tan minivan, when it was finally put to rest, represented the passing of an era.

What makes certain vehicles from our childhood so damn memorable?  I wrote a piece about my first car, which my mom drove for a large chunk of my childhood.  I could write something similar about my dad’s ‘77 Freewheelin’ Ford Bronco, his green Jeep Grand Cherokee that my sister inherited as her first vehicle, or even the lemon fullsize blue Ford van with the squealing fan belt that hung around the canoe livery forever – the one we drove to Florida to Walt Disney World.  It isn’t the vehicles so much as the journeys and times they represent.

Last spring, touring the Henry Ford Museum for the first time with my middle school students, I was taken back by a veritable wave of nostalgia seeing one of first Chrysler minivans (in this case, a Plymouth Voyager – almost identical to the first Dodge Caravans) at the end of a long line of evolving family vehicles.  It stopped me for a moment.  All it needed was a tan paint job/interior and Dodge badging to be Grandma’s minivan of my childhood.

More than anything, that minivan represents, at least to me, countless trips to the movies, Lutz’s Funland in Au Gres, putt-putt golf in Tawas, ice cream runs, and the Bear Track.  I think of the infamous trip to Kings Island in Ohio where Mom and Grandma tried to remain calm as we were caught in an awful storm.  We were parked, Grandma had her foot on the brake, and the van was still shaking.  How many trips to weddings, family reunions, and showers did I take with her in that van?  Last, but not least, we took Grandma’s van to the airport on our infamous trip to Aruba with Dad, Erica, Emily Lammy, Grandma, and Dean Gillette (Mom was too pregnant with Garrett to fly) for New Year 1991.  On the way home, something was wrong with the van, and we could only travel in 15 minute spurts.  I thought we’d never get home, but eventually, we arrived.

Grandma knew how to make any trip fun.  It wouldn’t be a summer adventure if we didn’t stop for ice cream.  On one such occasion, we’d stopped for ice cream after hitting a local amusement park for putt-putt and go-karts.  Per usual, Grandma had a van full.  In addition to my sister and I, cousins Michael and Linda were there as well, and I may even be forgetting someone.  As we are enjoying ice cream on the way home, suddenly my sister’s ice cream falls off of its cone squarely into Michael’s hand.  We had to pull over we were laughing so hard, especially Grandma.  Now well into our 30s and 40s, the ice cream incident is still mentioned from time to time.  Something about it was so incredibly funny, or as Grandma would say, comical.

Now, I’m the one who is rarely home.  I’m the one “running the roads” as my dad would say.  I hope to make the same kind of road memories with my niece and nephews as they grow up, but that is more my mom’s territory, for now.  I normally tag along in her car, playing navigator if need be.  Maybe one day they will reminisce about all the Buick Enclaves in our family at the moment (3 and counting) or Uncle Garrett’s Avalanche.  

At this point, I doubt my love of the road will ever die.  Thank you, Grandma.

Cars We Love

A1989 Pontiac Grand Prix similar to my first car.
The only thing missing here is the luggage rack on the trunk.

Funny how certain cars from your past just stay with you.  Where do I even begin with my first car, my 1989 Pontiac Grand Prix, a perfect cheery red?  My love affair with that car began right off the lot.  My parents purchased the car brand new in Gladwin, MI in 1989.  It was the first proper car my mom had since my parents married in 1977.  After my parents married, they sold my mom’s car to help purchase buses, and the full-sized vans that replaced it doubled as a canoe livery vehicles in the summer.  She definitely earned that brand new car!  I think I was just as excited as she was – almost.  If anything, I inherited my love of cars from Mom.  I even went to the dealership with my parents, an exciting new experience at age 8.

By 1995, a friend of my parents, who owned the GM dealership in town, happened to drive over the latest Grand Prix model – again, bright red.  The Grand Prix had just been redesigned, and few people in Arenac County, if any, had it at that point.  Soon, Mom had another new car and the old one, later mine, went into the pole barn, waiting for me to turn 16 and earn my license.

During the fall of 1996, I spent hours detailing it, getting ready for when I earned my license in December.  I carefully drove it through the campground, practicing backing up and avoiding things like fire rings and electrical posts, carefully storing it back in the pole barn, waiting not so patiently.  My mom had taken great care of it, and now, it was up to me.

A few features of that Grand Prix still stand out.  1989, frankly, was the end of an era when it came to cars.  My Grand Prix was probably one of the last models that didn’t include air bags and CD players.  Instead, it had a futuristic 80s electronic dash and a retro tape deck.  Later, we had a five CD changer installed in the trunk.  I could not have asked for a more perfect first car.

After much heartache, stress, and tears – another story entirely – my dad took me to the Secretary of State on my birthday to get my license.  He even let me pick out a new license plate for my car.  I ended up with a centennial plate commemorating the 100th anniversary of the automobile industry.  Somehow, some of my best memories with Dad always seem to involve vehicles, whether cars, SUVs, minibusses, or big ole school buses.

Car and license in hand, I now drove myself and my younger sister Erica to school and around town.  The biggest issue, of course, became control of the radio for the entire 10 minute drive to school.  We didn’t fight much, but we did argue over music and sharing a bathroom on the daily.  That first winter driving, Erica and I experienced our first accident.  A fender bender that could have happened to anyone, we both freaked out as only young teenage girls can.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and the damage was easily repaired.

I kept that Grand Prix well into college.  In 2001, I drove it to and from my internship with IBM out in Rochester, Minnesota.  Alone, I will never forget driving home along US 2 across the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan in late August with incredible views of Lake Michigan along the way.  It is still one of my favorite road trips.  That trip finally helped me to become completely comfortable behind the wheel.

The following year, after a year studying abroad in Ecuador and Spain, I spent six months living and working in Austin, Texas.  I had landed the co-op with Applied Materials at the same time I landed the gig with IBM.  As I already knew that I would be studying abroad the following academic year, I convinced Applied Materials to bring me aboard the following summer, June 2002.  By this point, it was time to replace the Grand Prix.

The original plan was to sell my car in Texas, fly home in December for my birthday and Christmas, purchase a new vehicle, and return to Michigan State for winter semester 2003.  Well, best laid plans rarely work out.  On July 24th, 2001, on my way to work at Applied, a moving truck turned in front of me.  I had had the green light, and he hadn’t seen me.  I slammed on the brakes so hard that I broke my big toe and the metatarsal on my right foot.  I ended up in a splint and, later, a walking cast, up to my knee.

The entire front end of the Grand Prix slid under the truck, stopping just in time.  If I had had a passenger in the front seat, he or she probably would not have made it.  All I could think of was how many times I had had my brother or sister with me, usually shotgun.  I walked away relatively unscathed.  My only other injury, other than a badly scraped left knee from the dash, was a deep cut behind my ear from the window molding.  Somehow, the safety glass held.

Thank God that car didn’t have air bags.  First generation air bags later gained a reputation for killing shorter drivers.  At 5’0, I may have ended up a statistic.  That Grand Prix that I’d loved for so long had saved my life.  It was the end of an era.

I ended up with another Grand Prix, of course – a 2002.  Yet, nothing I’ve owned since could ever top my first car, not even purchasing a brand new car on my own.  So many childhood, teenage, and even young adult memories – way too many to share here – wrapped up in one vehicle.  I’ve even dreamed about it.  I dreamed that, somehow, it was still stored in my parents’ pole barn, waiting for me to drive it again.

Another view.