The romance of the convertible
By Jane Marie
I’m not sure of the timing, but my parents were either aware their marriage was headed for trouble and just hadn't announced it to the world yet, or they were in that weird place where you can both feel it about to come crashing down. There was a constant itch in the air around all of us, and one very fine day, it got scratched.
We took a lot of road trips when I was growing up, and here's how they went: eat dinner at home, go to sleep in your own bed, sleep through Pa carrying you to the car, wake up at dawn—three states away—in the back seat of the ’65 Chevy Impala. This particular trip was a visit to my mother’s parents in Missouri, people we didn’t often see, so things were already a little off, when one afternoon my folks asked if my grandparents would watch me and my little brother and sister while they ran a quick errand. A few hours later, my dad returned, alone, in the car they’d left in together. And then my mother pulled up in a brand new red convertible that no one in our imaginations could have afforded. Back then, in the 1980s, midlife was, what, 35 years old? Though I was already 10, my parents had gotten enough of a head start on kids that they were only 30 at the time, so the cliché—the impulse car signifying a midlife crisis—was a few years away from being correct.
In reality, neither of them was out there trying to get their grooves back by impressing onlookers with this sexy new ride and attitude. No, they were trying to impress each other back into that mad love they’d felt when they’d first met 15 years earlier in high school, back when a pickup truck handed down from Grandpa did the trick.
And it worked, for a time. We had a little boat up in northern Michigan, and I’d ride shotgun in the convertible with my mom, top down, following my dad and siblings ahead of us in the boring old mini-van. We bought headscarves and sunglasses at TJ Maxx and did our best to channel Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8, minus—spoiler alert 52 years after the fact!—the crash scene. Honestly, the first few summers in that car are as happy as the blur of the cornfields we’d whip past.
As the good times in that ride with my parents waned over the next few years—me hitting my teens coincided with them hitting a breaking point—new memories were created with new characters who couldn’t resist its appeal. I remember a babysitter getting a set of keys. She’d let me blast the cassingle of Sonic Youth’s “100%”—a wild, heartbreaking tune—as many times and as loud as I needed. We usually just cruised, top down, to Taco Bell to wave at boys.
Jane Marie is co-editor of TheHairpin.com (http://thehairpin.com/). She lives in Los Angeles.