Scenes from My Memoir: The Land Barge

Remember your first car? The car you drove for freedom, not necessarily popularity. Sixteen and poor and wanting desperately to be on your own for a while, you’ll drive anything. I remember one of our preachers calling his son’s first car “Beats,” short for “Beats Walking.”

1986 Mercury Grand Marquis Sedan

Rest assured, this is not a picture of me in high school just after my tennis lesson.
Photo by Alden Jewell via flickr

My first car was my mom’s 1986 Mercury Grand Marquis, beige with brown interior. I lovingly called it the Land Barge. It seriously needed its own fog horn. The front was so long, I had to start turning half a block away. Along with its yacht-like length, the Land Barge had this annoying habit of running low on power steering fluid, constantly. So, every time I would turn, the poor thing sounded like it was birthing a cow. Mmm-ooo!

The Land Barge also died at inopportune times, usually during a turn, thus knocking out the power steering but not the birthing cow sound. Therefore, I frequently had to essentially manhandle a dying animal across two lanes of traffic with 18 wheeler cattle trucks in my wake. Then, I would coast to a safe place on the side of the road and restart the car. So, even though I had my freedom, I risked life and limb every Saturday night when I would head out on the drag for a couple of hours.

Do they still call it that? The Drag?

If you are from a small town, you know what “going on the drag” means. It (usually) has nothing to do with illegal substances. My husband’s hometown called it “dragging Main.” Sometimes it’s called “cruising” or most of the time “driving around,” which sounds like driving aimlessly, but it’s not.

Essentially, you drive the same route over and over again, blaring your music as loudly as possible, burning gas because there’s nothing else on earth to do. Sometimes it involved water balloons, the occasional drive-by honking at someone’s house, or the rare flashing. Think American Graffiti, only without cool cars or Richard Dreyfus or Han Solo in a cowboy hat.

So, yeah, every time I dared to cruise around town, I had the over/under of around 10 that the Land Barge would die in dramatic fashion. Not that great for my minimal popularity. I usually ended up in my friend Cynthia’s Ford Taurus that used to be her grandmother’s or my friend Leslie’s Delta 88 Oldsmobile named “Goldie.” Trust me, both cars, though still rather lame, ran circles around the Land Barge on the coolness scale.

One night in particular my friend Leslie and I were up at the high school working on something – maybe decorating for Homecoming or hanging out with my English teacher while she tried to grade papers (yes, we were that lame – OR THAT COOL.) Leslie could probably spit from the school to her house. It’s that close. She walked to school and home for lunch almost every day.

Still, I insisted on taking her home. I even suggested making the drag, maybe pulling in to Sonic for an Ocean Water. We piled in the Land Barge, blasted our TLC or Alanis Morissette (depending on our current dating status), and started to go. The Land Barge lurched back about five feet, a bit miffed we were kicking into gear, sputtered and died. I started it again. Another ten, maybe five feet. Lurch. Die. Repeat. I tried to get the thing going about 15 times, enough that Leslie could have walked home, watched an episode of ER, popped some popcorn, maybe put together a mixed tape.

Of course, we were laughing so hard I could no longer see. We were still in the middle of an (albeit deserted) residential street, and no hope in sight of getting anywhere. Finally, the Land Barge found the gumption it needed to start. We drove the block and a half or so over to Leslie’s house, all thoughts of Sonic erased from our minds. She got out of the car, and I pulled out of the driveway. Just in time for the power steering to go out again. Mmm-oooo!

  1. #1 by Andy Dunham on June 1, 2012 - 9:08 am

    Have I ever told you about the Box? It would have been fast friends with the Land Barge.

    Very true about the Drag. Under 13 USC 666, every small town or municipality with a population of less than 5,000 persons must at all times maintain a drag which includes not less than three of the following: Sonic, Dairy Queen, combination KFC/Taco Bell, WalMart, and McDonald’s.* Ours was upscale and had all three, plus the local barbecue establishment. And, yes, you just drive around blaring music because there is literally NOTHING ELSE TO DO. Good times.

    *Sarcasm. There is no such law. Settle down, people.

  2. #2 by ggdecker on June 1, 2012 - 9:12 am

    This made me laugh out loud. Reminds me of my first car, which was a huge, red Buick. The radio worked sometimes, but usually came on when I least expected it, always BLARING because some unknown person was trying to turn it up. very startling. The transmission was slowly dying, so it would decide to balk while I turned across two lanes of traffic. When it finally died, the car could only be driven in reverse. If course, this happened while my dad was driving us home from church! He had to drive it backward for nine miles! Not a happy Daddy!

  3. #3 by kellywiggains on June 1, 2012 - 9:27 am

    Wow, Andy, you had a McDonald’s? You lived in a metropolis. Q-town had a Sonic and Dairy Queen (but no one in town actually went to the Dairy Queen – I know. weird) But we had Red’s (talked about before) and Ken’s which were both better than any Dairy Queen. We also had Allsup’s, which is a West Texas thing, but you bought gas and burritos there, or just burritos, then the gas was free.

  4. #4 by Elizabeth on June 1, 2012 - 2:49 pm

    Andy, you forgot the ubiquitous Casey’s. Or perhaps that’s just up north? And the Yellow Beast (yes, it was truly a hideous color of yellow) would have joined in on the friendship fun with all of your first cars. It was a station wagon with the fabric ceiling hanging down so that if you opened a window, you arrived at your destination with yellow fuzz in your hair and all facial orifices. It also had loose wires hanging down by the pedals. I tried to convince my parents that I would get my foot caught on the wires and not be able to hit the breaks and thus die, but they didn’t go for it and I continued to drive the Yellow Beast all the way through high school.

  5. #5 by Info on December 3, 2013 - 5:34 pm

    Hello, I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was spectacular. I don’t know who you are but definitely you are great writing skills. I am learning tennis, so very interesting ! Thanks.

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