Thursday, November 3, 2011

My Green Giant Chevy Vega

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet, that iconic American automobile brand.

The first car Gilda and I bought with our own money was a Chevy Vega. In 1973, we paid Dworkin Chevrolet in Derby, Conn., $2,100 ($10,188 in today’s dollars) for the privilege of driving a four-cylinder, forest green hatchback. We took out a 9% two-year $1,800 car loan. My parents were upset we didn’t borrow the money from them, but we reasoned we needed to establish a credit history to enhance our chances of securing a mortgage one day.

I loved riding around in that car. It was not peppy, but it reliably got me where I wanted to go despite an on again-off again oil leak common to many aluminum-engined Vegas. Plus, the hatchback proved useful in toting things, especially tree limbs I would find along the roadside for the wood-burning stove we installed in our first house in White Plains seven years later.

It was at that house our son Dan had his first driving experience at the tender age of 4. While I raked autumn leaves, Dan sat in the Vega’s driver’s seat with the car parked in the sloped driveway near the closed garage. He somehow managed to engage the gear shift. Fortunately, the car stopped as soon as it rammed into a panel of the garage door. It was hard to tell who was more shaken by the experience, Dan or his parents.

Since the Vega didn’t have air conditioning (I foolishly believed the salesman that a/c wasn’t necessary in Connecticut), I installed a small fan to the dashboard. I added a Citizen Band radio during the CB craze 30 years ago, playfully giving my handle as the Green Giant.

In 1986 as I waited to make a left turn in downtown White Plains while picking up some last minute supplies for Gilda’s Passover seder meal, the Vega was rear-ended by a teenage driver who mistook the accelerator for the brake pedal. I wasn’t hurt, but the back of my car was crunched into the rear wheels. I had it fixed but the Vega was never the same. My brother-in-law needed a car to drive to Camden, NJ, every day, so we arranged for him to take title after I made one last business trip in it to New Jersey. As I approached the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel the muffler fell off. By the time I reached the Manhattan corner where I was to give the Vega to my brother-in-law, the car could barely travel more than half a block without stalling. Clearly my Vega was sending a message our time together was over.

Driving Blocks: I’m six feet tall, Gilda almost a foot shorter, so it was not easy finding a car we both felt comfortable driving. In 1979, within a year after Dan was born, Gilda could no longer abide the Buick Regal my father had given us a few years before in exchange for the red Buick Skylark Gilda had learned to drive in and had lovingly named Bertha. We embarked on a car buying excursion that reached its height of frustration at a local Chevy dealer. When Gilda complained she couldn’t reach the pedals even when the seat was positioned as close as possible, the salesman countered that other short people had no problem. Further, if she really had a problem she could have wooden blocks installed to raise the level of the brake and accelerator pedals.

We quickly beat a retreat from the dealership and found joy with a Datsun (now called Nissan) Sentra wagon. Perhaps it was because Japanese are generally shorter than Americans, it was eye-opening to sit in a car that easily accommodated our different heights. Maybe that’s one reason Japanese cars enjoyed such success in America over the last 30 years.

Copycat Cain: So how upset or flattered should I be that one day after I wrote about Herman Cain’s presidential aspirations the NY Times co-opted my headline “Cain Not Able” for a column by Maureen Dowd (

I don't think its a copyright violation, just another example you no longer need to rely on The Times for commentary.