Spearmint green and peppermint white, like Chiclets when they still came in colors, my 1955 Buick Roadmaster was a remarkable car. The Cadillac of its day – with an original price tag of $5,000 – it was packed full of luxuries still hard to beat, like a Wonderbar radio with a foot attachment for the driver. Pressing the Wonderbar engaged a small electric motor that moved the tuner knob to the next AM signal. If you didn’t like the song, you could touch the bar or use your foot while keeping both hands on the wheel.
It had automatic windows with master control for the driver, and an electric antenna that could be raised or lowered from inside the car. The etched chrome dashboard with tiny patterns of swirls would have mesmerized M.C. Escher. A light indicator rested on its silvery, art deco surface that glowed like a faceted red jewel when the emergency brake was on.
The Roadmaster came with Dynaflow, an automatic transmission developed and trademarked by General Motors’ Buick Division between the late 1940s to the mid 1960s. It was known for its smooth (no lurching) take-off when you stepped on the gas. The green and white upholstery with a woven boomerang pattern repeated the color scheme. Best of all, the back seat was like a living room couch. I could stick my legs all the way out without my feet touching the seat in front.
Eight years earlier I’d lost my virginity at fifteen to the first guy I ever kissed. That robbed me of an unfulfilled adolescent fantasy – making out in the back seat of a car. My new wheels fueled the allure of what I felt I’d missed out on as a teen.
I’d never purchased my own car before, I inherited the ones my father was finished with. They were lemons. A Corvair Manza. A Chevy Vega. When I found the ad in the paper for the Buick, it sounded too good to be true. My mechanic friend Joe agreed, offering to drive me to San Rafael and check under the hood. Joe looked like an overgrown Frank Zappa, with his dark coloring and soul patch whiskers known as a Cadillac. At six-foot-five with a hefty girth, his soft-spoken manner was oxymoronic.
We headed north to see the car in Marin County across the Golden Gate Bridge. The owner lived on the Dawn Horse Commune, a religious sect founded by cult-leader Bubba Free John who was later sued for brainwashing, false imprisonment, involuntary servitude and sexual harassment. Joe thought the Roadmaster was in exceptional shape with only 30,000 original miles. The current owner’s parents had kept it in a garage. “Girl, you need to buy this car,” he enthused after careful inspection. The purchase price was non-negotiable, but at $550 it was manageable. I drove it home behind Joe’s lead, marveling at how the view looked even more spectacular through its massive windshield.
Christmas of 1976 followed a couple weeks later, and my friend Tim had a party. It was a small gathering with mostly close friends, but a good-looking guy I’d never met was there by himself. Clint was tall, muscular, and blond, with handsome, chiseled features and a cleft chin in his square jaw. I immediately asked Tim who the new guy was. “He’s my friend Lena’s boyfriend,” he said. “She’s the one I told you about before.” Lena was much older than any of us, most likely in her forties. She worked at the post office on the late shift, probably working that very night. “They’re usually on the rocks,” Tim added, when I probed further about the couple.
“Can I have a ride in it?” Clint asked when he heard about my Buick. “Please take me somewhere, anywhere in that car. How about tonight?” he pleaded. His flirting was unapologetic. We left the party and stopped at a neighborhood bar, an art deco lounge turned dive. “They have a pretty swell jukebox here,” he said, while he held the door for me. We sat in a cozy booth and ordered drinks, laughing easily like we’d known each other for years. I detected a hint of arrogance as he selected some Motown tunes, but I didn’t mind. The night was too full of promise.
Back in the car, he sat close and suggested we drive to the sightseeing favorite Twin Peaks, two breast-shaped mounds overlooking the city from around 900 feet. Then he playfully stuck his tongue in my ear, as I tried to stay focused on the road without swerving.
We parked on a narrow, residential road divided by tall bushes on a tiny strip of land. Before I secured the parking brake, Clint was pecking at my neck. I turned to face him for a long, deep kiss. Then he slid across the seat and pulled me toward him away from the steering wheel. We kissed again while he started to unbutton my shirt. “Back seat?” he asked, cupping a breast.
‘Yes, sir,” I answered, hoping he couldn’t hear the drum majorette cheering in my head.
Since Clint was tall we had to open the door from time to time so he could stick his feet out; but it couldn’t be for long because the dome light would stay on, and we didn’t want to attract attention. It was around three in the morning, and I loved how the windows were getting steamed up. All the houses along the road had Christmas lights on, and I wondered if they weren’t twinkling just a little extra over what was happening in the car.
I drove him to Lena’s around seven in the morning; she would be home from work soon. We agreed to meet again the following week at his place.
Clint had his own apartment in Berkeley, east across the Bay Bridge from the city. It was sparse, with highly-polished hardwood floors, clean white walls and minimal furnishings. There was nothing decorative other than photos of Greek ruins. It was Spartan, like Clint, a Greek History student at UC Berkeley. I noticed him gazing at his reflection when he passed the mirror in the hall. We stayed in that night, and while we lay on the couch in the candle lit room he told me that my belly looked like vanilla ice cream.
In the morning he was agitated. “I don’t think we should see each other again,” he said abruptly, breaking a silence.
“Oh?” I replied.
“You know, school. I need to focus more. And then there’s Lena,” he went on, making excuses. “I like you. You’re a really fun person. But I don’t see this going anywhere.”
“Yeah, I don’t either,” I replied. We really are in different worlds, I thought. “What would be the point?” He gave me a smooch on the cheek as I left.
There was so much fog that morning it looked like the Bay Bridge had fallen off, and the thick, gray mist was shrouding Avalon instead of San Francisco. Being a little scared of not being able to see where I was going, I took a deep breath, drove slowly towards the taillights of the car ahead and trusted I’d find my way.
My thoughts turned to a parade: marching band, baton, piccolo, fife, trombones, and cadets stepping proudly in black boots covered by white spats. I wondered if I could find some extra-fat whitewall tires for the Buick.