The OAT 007
An excerpt from my new book, Memories A La Carte, Essays on a Life
My Dad decided to buy me my first car. I was afraid to drive so I was twenty years old before I would agree. As usual, the decision was his with me going along, just happy to have wheels. The choice was a Nash Metropolitan, salmon pink with white trim, a car I could fit into a good-sized closet.
The Oat, as we called it, because the license plate read OAT 007, ranked low in the hot car division, but I didn’t care. I was free at last. My sister, Jane, and I could tool around town in that car, thrilled to go anywhere we chose. We loved showing up at our favorite In-n-Out Burger to show off. The guys made fun of our powder-puff auto, but we loved it.
After two years of college, I felt burned out with studying and decided to go to work. I was offered a job sorting rock and sand tickets for my Uncle Bill’s company down in Los Angeles, near the home of the Watts riots. Not glamorous, but I could save up for a trip to Europe.
My Dad drove to Alameda Street every day to his office, so we commuted together. At first, we drove Dad’s car, a nice spacious sedan. But one day, he got the bright idea that my Metropolitan got better gas mileage and we should drive it to work.
From where we lived in suburbia to the Watts area was an hour of race car traffic, sudden cutoffs with no signals, and nasty looks from drivers if you just dare to be alive. We took our lives in our hands to drive those freeways in a standard sized vehicle. Driving a midget Metropolitan on that hell track was like driving a Karmann Ghia in a monster truck rally. Every day I drove it, I held my breath and white knuckled it. Sometimes Dad drove, and that was even worse because he invented road rage.
Dad and I got into it one day whether someone could ride in the back seat of my OAT. Jane was to join us for her summer job at Uncle Bill’s company and Dad insisted we could all fit in my car.
“Anyone could ride back there,” he said.
“I just think it would be too uncomfortable for anyone but a child,” I argued. “Please let’s drive your car when Jane comes along.” I feared I would be the guinea pig. Being a little dull of mind, (which means stupid), I continued to beg, causing Dad, of course, to refuse to budge. Dad always had to win every argument.
Finally, he said, “OK, I’ll prove it. I will ride back there tomorrow and show you.”
“Dad,” I protested, “you can’t fit back there! You’ll be like a pack of sardines back there. Let’s just take your car.”
“I’ll show you there is more room back there than you think.”
The next morning, I got in the driver’s seat, Jane in the passenger seat, and Dad took the back. Now there was no seat back there, so the passenger had to sit sideways, back against the driver side wall of the car, knees bent and head down. When I saw Dad all scrunched up with his briefcase clutched in his arms, I put my hand over my mouth so he wouldn’t see me smirking. I did everything to keep from guffawing out loud. I dared not look at Jane at all because I could hear her choking back hysterics next to me.
So off we went on our hour commute, with my Dad squeezed into a space big enough for a medium size dog, all six feet of him. I didn’t dare ask him how he was doing.
I let Dad out at his office and he stumbled out of the back seat.
“Are you ok?” I asked.
“I’m fine! Just fine!” he said, shaking his legs to get the circulation back in them. Then he disappeared through the door of his building, stiff-backed, head held high.
Jane stared at me for about ten seconds and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.
“I dread the ride home,” I said to her.
“He wouldn’t give up, so let him work it out. Chances are he will never do it again,” she said.
After work, Jane and I sat playing music on the radio and waiting for Dad to appear. Out he came, with long strides, briefcase in hand. As he approached the car, he came to the driver’s side and told me to get out.
“I’ll drive home,” he said defensively.
What?” I said. “That’s completely unfair! You are the one who insisted we could fit three of us in here."
I looked to Jane for help but she stared at her lap. I knew she was thinking, not me!
“I know I said that,” admitted Dad with a defiant look. “But it’s a tight squeeze back there.”