In a strange turn-of-events, we’ve managed to get the same car gifted to us twice. It follows our car-ownership history as follows: red Dad-given hatchback, black Mam-given Mazda 3, repeat. As of last weekend, we are currently in a black Mazda 3 phase. The completion of the pattern has brought back a lot of memories, especially of our time in Louisiana—that time that sometimes seems as though it never existed.
Soon after we got married in Kansas, Joseph’s Dad gave us (for a dollar) our honeymoon getaway car, the Geo Metro. It was about ten years old and the odometre was on its second round, giving it a mileage of 175,000. It also came with an almost mythic status in Joseph’s family for being both hardy and cheap. With nothing (except love, ha!) and the Geo Metro, we drove down south to Louisiana.
When we arrived in to Varsity Village, soon to be the site of our first very own roach motel apartment (newly wedded bliss!), one of the first things I noticed was that the workers were wearing wooly hats. How cute, I thought, as I took off my jacket. It was probably around 12 degrees.
I had gotten my “full” licence in Ireland before I had left for the States. I thought I knew how to drive. Living in Baton Rouge, however, I soon realised that I didn’t know how to drive at all, that all I really knew was how to drive from my parents’ house to Clonmel and back and, for the odd bit of excitement, parking in car parks. So, I had to learn how to drive all over again, on the wrong side of the road, I might add, and incorporate weird American customs such as, “turning right on red,” “four-way stop signs,” and “swerving in and out of lanes.” As for the signage, well it made complete and utter sense, which, being Irish, only served to confuse me.
It was only a matter of time before the true rite of passage to American citizenry happened: my first accident. Fortunately, it was just a stupid car park accident, nothing serious, but it was the first time I’d ever heard that gnawing sound of metal against metal. I saw it happen in slow motion, too: I was reversing out of a car space onto a one-way road and another driver decided to reverse down this road (probably so as to get a space up ahead), without looking behind her or even in her mirror. She’s not stopping, I thought, as I saw her looking straight ahead as she reversed down a one-way road. A truly sickening feeling in my stomach, not just because of the crumpled metal, but because in those few seconds, I became a bleedin’ foreigner. I didn’t have my Louisiana licence yet, or work permit, or residency, even. All I had was this “international driver’s licence” that I’d bought for a fiver from the AA in Cork. A police officer was on his way. As potentially disastrous as these combined factors were, I decided to worry about something far more important: what is the southern American for “reverse”? Ugh, what is it? Five minutes later: I know, I know, it’s “back up”! But this only explained what the other driver had been doing, I needed a different preposition to explain my situation. Panic, panic. It came to me as the police officer was handling my so-called international licence, suspiciously : “back out.”
Meanwhile, the other driver was all “oh, officer this, and oh, officer, that,” basically claiming that it wasn’t her fault. I’d lost all language at this point, having worn myself out trying to think of American phrasal verbs, so I just stayed quiet. Thankfully, “oh, officer” gave me a look as if to say “I know what happened here, it’s obvious, don’t worry about it.” The relief! We took the insurance money and ran.
Within just a couple of months, I would get the residency and the work permit, the job, and the accent. I drove on streets, not roads, parked in parking lots, not car parks, drove at top speed on highways, not motorways. And the Geo Metro was no longer an old car, but an old, beat-up car. It rattled just so, got in a few more scrapes. Still, it lived, refused to die.
In a country of SUVs and eighteen wheelers, the Geo Metro was . . . small. In fact, it was smaller than what the car rental places at airports deemed “compact.” I can’t remember the exact line up of events but somewhere along the line, Mam said that she wanted us to be driving a “decent car,” not a “tin can” over there, in America. She said to get a new car, while we were at it. So, we secured a loan (topped up by Mam) and headed out with Alex and test drove all sorts of cars: the Honda Civic (blah), the Cooper Mini (fun!), the Volkswagon Passat (nice but was never going to happen) and then, one day, we drove the Mazda 3. We’d found the one. The only problem was that the car we test drove was not “the one,” the one. It had a camel interior, you see. Gross! After the test drive, we were ushered into a sales guy’s office and I think he had the notion that he was going to make us buy the car that day. His sales technique, however, was all wrong to what was left of my Irish sensibilities, and we had a big ol’ row about that damned camel interior. He was black and I remember the thought crossing my mind that I shouldn’t be arguing with a black man like that but this thought was quickly succeeded by: That’s horseshit! We’re being bullied in to something we don’t want. And besides, I’m not white, I’m freckly Irish!
When we came out of the office, all the other staff were a bit agog. I heard one man say “sounded like World War III in there.” I took it as a compliment.
Anyway, the only place that had a manual (hard to come by in America because they don’t know how to drive cars), a black exterior and interior Mazda, was out in Hammond. One Saturday, we went out there and had the most fun you can have buying a car. I asked them to knock a couple of hundred off the asking price, just to make me feel better, and they did!
And then, we had our first ever (and most likely last) new car.
It was hot. So, any time of the year, Louisiana. We stopped off at a gas station and Joseph hoovered out the Geo Metro (there he goes with the hoovering again! except it being America, he was vacuuming). Sweat dripped off his nose. It didn’t take much physical exertion for this effect in Louisiana, in fact, it took none. Just standing outside, talking, lead to the good sweat roll down the back of the knees.
We’d decided that we couldn’t be arsed selling the Geo so instead, we donated it. When I had called the Saint Vincent de Paul, they at first said “you want to donate your car?! Well, that’s . . . generous.” As it happens they had a car donation programme in place and one day, without us even knowing it, they came along and took it away.
Although it still had life left in it, I felt bad about pawning it off on charity as I knew that no self-respecting ghetto dweller would want it. In addition, no self-respecting ghetto dweller (except us) would drive around town, holding on to a mattress on the roof.
When we bought the Mazda, we didn’t know that about a year later, we’d sell everything we owned and move back to Ireland. In a lot of respects, that move was a lot harder than my initial emigration. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it took its toll. As my mother-in-law said, we were “scrawny-looking.”
As part of the move, we drove back up to Kansas, where we sold the Mazda on to Leah. Of all our possessions, I was pretty sad about saying goodbye to this one.
I can’t believe this now but we went for nearly two years without a car in Dublin. Unlike Baton Rouge, we didn’t need a car to get around, but after a while, we got sick of spending half the day travelling, just to get a hundred miles away. It was time for another red, Dad-given car—except this time, it was only Dad-given in the sense that my Dad did all of the research. Enter the Nissan Almera.
We had intended to drive the Nissan Almera until it died, which at the rate it was going, wasn’t going to be for another five years. But, as luck would have it, Mairead needed to pass on her Mam-given Mazda 3. When I sat in to it last weekend, the memories didn’t come flooding back straight away but underneath Mairead’s best efforts to scent it with Yankee Candle Vanilla, there it was: the smell of Louisiana, minus the humidity. All I needed to do was put on the 24 Hour Party People soundtrack and I was back in 2004.
I posted an ad on Sunday night on donedeal.ie, and since I didn’t think we’d get a response, I (uncharacteristically) didn’t do any research on selling a car. The flurry of dodgy phone calls and texts on Monday were a quick education. Amidst all the queries from criminals looking for a little run around for, oh I don’t know, drug runs and human trafficking, we got one serious call from a Polish man. He came over on Wednesday evening with his wife and after two hours of checking every nook and cranny, they bought the car. “Well wear!,” I said.
So now that we’ve got the Mazda 3 again, does this mean that we’ll only drive it for a year before emigrating and passing it on to another sister?!