Car Stories From the Writing Workshop, Spring 2016
by Lisa Cristal
I had finally convinced my husband, Bruce, that we were responsible adults. We could stop inheriting old clunker cars and buy one that we could take care of for many years.
The black shiny Toyota Avalon was a sensible, highly rated car that would accommodate our growing children. We splurged and added a sunroof. We loved that car.
A week after purchase it was time for our first road trip. Our two small children fidgeted and fought most of the drive while Bruce accustomed himself to the nuances of a new car. We were on the last part of the highway, within 10 minutes of our destination, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown blur shoot out of the woods and charge toward the driver’s side of the car. The impact pushed us off the road. Looking up through the sunroof I saw the deer catapult over the car. Bruce tightly steered the car and righted us onto the road.
Our daughter asked where Bambi went. “To find his mother,” I replied. Unfortunately, her older brother said that he saw the deer fly over the roof of the car. “Yes, “I said, covering, “but I saw him scamper away.”
Actually, Bruce had seen the deer twitching by the side of the road. We stopped at a general store to report the accident. Bruce got out to inspect the damage. The entire front of the car was smashed in and covered in blood and hair. Our son asked why daddy was kicking the pole of the payphone and yelling. “Stay in the car,” I ordered. “He is just trying to kick off the mud on his shoes.”
We fixed the car but it was never the same. We hated that car.
I spent my entire career writing non-fiction and decided to go outside my comfort zone and take Writing Gymnastics. The support and provided by class members has allowed me to discover the great pleasure of writing fiction.
by Elaine Greene Weisburg
Our first car, bought for $200 soon after we were married, was a used pre-war English Standard—a right-hand drive, two-seater, rag-top convertible. My husband named her after a current English movie character and we pronounced it English style: BED-ul. It was a source of entertainment as well as transportation. Even the kids in the street where we parked enjoyed it. We could tell that they played in the car at night and we assumed they used it as a stage set for pretend games, but they never harmed it. Anyway, we couldn’t lock them out because the two windows were Isenglass, set into a canvas surround that snapped into the snazzy low-cut doors.
I suspect some alarmed phone calls took place between our two sets of parents but neither set offered us a real car, so we enjoyed Beryl for a few years till we were expecting a baby. Then we sold her for the price we had paid. By that time the transmission was shot and we had to get the neighborhood boys to push us down the hill for the engine to start.
I still remember an encounter one rainy summer night on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. My husband was at the wheel and Dave, his former roommate, was sitting next to him. I was folded up on a narrow back ledge meant for luggage—your cricket bats and such—when a police officer stopped us about a sputtering tail light. He approached the left side and Dave obligingly snapped open the window. The officer asked to see Dave’s driver’s license. Dave respectfully replied, “But Sir, I am not driving.” Nobody laughed, the officer looked over at my husband and mumbled “Have it fixed” and quickly left us. Then we cracked up.
Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.
Rainbow of Cars
by Sara Pettit
I’m the least knowledgeable person about cars you can find. Being a born New Yorker my family never owned a car but we all got Driver’s Licenses so we could have ID’s to cash checks. My inability to tell one car from another made it impossible for guys to impress me with their wheels when I went on dates..
When I finally did get a car it was a Dodge Omni. The only car on the market at the time worse than the Omni was the Yugo. I would drive the car around East Hampton where the Honda of East Hampton was a De Lorean or a Porsche. I had a nifty little bumper sticker on the back that said, “My Other Car is a Piece of Shit also!” You can see I like to irritate the Hamptonites.
About 5 years ago I took a trip to Cuba and being a visual person I was overcome by the beauty of the Cuban cars. Most cars were from 1960 or earlier and they were in a rainbow of colors that rivaled any floral bouquet I’ve ever seen.
For two weeks I stood at stop lights all over Cuba and photographed cars. When I got back to New York I showed them to a gallerist who invited me to have a one person show and I was invited to become a member of the gallery on the basis of my Cuban car photographs.
These cars were a tribute to the ingenuity of the Cuban people who kept them running and in perfect condition. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be fascinated by cars and that they would give me entrée into the New York City art world..
I spent most of my life as a textile designer and artist. It is through the IRP that I discovered my interest in writing. I look forward to my writing classes and the challenges they set for me.
by Charles Troob
My Grandpa had a boxy two-tone Oldsmobile 88. It seemed weightier than Dad’s series of Buicks–but maybe this was just the secure feeling given by Grandpa’s methodical driving, along with the comfortable odor from years of loving use. He would take a grandson or two out to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, to watch the coming and going at the LIRR trainyard. With Grandma we would go to Jones Beach in the off season to take in the salt air. My first Sunday school was in Kew Gardens. Grandpa would proudly drive me there, then pick me up and take me to their house in Jamaica for the afternoon.
In time the house was sold and my grandparents moved to an apartment not far from us in Forest Hills. Grandpa would regularly drive over to bring us Grandma’s chicken soup or borscht, her brownies or cupcakes–or just to say hello. Sometimes they would drop in together after an hour with family and friends at the cemetery off the Interboro Parkway.
In 1970 I left graduate school and moved back home. That summer Grandpa admitted to feeling poorly and was rushed to the hospital. A few agonizing weeks later he was dead of cancer. The ancient Oldsmobile was passed on to me. In September I started a day job at a public school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and an adjunct college position in the west Bronx. I tooled around the outer boroughs, enveloped by Grandpa’s kind spirit, ignoring the worsening tailpipe fumes.
On my way into Manhattan one evening I was stopped at a tollbooth and told that the car was not welcome in the Midtown Tunnel. The next day, at a junkyard near Shea Stadium, Dad and I sadly said goodbye to Grandpa a second time.
I am grateful to the IRP for making me write something each week — and for providing a receptive audience.
Car Ride, 1945
by Lorna Porter
Nestled in a drowsy state, I hear the purr of motor and feel my sister’s leg stretched along mine. We have a wool blanket sprawled over us.
She lies on her side with her head at the other end of the back seat from me. I am propped with a pillow against the arm-rest on the door. Lights flash rhythmically through the dark car, yet I am drifting softly.
Kate is seven and I am six, on a long drive that has lasted all day from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. In front, my mother may be asleep, and surely my two-year-old sister, Emily, is asleep on her lap. My father drives silently against the night air. Briefly, my mind sees me as a bunny down a snug hole with my bunny family.
There is no greater safety in life than having our entire family held close in this humming embrace. No one else in the world exists and no one in our family will ever be apart or alone. The heavy metal of our sturdy Packard is a tank like the soldiers have and we are a little army headed for home. Dad will get us there.
I enjoy the weekly writing exercises and critiques that the IRP writing workshop has provided for many years now.
by Tom Ashley
One of the great perks when I was elevated into a management position was a new car when I became the head of sales at Turner Broadcasting. I had owned some great cars in the past. After all, I was from Detroit. But the idea of having a nice new car with gas, insurance and repairs fully covered was a big-time bonus.
I was provided with a list of several dealerships with whom we were doing business and took the weekend to shop. Turner didn’t care what it was, but it had to be fairly large for taking clients to lunch, dinner and sporting events. I settled on the biggest Pontiac Grand Prix ever made, jet black and equipped with the largest engine on the market. It was fully loaded with every imaginable option: air conditioning, tape deck, sun roof and it even had a device to listen to, not watch, all of the local television stations. That baby could fly. Other than flooring the accelerator, I took great care of that machine. It was washed every week and it glistened to the point that I could comb my hair in its hood reflection.
About nine months into my job I pulled into my regular spot next to Turner’s. His red Ferarri was nowhere in sight. In its place was a Toyota. I figured Ted was out of town and Vera, his long-suffering secretary, had parked in his space. Wrong.
He must have seen me entering the building as he screeched, “[author, author], come on in here.” In I went. “[author], those A-rabs have us by the balls and are starting to squeeze hard.” He rambled on about an oil embargo, then, cutting to the bottom line, I was told to head over to Voyles’ Toyota, turn in the Grand Prix and pick up my new car. I don’t know if you recall those early Toyotas, but this was not my happiest moment. I was pissed as I drove off Voyles’ lot in a pea-green, stick-shift, AM-radioed, roll-up-windowed deathtrap. My lawnmower had a larger motor.
A few months later I arrived at the office simultaneously with Turner who was driving a new Lincoln Continental. After my, “What’s this, Ted?” he informed me, “[author], I got to thinking how valuable my life is and how my children should not be put at risk. Driving around in that Toyota was far too dangerous…for me.”
“Are you telling me your life and your kids are more important than my life and my children?”
A week later I had a new Grand Prix.
Taking many study groups and writing over the years at the IRP has been a growing and stimulating process. In college I dreaded my writing courses. I LOVE them now.
Cuba and Cars
by Carmen Mason
I was going to Cuba in 2009. I had a list of items we could take to its struggling people, mainly pencils, notebooks, candies. I’d learned from friends these would be immediately sold for a quick profit so I packed a lot, but then I also decided on some baseballs and half a suitcase of professional pliers, hammers, Allen wrenches, screw drivers, tweezers and packets of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, coils of wire, crazy glue, work gloves and flashlight visors.
Once in Cuba, we drove to a small house in a run-down barrio. The grandmother of the family — living under one low and metal-patched roof –- was boiling strong tangy coffee in a battered pot. The kitchen cabinets were makeshift; the beds and sparse tables and chairs like ones resting in the decaying lots of the South Bronx.
The Castillo family was shy but smiling. Senior Castillo shook our hands and lead us from room to room, then out into his dusty, struggling garden. And there it was: a bright green Chevy Bel Air parked next to a table of taped-up hammers and awls, plastic scraps and broken parts.
On our way to the Castillos we’d cheered, even shouted ‘holas’ out the bus windows to the proud drivers of a Ford Mustang Dodge Challenger, two Daytonas, and a Plymouth Superbird – all 50’s or 60’s models. Now we were close-up to Senor Castillo’s 1957 four door sedan. He opened the hood lovingly. Inside were the intricate connections of tubes and wires and obviously jerry-built substitute parts body-fillered in place.
Before we all said goodbye I took out my heavy pack of tools and parts and gave it to him. He opened it hesitantly. Then he fell to his knees and started to weep. His wife rushed to his side, then turned to me and laughed like a young girl.
I was an English teacher of literature for 35 years andI have been writing forever and published here and there through the years. Editing for VOICES has been an added challenge and I am thrilled that I could help our VOICES come into its own.