My first two cars

After writing a few days ago about the first car I learned to drive, that rusty old 1968 Ford Fairlane, I looked at the calendar yesterday and noticed that it was the anniversary of my first and only new car purchase.  But before I finally scraped up enough to buy the new car in 1994, my first car was actually a 1981 Mazda 626 coupe.

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This isn’t the actual car – mine was a light blue – but it is the same model and year.  I bought my Mazda about a week before I moved from the Bay Area down to Riverside to start studying, right at the beginning of 1990.  Previously, I had shared the Fairlane and a 1971 Mercury station wagon with my parents and younger sister and there was no way I was going to be able to live in Los Angeles without a car of my own.

I bought the car with a little help from my parents, from a guy who lived two blocks over.  It was a stick-shift and I hadn’t driven one before so my father did the test driving and I had to learn to master the manual transmission in the few days before I left for LA!

My father, who is a pretty handy mechanic, inspected the car and we brought it down to the automobile club for them to do a used car inspection, too.  It looked like it was in good shape and so we bought it for something like $2,500.  What I ended up buying was a lemon and to this day it has left a sour taste in my mouth for used cars, even though I rationally understand that they are generally a good value.

Over the next four and a half years I kept sinking money into the Mazda, which set me back probably a year or more in my eventual purchase of my first new car.

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I purchased my Honda Civic DX on June 30, 1994 at the Sunnyvale Honda dealership.  Three months earlier I had graduated from university, I had been working at the same job for seven years already so credit was not a problem, and I had managed to save up a decent down-payment.  My choice of a four-dour was practical: I often drove people around.  I also decided to stick with a manual transmission, something that had grown on me.

It was a wonderful car that got great gas mileage.  I lived in Los Angeles and then San Diego in the years after buying the car before eventually moving back to the Bay Area, and I tracked the mileage meticulously.  On one of my trips from LA to San Francisco I actually got about 50 miles per gallon, thanks to careful driving and a good tailwind.

I kept the car as I moved into San Francisco proper in 1998, getting a street permit and fighting for the limited number of parking spots, trying to remember each morning where I had parked the night before.  Eventually, after Tawn moved to SF and bought a car, I decided maybe I could live without one.  For six months I made it a point to not drive all week, parking far away from the house in an area without daily parking restrictions.  I would take the car out on the weekend to clean it and run the engine, but found I could get around on transit just fine, even when I had classes to train in the South Bay or Oakland.

In the autumn of 2001 (I think – it might have been 2002?) I finally put the car up for sale, selling it to a man from Belmont so his daughter could have her first car.  We met at a rest stop off Highway 280, he inspected it and agreed to my price.  I had kept detailed records of all the maintenance, oil changes, etc. so it was an easy sale.  We signed the paperwork there, I handed over the keys to his daughter, and the man drove me back to my house.  He took the above picture for me, the only one I have of my Honda.

To this day I sometimes see the same model car driving around and think how much I would enjoy having another one. It was a great car.

 

What is Pride About?

Near the end of June each year, parades are held in cities throughout the US and elsewhere in the world to celebrate gay pride.  These marches began as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, in which patrons of a gay bar in New York City rioted in response to a police raid and continued harassment.  Originally these parades were knows as “gay freedom” or “gay liberation” marches, although over the last four decades they have come to be known more general as “Gay Pride”.

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Pictures and stories in the media tend to focus on the most titillating aspects of the parade: the “Dykes on Bykes,” the naked or nearly-naked revelers, the fabulous drag queens, etc.  With a mixture of confusion and derision, many in the heterosexual community (and even a few in the gay community) don’t understand what these events are about and the displays of outrageousness provoke the common refrain that gays should just “keep it to themselves” instead of “flaunting it”.

In fact, a recent post on the front page of Xanga asked the question, “Why Gay Pride?”  Many of the responses echoed the themes of those who don’t understand what Pride is and its importance to members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) community.

Let me share with you my answer to the question, “What is Pride about?”

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Growing up gay is, more than anything, about invisibility.  You don’t see anyone like you, you have nobody to confide in, and you often don’t realize that you are not alone in your attraction to members of the same sex.  This invisibility is debilitating and while there are many more examples of GLBT people in the media and in everyday life than there were a few decades ago, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world who are GLBT or questioning, continue to grow up feeling invisible.

A friend I interviewed in a university project shared this story with me: Growing up in a large immigrant family, he was convinced that his homosexual feelings were an illness, a sickness that only he had ever experienced.  He kept this secret buried deep inside and it was taking a toll on his health, his studies, and his wellbeing.  One weekend in June he took the subway into the city to do some shopping and as he emerged from underground, he found himself in the middle of a large parade.  As he stopped to watch, he had a dawning awareness that all of the people at the parade were just like him.  Suddenly he realized that he wasn’t alone, that there was a huge, colorful, and proud community of others who felt they same way he did.  Needless to say, it was a life-altering and possibly even life-saving event for him.

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Why the drag queens?  Why the blatantly sexuality?  The media loves to focus on the things that are most outrageous and that will make the best photos and headlines.  But these members of the GLBT community play an important role in Pride.  The Stonewall Inn, the gay bar whose raid led to the Stonewall Riots, was frequented primarily by the most marginalized members of the gay community: the drag queens, transvestites, transgendered people, and effeminate men. 

They were the ones who led the riots against the police, fighting back against years of abuse and oppression.  Embracing this outrageousness is a way to remember that it was the most outrageous members of the GLBT community who first stood up for all of our rights.  Plus, what’s a parade without some frivolity?

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In my mind, the most important and most prideful parts of Gay Pride events are the contingents of GLBT families, friends, and straight allies, a representation of every stripe of the larger community, fulfilling the promise in the Gay Pride symbol, which is the rainbow flag.  Is the man above a gay father?  The brother of a gay sibling?  The son of a gay parent?  The friend of a gay person?  Or just a member of the larger community who wants his daughter to appreciate the breadth of diversity in their community and to learn to respect each member of it?

We don’t know the answer to that question but the fact that there are so many possible answers tells every person who is still in the closet, who is still struggling with his or her invisibility, that he or she is not alone.  And that, for me, is what Gay Pride is really about.

 

The Rusty 1968 Ford Fairlane

Few stories so well epitomize my childhood than that of my first car, a rusted out 1968 Ford Fairlane.  To be fair, it wasn’t truly my first car as my parents retained ownership of it.  But it was the car I spent my entire childhood in, the car in which I learned to drive.

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This was the first brand-new car my father ever bought.  Everything else was a used car.  It was metallic blue with a vinyl top, a “California edition” of the car, similar in appearance to the photo above except the color.  Like pretty much all cars of the day it had a powerful V8, no air conditioning, Philco AM radio.

I remember that this car got scorching hot in the summer, back in the days before those cardboard foldable sun shades.  (Thinking about it, I remember that the first time I ever saw those sun shades was in 1987 in the parking lot of Disneyland.)  We would get in the car and the vinyl seats would be so hot we had to put beach towels on them, towels we kept in the car all summer long just for that purpose.  Of course the metal seat belts were much too hot to wear at first so we had to wait a few minutes with the vents blowing before we could buckle up without branding ourselves!

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Back in those days, metallic paint wasn’t terribly stable and a black vinyl roof wasn’t ideal for sunny California.  Despite my father’s meticulous care and weekly hand-washing, the paint began to chip and the roof started to crack.  By the time I learned to drive in it around 1985, large splotches of undercoat were showing through.  A minor rear-ending after I got my license resulted in a missing high-beam light.  A few years later a piece of the metallic side trim broke off.

Inside, the blue vinyl ceiling’s glue came undone and hung, canopy-like, from beam to beam.  As the stitching came undone, my father used chopsticks to help hold up the ceiling, leading friends to call it the Chopstick Car.

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My sister posing on her graduation day with the Chopstick Car.

Something about the transmission was fiddly and by the time I learned to drive, you had to reach over the wheel with your left hand, holding the gear lever just to the left of “Park” and turn the ignition key with your right hand, all the while gently pumping the gas with your foot.  If you pumped too much, you would flood the engine and had to wait a few minutes before trying again.

The car was symbolic of several things: my father’s thrift – he liked the car because unlike the “new fangled” cars that had computerized components, he could get under the hood and do most repair work himself – as well as my parent’s lessons to me and my sister on sufficiency.  The car wasn’t pretty.  It was actually the ugliest car in our high school’s parking lot by far.  But it was good enough to get us where we were going and we didn’t have to pay for anything other than the fuel for the tank.

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In 1994, when the car was 26 years old, my parents were in the process of selling their house and packing for their move back to my father’s new job in Indianapolis.  Just a few days before moving, by complete coincidence, a man driving through the neighborhood stopped and asked if they were interested in selling the car.  This solved the problem of what they should do about moving it to Indy.  If I recall, the agreed-upon price was something like 50 dollars, cash.

 

Top Secret Assignment – Final Day

Agents E and C concluded their four days of top secret assignments on Father’s Day.  We went out to a nice brunch at another hotel to celebrate and while waiting for Uncle Tawn to show up from yoga class, they completed their last assignment, a “final report” to headquarters.

To verify their identity, though, they had to complete the following puzzle to prove that they are the actual secret agents to complete the mission.  After all, there were a lot of double agents out there and more than enough subterfuge to fill a bathtub.

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The only hint you should need is that they stayed at the Windsor Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22.  The rest you might be able to figure out on your own.  I’ll print the answers tomorrow.

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After brunch I drove to the secret agents and their father back to our condo where they started running some loads of laundry in preparation for their trip to China the next day.  Meanwhile there was time for a few hours of playing around in the pool.  I’ve concluded that young people will pretty much enjoy any vacation so long as there is a pool to play in.  Which begs the question, why bother to travel halfway around the world?

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While the agents were showering and changing into fresh clothes after their swim, I baked a batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.  Thankfully, there were a few people willing to taste test them.  Meanwhile, Tawn took Donna to the Jim Thompson outlet for some silk souvenir shopping.

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As the afternoon progressed, we broke out a deck of Uno, playing with modified rules that made the game much more competitive.  Whenever someone plays a “zero” card, for example, all players pass their hand in the direction of play.  So you end up having to change your strategy again and again while playing.

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As dinnertime approached, Agents E and C were pulled into service, helping prepare salad and grate cheese for pizzas.

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Then they learned how to press out their own pizza dough from a batch of dough that I started the day before.  Each of them created their favorite type of pizza – ham and pineapple for Agent E and olive and pineapple for Agent C.

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It turns out that the top secret agents also have some cooking skills.  Agent C, left, had tried to arrange her toppings in the shape of a cat’s face, although I think it is hard to tell the eyes and the whiskers apart.

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We enjoyed a nice home-cooked dinner to conclude their visit, complete with some more oatmeal cookies and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

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The next morning, bright and early, I picked the Clevelands up from their hotel and drove them out to the airport.  After checking them in we snapped this final picture.  As we were checking in, Donna told me that Agents E and C didn’t want to leave Thailand.  But I’m sure they will have a great time with their schoolmates on a three-week excursion in China.