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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Should Your Kids Be Free Range?

It is interesting when something you encounter in the news dovetails nicely with a thought you’ve already been thinking.  Such was the case yesterday when I heard an interview on NPR with Lenore Skenazy, who wrote an interesting article called “The Myth of Online Predators“.  Here’s an excerpt:

Is letting your kids go online the same as dropping them off at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop in fishnet stockings at 3 a.m.?

A lot of parents think it is. Or maybe worse. My husband and I took our time letting our oldest boy, who is 13, start his social networking, though that was because we were worried it was like dropping him off at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop to do his homework—we figured it would never get done. But the towering fear that the second a kid goes online he or she becomes cyberjailbait turns out to be way off base. According to new research, the danger online is teeny-tiny unless your kids are running into chat rooms, typing, “Anyone here like ‘em young?” and posting photos of themselves licking lollipops. Naked.

Free Range Kids Recently, the lengthening days have got me thinking a lot about my childhood and how my childhood seems very different than those of children today.  I used to play outdoors all the time.  I remember riding my bicycle up, down and around the block.  My first elementary school was three blocks from home and I was walking there on my own in first grade.  In third grade I transferred to a school six or seven blocks away and was walking there on my own, too, and allowed to ride my bike within maybe a mile radius of home.

I remember my parents telling me about potential predators and what to do and what not to do.  But they never sheltered me, kept me locked up inside, or refused to let me leave their sight.  The result?  It may be hard to scientifically prove, but I can trace my self-confidence, creativity, curiosity, independence and adventurous spirit to that shove out the screen door, that admonition to turn off the TV and go play outside.

“But things are different today,” you might say.  “Crime is so much worse than thirty years ago.”

Statistically, though, that isn’t true, especially with crime against children.  For more detail see this article in the Journal of Social Issues, but here are some interesting facts.  Note that the statistics are current through 2006, when the article was published.  More recent statistics confirm the trend.

  • From 1990 to 2006, substantiated cases of child sexual abuse went down 53%.
  • Physical abuse substantiations declined 48% between 1992 and 2006.
  • From 1993 to 2005, sexual assaults on teenagers decreased by 52%. The subgroup of assaults by known persons decreased even more dramatically

Across the board, crime in the US is at the lowest level it has been since 1970.  Source

All this gets to Skenazy’s larger point, which is that it is crazy to limit our lives – or our kids’ lives – based on fear of a wildly remote danger.  It seems to be part of a growing culture of fear, something that isn’t a very beneficial development for the United States.

Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.  Source

The reading is interesting and thought-provoking.  Skenazy has a blog and has just released a book titled “Free Range Kids: Giving Our Kids the Freedom We Had without Going Nuts with Worry“, so there is plenty of reading to do.

What were your experiences growing up?  How are you treating your children and why?  If you don’t have children, how are your nieces/nephews/friends’ children being treated?  Smothered by overprotection or allowed to run amok with no supervision?


United Dreams

Last night I had a vivid dream that seemed to last a long time.  I dreamed that I had the oppotunity to work as a flight attendant for United Airlines for a single flight.  None of the other flight attendants knew that I wasn’t really a flight attendant and I’m not sure how I managed to get permission to work the flight.

Before boarding started, I couldn’t find my tie, so I had to borrow one from another flight attendant.  The first borrowed tie turned out to be a scarf and I kept trying to tie it into a double Windsor knot, but to no avail.  Then I borrowed an actual tie from another flight attendant and it worked better.

The flight was on a 747 and we were working a trans-Pacific route.  But then, when we landed, people started getting out of their seats moments after we pulled off the runway.  I was walking through the cabin shouting, “No, no – we’re not there yet!  Please sit down!”

Once we arrived at the gate, the plane had somehow become a DC-9 and I was able to lower the rear air-stair (in the tail section of the plane) so passengers could disembark that direction.

Very odd, huh?

I suppose there is an obvious backstory I should share: I grew up as an airline brat.  My father worked for United his whole career and I started flying when I was just a month old. 

As a child, I was fascinated with airplanes.  I had all sorts of interesting toys: a demo oxygen mask, safety cards, paper ticket jackets, etc.  I’d play for hours: first using the sofa as a check-in counter, assigning tickets and checking luggage.  Then I’d arrange chairs in two rows and play flight attendant.  I even had a wine bottle box into which I stacked empty soda and beer cans – that was my beverage cart.  I’d do the safety demo, serve food, etc.

My fascination with airplanes continued as I grew up.  At the end of high school I started interviewing with United.  I wanted to work as a customer service agent, preferably at San Jose Airport, which was just a few miles from my home.  I interviewed with the station manager but never heard back. 

Following up with the Human Resources representative a few weeks later, it turned out that the station manager had been fired and had never turned the results of my interview back to HR.  She offered me a part-time position at San Francisco Airport working in Cabin Services – the group that cleans the planes between flights.

During the summer of 1988 I worked at SFO four hours a day on a rotating schedule, four days one, one day off.  It was not exciting work – and I was working with a pretty rough group of people – but I enjoyed being on and around the airplanes. 

At the end of the summer, though, a few weeks before I had to join the union, I decided to quit the job.  It didn’t pay enough to cover the costs of gasoline, so I decided to stick with my nearly full-time job working at the movie theatre instead.

Had I landed the original job working as a customer service agent at SJC, I have no doubt I would have left the movie theatre instead.  By the time all the layoffs occurred in 2002 (after 9/11) I would probably have had enough seniority to have survived them.  Of course, with much less pay.

Looking back, it was probably good that I didn’t end up staying in the airline industry.  It is a tough industry in which to work.  But as someone who is extremely good with customer service – I’ve often been commended for my grace and calm under pressure – I think I would have been excellent at it.  And being an industry that I am still passionate about, I think it would have been a career I would have really enjoyed.