My first car was unforgettable. It was a fading red 1988 Chevrolet Beretta that I bought for five hundred dollars. It had a huge dent in the front right fender, and a good deal of the hood’s paint was chipped away. I’m pretty sure that the seat belts were just for show, and the roof leaked when it rained. There was a gaping hole surrounding the emergency break and a giant gash in the dashboard; I covered both with red and white Christmas place mats and duct tape. The CD player, which was the kind that had a handle and pulled completely out (as if such a thing need be portable), worked for a few seconds the first time I tried it, and then never again. But despite all its numerous flaws, I loved that car.
I bought the Beretta during winter break of my sophomore year in college and gave it over to a mechanic who coaxed (or bribed) it into passing the State Inspection just in time for me to take it back to school. So my first significant time with the car was the drive from my home in Brooklyn to my college near Boston. To my surprise, my dad insisted on making the trip with me. And although I have always valued time with my father, I thought his insistence a bit odd since he, himself, didn’t know how to drive (and still doesn’t). But in hindsight, I’m glad he was with me — and I’m especially grateful that I wasn’t alone, given the surprises this trip had in store.
It was very early one January morning when my father and I set out. The sun was shining bright enough to make it appear warm outside, and the roads were free of ice and snow. We were leaving very early because that’s what my father does. Regardless of the destination, his travel mantra has always been, and will always be: Tomorrow, we leave at dawn!
Even though it was my first time driving on a highway, I felt confident. I entered I-95 north and picked up speed. I was going roughly sixty miles per hour (which I would later learn was my Beretta’s maximum speed and the real reason for my never getting a speeding ticket in that car). I maneuvered into the leftmost lane and was probably feeling very proud of myself for doing so. And then it happened. The hood of my car went flying up, hit the windshield, and stayed up. I couldn’t see anything except for the top of my hood which, due to the impact, even more paint had chipped away from.