Retrospectives: Feeling free and acting bad-ass with my first car, a used ’78 SWEET Camaro


When I was in high-school, I anxiously awaited the day when I could drive and better yet, have my very own car. My high school was probably pretty big by some standards — over 2,000+ students.  My high school at that time, like many, was very much like the “Breakfast Club” movie.   There were the different groups and sets of people.   I was part of the “bad hair metal crowd” — tight jeans, high permed two-toned hair, lots of make up, high heels. I actually looked like Jon Bon Jovi.
Anyway, at the end of each day, a spectacular event occurred….. essentially all the people who drove to school, along with their friends, swarmed to the student parking lot and looked cool and blasted music.  I think I took the bus for a year but after that I usually found a friend or someone who would drive… so I was one of those people in the student parking lot in a friend’s car, ready to go.   It was such a scene.

Then, it was time for the exiting procession.  The first vehicles to exit were the busses.   There were two lines that formed… one exiting left, the other exiting right.   It was really very dramatic seeing all of those busses peal out of the parking lot and get into formation.   There was a winding road along the back of the school which led to the exit.  There were probably 15 busses snaking their way along the back road of the school towards the exit.  When we saw the busses starting to leave, that’s when our cars started their engines anxiously — the student car line ups were READY. Engines on, cigarettes lit, music echoing across the lot.  This exiting routine was always so dramatic for me. I loved it. I felt like an adult. I felt anxious for the motion. I felt pent-up but ready to be set free.   So through the years, leading up to my sixteenth birthday, I dreamt of owning MY OWN car and heading down that procession.

Parade of cars leaving high-school, we were SO COOL

I worked for this first car since I was fourteen – a job at a pizza joint that essentially paid me in cash but still took out “taxes” so the guy was obviously ripping me off. I then started working at a 24 hour diner which was when I hit the jackpot. Cold-hard cash — averaging ~$60 EACH night worked. It was awesome. I quickly saved up the cash to buy my first clunker.   I paid cash for the car and made sure I had enough for the insurance.  I did it all on my own.   The year was 1986 but I think my car was a 1978. It was blue. It was beautiful. It was a Chevy Camaro — and the best part was a spoiler on the back. It was so unbelievably bad-ass.

1978 Bad Ass Camaro with Spoiler.... so cool

I felt so free driving it. I also felt accomplished working for it myself.  I worked hard for my beauty and I appreciated it.   I remember clearly the feeling of leaving that high-school in the line up.    Hoping that I didn’t stray to far into the other lane.   Hoping that making a “left” would be easy and traffic-free.   Or if I felt too nervous, I would take the right hand lane out for an easier exit.   I had people in my car.   We were laughing and having a blast.   I remember sometimes driving nowhere just for the sake of driving.  I’d always volunteer to get pizza pick-up vs. delivery.   I remember warm summer nights, me and my car, driving the winding roads and listening to music.   Sometimes there would be friends with me and sometimes there would not.   I learned all the back roads very quickly.   I discovered parts of the town I never knew existed…. small bridges over streams… run down homes that looked haunted… and of course I did drive-bys of the homes of the boys I had crushes on.

The only downfall of this beautiful machine that I could see was that it didn’t have a tape deck (remember those things?).   Well of course I bought a tape deck and had a friend rip out the existing car stereo that was securely installed in the dashboard of the car.   He maneuvered underneath, pulled out wires, pulled back plastic, and somehow got the thing hooked up — however, during the installation process he completed fouled up the entire electrical make up of the car. I tried to overlook this the best I could – but it was difficult.

  • First, the radio would work fine — but only when driving UNDER 35 miles per hour. This was pretty annoying since sometimes it’s hard to look cool going only 35 miles per hour.  I eventually found a trick where I could accelerate above 35 and just tap on the brake and that was enough to get the radio going again.   But regardless, it was pretty annoying and was something I constantly had to pay attention to – it was a tradeoff.   Either drive under 35 miles per hour, or go faster but look like I didn’t know how to drive since I was always tapping on my break.
  • Second, the gas gauge never worked from that point out. This wasn’t such a huge problem since that just gave me more excuses to fill up my car more often.   It gave me a reason to spend more time with my beauty.   However there was a dark, dark time when I headed on a road trip (without my parents’ knowledge) to the Baltimore aquarium (4 hours away).  You guessed it, we ran out of gas on the way home and I had to pull over to the left on a major highway (I-95). At sixteen, and in the 80’s, none of us had much cash or credit/debit cards. To make a long story short, we had a lot of walking to/from the next exit and had to pool our cash, with fingers crossed that we would have enough gas to make it home. I think that was the last long trip I took with that car.

Anyway, I loved it. I loved the way it smelled in the hot summer. I loved filling the tires with air. I loved washing the windshield. I loved the featherclip hanging from the rear-view (and later the tassel from my graduation cap). I loved driving around with my friends aimlessly…. essentially driving just to drive. Exploring.   Being free.  Being on the move. Going places. And knowing that I worked for all of it. It was mine. So what I couldn’t go above 35 mph without touching on the breaks every now and then. Usually me and my friends were laughing so hard when cruising that we didn’t need the music anyway, or at least the breaking became funny after a while.

I remember this so clearly despite it being more than 20 years ago, because this is really the essence of who I am.   I have had to work for everything that I have – no one has ever had to come to my rescue to support me as an adult. I like to drive.   I like road-trips.  I like going places.   I love the feeling of freedom. I love the feeling of going somewhere – the motion. I like the windows down and music blasting.   I like the wind in my hair and the smell of sunshine.  I like the feel of the wheel in my hands.

Obviously things have changed a bit with four little ones.   Now, it’s a mini-van with four car seats in the back.    They know that sometimes certain songs come on and I suddenly crank up the radio, roll down the windows, and sing at the top of my lungs.   They do wonder why mommy is so excited over loud guitars and killer bass and drums. “Back in Black? What is that Mommy?”   But they laugh.   And the wind goes through their hair.  And the toddlers kick their legs and act silly.   And Big Bro and Red look at each other smiling, and then look back and me trying to hold back their smiles.  At least now I’m not smoking cigarettes, don’t have a featherclip hanging from the rear-view, and oh… the electrical system works just fine.   So I guess things have changed a bit but I’m still loving the motion and the music – and I’m happy to share these feelings now with my little ones.   I wonder though…. do mini-vans have spoilers?

Cruising with my babies

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing. I too owned a blue chevy camaro 78. Natalie’s comments simply summed up the sweet memories of 1986-88. I would save money two weeks so I could drive to Washington DC from NYC and back only to do it again two weeks later…. Now with three kids and a truck…aww I wish I could go back in time back to college days where my only owwry was to save money for the trips to Washington DC.

    • Everytime I think of that car it brings back a huge smile. Certain songs will fuel the memories in me, when of course of I have to roll those windows down and crank up the music. But alas I am now in a mini-van, but my heart is still in that bad-ass camaro!!

  2. Natalie Scheid Kremsky says:

    You have no idea how much I needed this today! I had a bad day. Not just your ordinary bad day but a gut wrenching one. I’ve held it together because it’s my daughter’s bday. That is until I saw THE car. I burst into tears- such a release! That’s exactly how I remember it. Music playing, windows down, feeling free. It was a magical time and I’m just happy that I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride~

    • Mama N! So glad I could help you in some way! Usually it;s the other way around and I’m glad I can give back to you! I love thinking back on those days. Someday soon I will write about sitting on the stake and driving me and you to emergency care – -laughing and crying at the same tiime due to the pain. 🙂

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