For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Volvo.
My father acquired the Volvo when we moved back to the United States from Greece. If I recall correctly, he bought it at Litton Springs for $100, for use as a beater car which would fall apart in a few years and eventually be replaced. As it turns out, we had the Volvo for rather a long time, all things considered, although it gradually grew more eclectic over time, as beater cars tend to do.
I’ve noticed these days that fewer and fewer people seem to drive beaters, although there are definitely still a few around. The thing about old funky cars is that I started to associate them with their people; I would point to a car and say “oh look, so and so is here.” Sometimes people almost seemed to start to resemble their old cars, making it horribly jarring when they bought a replacement which no longer matched.
The Volvo was a sedan, and I want to say it was an early 1970s model, although that may be a trick of memory. I do remember that it was white, with brown upholstery. When we got it, I think it was in reasonably good shape, although it had obviously been driven hard in some rough terrain at various points during its lifetime. But the thing about cars on the Coast is that, over time, they become salt encrusted, and then they rust out, and this is when their true colours begin to show.
The first eccentricity the Volvo acquired was when the floor in the back rusted all the way through, so you could see the road while you were driving. I used to love sitting in the backseat with my feet curled up next to me, watching the road zip by beneath me. It was, of course, rather unpleasant in the winter, when water splashed back from every puddle and doused the seat. And once, we hit a skunk, and very unpleasant things happen indeed, which I won’t describe in detail here because I assume everyone knows what happens when you hit a skunk[1. Ok, fine, I will describe it here. When you hit a skunk, it’s basically like smashing a water balloon stinkbomb. I leave the rest to your imagination, Gentle Reader.].
The missing floor in the back was probably quite hazardous, but it became sort of a running joke. The person least experienced in the Way of the Volvo would be seated in the front seat for their own personal safety, and sometimes my father would put planks down in the back if it seemed like there was going to be a full house and a legitimate concern about a foot slipping through the floor. Planks also came in handy when we wanted to stash things on the seat and we were worried that they might pitch forward and fall through the floor. On occasion, Mr Bell would slip up through the holes so that he could go to sleep on the backseat, and several times, we drove away with him still in the car and only noticed when he meowed strenuously.
The second Volvo eccentricity occurred one winter. Despite the fact that the car was pretty tightly sealed and we never noticed water inside, a gentle carpet of moss began to spread along the floor in the front, creeping its way into the back and periodically being beaten back again. For some reason, the moss never ended up on the seats, it just stuck to the floor, perhaps because the floor was darker and marginally warmer.
My school friends, of course, all though this was tremendous fun, and went home to suggest to their parents that they get a moss car. Their parents, for reasons I never really understood, were very opposed to the idea, and I seem to recall that someone got especially riled up after a young child attempted to transplant some moss from the Volvo to the family’s BMW.
The third eccentricity manifested on a warm day when my father and I were driving on the way to the City. My father went to roll down his window, and it fell into the door with a “CLONK” and didn’t come back up. Thus it was that we ended up on Vallejo Street taking the door apart to fish the window out. The housing for the window was pretty much totally destroyed, so my father ended up taping it in place during the winters, and attaching a strap in the summers so that he could haul it in and out of the door.
The ritual untaping of the Volvo window was actually a bit of a rite of spring for the household, and one which would be eagerly anticipated in the community; it didn’t really feel like spring until the window was untaped and the gaudily decorated rainbow strap was firmly cinched around the window.
The final eccentricity proved to be the Volvo’s undoing, and, oddly enough, it was a result of the fact that the car was simply too sturdy, even after all the abuse it had endured. A drunk driver side-swiped the car one night, bending in the front quarter panel. We borrowed a friend’s tractor to pull it back out, but the problem was that the metal from the quarter panel was still strong enough to dent the hood on impact, and the hood refused to sit right after that, periodically flying up at unexpected moments while driving. My father strapped it down and drove that way for a while, but one day I came home and the Volvo was gone, replaced with a beige Nissan stationwagon which never really had the same pizazz, even though it had a robotic voice which would inform my father of important news like “your door is ajar” and “your lights are on” and, of course, “your key is in the ignition.”