In 1991, my dad bought our family a Ford Explorer. It was the very first edition of that car and, back then, SUV’s looked enormous on the road. The gigantic family SUV craze was just getting started. Our Explorer was black with a single, red pinstripe wrapped around the exterior, and had red leather interior. As I recall, my mother was horrified to see it in our driveway. My dad is a pretty straight-laced guy, so it was alarming for him to buy a car with red leather interior. I guess there really was a certain “je ne sais quois” about that car.
After ten years of my family using the car getting us to and from everywhere, “The Exploder”, as I affectionately named her, became mine during my senior year of high school. I lived at a boarding school where lots of kids had really nice cars, so the Exploder was a misfit amongst the shiny new Jeep Grand Cherokees, but I was so happy to have a car. Having a car as a teenager is the ultimate freedom, and I had longed for it since getting a license. I drove her to parties on the weekends, I’d drive it to parking lots to make out with my boyfriend before study hall, and all over New England on the weekends. Because I went to a boarding school, my friends lived in all different towns and states so, though the Exploder didn’t get a lot of day to day use, it went on countless weekend road trips. I practically lived out of it. The summer after I graduated, there were weeks of parties and I had folded down the back seats and put a mattress back there, so my friends and I could sleep in the trunk.
When I went off to college in Vermont, the Exploder came with me. It withstood major snow storms and horrific driving conditions, but, somehow, always got me everywhere I needed to be. During my Freshman year, my best friend and I were driving home for winter break in the middle of a bad snow storm, and the windshield wipers completely stopped working. I drove on the highway with ski goggles on and my head out the window until the next exit with a gas station. Being Vermont, the exits are far apart and it was a good, scary while until we reached a place to stop. We stole a squeegee from the gas station and bundled up. Once we were back on the road, we periodically leaned out the window and reached around with the squeegee to wipe the windshield, all the way back to Massachusetts. That probably goes down as one of the stupidest things I have ever done, and still can not believe we made it home without getting into an accident.
By the time I was a sophomore in college, the only way to keep the car from stalling was by never coming to a complete stop. It’s hard work never letting your car stop while you’re driving it. Every intersection was a miniature panic attack. About ten yards into the approach I would start switching my foot back and forth really fast between the brakes and the gas, praying that the traffic light would turn green. I was constantly getting honked at and had many an expletive shouted in my direction.
One day, while home for the summer after my sophomore year, I was headed off to work. I waited tables at a local restaurant, a job which I needed, but thoroughly hated. I was running late and could smell the engine burning, which wasn’t totally unusual, but then smoke started pouring from the hood. I couldn’t stop the car because I knew it would stall and I wanted to get as close to the restaurant as possible, so I coasted to the bottom of the hill I was coming down, yanked the wheel to the right and pulled over onto the side of the road into a grassy area. The Exploder finally exploded. I was still about a mile from work and already late for my shift, so I idiotically decided to get to work instead of dealing with the car. It was a hot August day and I was dressed in a head-to-toe black waitressing uniform, and my only option was to jog the rest of the way to the restaurant. I trotted down the main road in our town praying not to be spotted by anyone I knew.
My shift ended late and I got a ride home after almost forgetting entirely about the Exploder. The town police called the next day after running my plates to “alert” me of the car’s whereabouts. I told them what happened and didn’t end up getting in trouble, luckily, because it’s illegal to abandon a vehicle. They suggested I call “Kars for Kids” to come get it, which worked out perfectly because I had no plans of paying a tow truck or mechanic to deal with it. I don’t know if the Exploder was ever resuscitated, but she had 283,000 miles the day she quit on me. I think every kid should be forced to drive the shitty, old family car for a while.