At the start of my Sophomore year of high school, I was 15 and had my Driver’s Permit. As I was turning 16 in a few months, my mom knew I was going to start asking about some kind of car-for-myself situation. My sister’s history of vehicles prior to that included things like her friend’s beat-ass car that she bought for $300 that didn’t have a key but a certain type of flat-head screwdriver would do the trick (and one of the front wheels fell off while she was pulling into the driveway), which she traded in to another friend for a moped, and then eventually upgraded to a beat-ass old Jeep. All of this to say – I wanted my own set of wheels when the time came, but didn’t have high hopes for it.
My mom made a deal : if I could go the entire school year without ever getting a grade in any class lower than a C, she’d buy me a car. Now, mind you, she didn’t say “C Average”, she said nothing lower than a C. That might sound like spoiled-brat horseshit to you, and you’d think I was getting off light, but I rarely ever gave any shits about school and would’ve pretty much gone my entire school career with a D- average if I could, provided I didn’t need to repeat any classes. It’s not that I hated school, or learning, or that I wanted to be a “rebel”, I mostly just didn’t want to do homework. Once I got home, that was my time, and fuck you for making me do shit on my time. Though I work freelance from home these days, whenever I’ve had an actual employer, I’ve refused to so much as answer an after-work phonecall.
I worked out a plan throughout the year, however. Teachers would notice me working diligently on studying and doing all classwork, and I was acing the tests, which showed that I grasped the material. But, they would warn me that my grade was slipping because of the lack of homework. I told them I just wanted to make sure to stay above a C grade, and asked how I could make that happen. With some of them, we worked out a deal that I would be allowed to do my homework in class and turn it in a day late. With others, they just wanted me to do the big assignments, and would forget the rest. Others just said they’d judge the entirety of my grade based on how I did on tests. The remaining one or two teachers said they didn’t care about my excuses, and just wanted me to apply myself to homework.
What I learned most in high school was the power of charisma. It’s why I think homeschooling is a terrible idea. What you learn in high school isn’t necessarily the curriculum, but the minutiae of what matters to you. In my case, I learned how to charm my way into special treatment.
With these deals made, I worked out a system. The two classes that required my homework on time, I would complete in the first 2-3 classes of the day. The classes that let me do homework a day late, I’d work on throughout the day, and for the others (the tests and big assignments), I just divided my time between paying attention and catching up on the others. This might all sound insane, and probably more work than just doing the damned homework in the first place, but in fact was way easier. I never had actual home work. The teachers were fine with it, and I did well in every class. By “did well”, I mean “above a C grade” – in some classes, I was an A student, in others, I was barely a C student. No C-, no Ds, no Fs. That was the deal. After that year, I handed my mom my final report card and she said “well done! you get $1500 to use towards a car”.
I spent the better part of the first month of my summer searching the Auto Trader for reasonable $1500 cars, to which my stepdad – Chuck – would end up giving me a reason it was a shit deal or a shit car. I was getting nowhere, but it’s not like I had any “fuck you” money stashed away, so I was at the whim of whatever I could reasonably see myself driving that also wouldn’t be a headache.
One morning, I woke up and came downstairs and this old blonde hippie dude was in my kitchen with my mom and Chuck. They introduced him as Darryl, and he was the widower of a longtime friend of my mom’s from her early teaching days. One of the first things he said to me was “you must be excited!”, but I didn’t understand why. My mom walked me outside and said “here’s your car!” and there it was. A 1974 Volkswagen Bus. Bright orange, from top to bottom. It was formerly owned by the aforementioned long-time teacher friend, and Darryl gave my mom a “helluva deal” on it, which Chuck agreed was a great price on a particularly good-conditioned car 1just for reference, the year was 1994, lest you think I was getting a brand-new car, this bus was older than me and my sister.
I hadn’t ever expressed interest in a bus. I didn’t particularly want the affectation of “hey! I drive a bus, man!”. I hated hippie culture. But, whatever, right? This was my car, and I was ecstatic to have that newfound level of freedom. They gave me the keys, I got inside, and… oh shit. This was a stick shift. I’d driven my stepdad’s old manual SUV a time or two, but usually once it was out of first gear. I barely knew what the fuck I was doing.
It’s a funny thing, really. Here I was with this Freedom Mobile, untethered and ready to roll. But I couldn’t physically drive the fucking thing. I sat outside my house for two hours teaching myself how to get out of first gear, over and over again. Sometime around hour #3, I managed to get the fucking thing to the end of my street. I turned around to get home to call some friends, and stalled over and over again for about another 20 minutes.
Once I got home, I called my friend Eric 2from the 1st LSD story and told him I just got my first car, and we need to go cruising. He said “fuck yeah! come pick me up!”. He only lived about a mile from my house, but it took me about 15 minutes to get there. I spent another 20 minutes between his house and mine on the way to the main road, trying to figure out if I could reasonably get this bitch out for a night on the town without stalling too much at critical places like stoplights.
I popped in my favorite cassette (Faith No More’s Angel Dust) and we swung a left onto Bell Road, ready for a summer night in Phoenix as two young dudes with the freedom of a set of wheels with no parents in sight. We didn’t even do anything particularly wild, pretty much just drove to the mall for a few hours, and then back again.
But, goddamnit, me and The Bus were ready for adventure, and I never felt more free in my life.