Eight years ago, my husband’s truck finally blew up after twenty years of faithful service. We were living in abject poverty at the time, but he had to get to work. We scraped together two hundred dollars and a friend drove him around to find something.
My husband returned that night with the most dilapidated conveyance imaginable. I stood agape in the doorway of our ramshackle rented house and simply stared. It was a gigantic station wagon from the mid-eighties, mostly powder-blue with wood paneling down both sides. It belched out a cloud smoke as he parked it and then ran to put a brick under the front wheel. As is custom in our family, he proudly proclaimed he had already named it. It was “The Ghetto War Wagon.”
This car lasted us for a grand total of six months, which was a miracle. Nothing on it worked. The back hatch opened from left to right like a door. The latch was broken, so the previous owner had installed two four-inch screws to hold it shut. To use the hatch, we had to take the screwdriver (which was conveniently the gear-shift stalk) and remove the screws, then replace them to hold it shut. Two of the doors didn’t work at all, so it was necessary to crawl into the front passenger’s side seat from the rear or slide over from the driver’s side. The hood was held shut by a piece of wire coat hanger, with the curved loop always protruding like an obscene tongue. The locks did not work and only one window went down more than a few inches. It had a plastic ashtray super-glued to the transmission hump in front as the space for the original was simply a gaping hole in the instrument panel. The seat belts were all broken or missing. The Pennsylvania inspection stickers were four years out of date and my husband had put our old plate from the truck on it. It certainly wasn’t insured, and I don’t believe we ever owned the title or registered it.
The seats were all shredded plastic faux-leather and were so cracked they would cut our hands and the backs of our legs. We draped them with nasty old sheets from Goodwill, one of which has Teletubbies printed on it. It was covered in dents and scratches, and the right rear quarter-panel was lime green. It also had gigantic circles of rust-colored Bond-o around each wheel well. The interior reeked of old vomit, farts and putrid gym socks, despite our scrubbing efforts. We stapled dozens of tree-shaped air fresheners to the the exposed, spongy ceiling. This foam would flake off in tiny, gritty clumps and cling to our clothes and hair.
This vehicle’s charms didn’t end there. While in motion, the car would squeal, shudder, and make all kinds of alarming sounds. It blew out gigantic clouds of acrid smoke and consumed three quarts of oil per commute. At speeds exceeding thirty miles an hour, the steering column would shimmy and the car would pull dangerously to the left, causing my husband to drive with the wheel cocked at a thirty-degree angle in order to keep a straight line. It stalled out at long red lights, and since the gas gauge and odometer didn’t work, we had to make careful guesses as to how much gas should be remaining at any given time. More than once we had to push it off the side of the road to retrieve gas or more oil (the dummy light for oil still worked, surprisingly).
The Ghetto War Wagon finally came to it’s last, gasping stop at the side of the road in PortVue. We called AAA and had it hauled directly to the scrapyard. Amazingly, in those six months, it had never broken down except for needing gas or oil. It had taken the daily commutes with surprising panache, and given us time to save up a modest down-payment on a used car we drove for the next seven years. Amazingly, we also never were pulled over or received a single ticket, despite it being one of the most illegal cars on the road. The Ghetto War Wagon was perhaps the most unsafe and hideous car ever to have existed, but it got the job done.