I was 15 years old in the summer of 1999 when I got my first car, a 1977 Pontiac Catalina. I’ll never forget that car.
It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing car. It had quintessential 1970s style, a gold paint job with a cream-colored top, and only three hubcaps.
For a teenage guy, its sound system left a lot to be desired. All it had was AM radio. That would have been fine when the car was new and contemporary music still thrived on AM radio. But all I could think about when I heard it only had AM radio was talk radio and sermons. If it had even had an eight-track player, I could have probably picked up some of my mom’s and aunts’ eight-tracks from my grandma’s house. I specifically remember seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Denver.
There were other annoyances about the car; it took a long time to warm up on cold mornings. If I tried to get going before my car decided it was ready, it would stall, and I’d have to start over from the beginning.
With all that said, there was still a lot to like about that Pontiac. For its age, it ran incredibly well. And out on the open road, it provided such a smooth ride.
Most importantly, it was mine. I could finally make trips that were too long for my bicycle without needing a ride from my parents. It is easy to take that freedom to travel for granted now, but that is what a car means to a teenager: freedom.
Another thing that made that car so special was that I knew I had earned it. I had spent several summers mowing a bunch of yards in town with my dad without seeing any big rewards, just an occasional slushy from the corner gas station to cool down.
My car, my 1977 Pontiac Catalina, was the payoff for all those hours sweating in the summer heat push mowing. All that work made the reward even sweeter.