Literally, in that the vehicle had more than crossed that age when its parts didn’t work like they did when new. In car years, which are shorter even than dog years, the Buick had reached the point in its life when it would have to make regular visits to its pharmacist for Viagra.
Figuratively, in that the car was by rights a teenager - a moody one at that - and the parts that still worked gave you attitude when you prodded them into action. Stomping the brake elicited frustrated groans from the front-wheel discs. The car would deign to stop when it felt was right, regardless of how hard you stood on the pedal. And when we finally did get the brakes fixed the shocks went bad. Mashing the pedal locked the tires like a vice, but the inertia of the two-ton rolling mass hurled the car (and its passengers, and everything in its cabin) careening forward at a thirty-degree decline.
It was great fun for us, as we always wore our seatbelts. Our passengers who didn’t wear theirs never saw the humor, especially the guy whose front teeth got embedded in the dashboard.
Toeing the brake sent the Buick into a sheer nosedive. Eventually, the tires would dig in and bring the car to a halt, but not before screeching ten car lengths down the pavement with the Buick’s trunk in the air. On hitting a dead stop, the sudden reversal of force would buck the car’s front bumper into the air, sometimes so hard that its front tires would pop up off the asphalt. Fifty-Dollar Hydraulics, we called the effect, because that was what the brake job had cost.
In retrospect, we should have known better than to expect much from a fifty-dollar brake job. It was probably not the best idea we’d had, because the Buick, old as it was, was probably worth as much. Even so, we were eighteen then, too, and we had that in common with the car. It was something we could bond over.
Summertime rolled around. School let out, and we were without cash or anywhere to go, and sitting in a car worth more in parts than intact. Sitting shotgun in the red Buick with my friend at the wheel, we coasted down suburban streets in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood. Up ahead on the right was the supermarket where we’d occasionally get lunch between classes. It was 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, and the parking lot was empty save for a half dozen cars and twice as many shopping carts scattered across the pavement. A teen in a green apron collected the carts into a long train while his co-worker hustled down the pavement for the lone stragglers further afield.
My friend cut a sharp right off the roadway and pulled into the lot, sending the Buick’s tail into a shimmy. He punched the gas and the tires spun, catapulting the car’s rear into a crescent-moon power slide. The teen pushing the train of carts threw his hands in the air and leaped backward as the Buick smashed through the line. Shards of shopping cart baskets fell like stainless steel rain.
The Buick recovered from its one-eighty turn, spun to a halt with its tires whirling in place. Engine roaring, tires flailing, the Buick lurched forward, hesitant, testing its prey like a bull pawing the dirt in anticipation of a charge. In its sights was a lone shopping cart.
Like a spring released, the Buick launched forward once the tires caught asphalt. We were pressed into our seats as the cabin went skyward - all the power to the rear wheels bucked the front end airborne. The car bobbed on its chassis as its acceleration leveled out and we hit thirty miles per hour halfway down the length of the plaza.
My friend leapt in his seat and came down onto the brake with the full weight of his body. The car shuddered with the rapid reversal of force, its inertia dragging it along, kicking and screaming, even while it dug its heels in to stop. I slid up and out of my lap belt, was tossed against the dashboard and split the roof-mounted fold-down mirror in two with my face. Then I was thrown back against my seat again, snapping the vertical seatback into the reclining position as the car stopped.
The Buick must have hopped several feet off the ground, because in our windshield was nothing but sky. A blur of chromed metal soared up and over us as the shopping cart our fighting bull of a Buick had hooked went airborne. The Buick’s front bumper had caught the shopping cart in the sweet spot between the underside of its basket and its lower brace, catapulting it no less than fifty feet into the air. The cart soared, tumbling, in a near-vertical path, disappearing for a heartbeat as it passed in front of the sun. Its fall was cut short when its basket got caught in the bough of a nearby tree. It swayed there, dinged and dented, too hurt to come down, and too insulted to do anything but stay where it was.
The store manager, a squat, balding man whose scalp had migrated over the years to his hairy forearms, had seen everything. He ran three paces from the supermarket’s front doors and stopped short when he beheld the chaos we’d caused.
We gunned it for home and cut a hard turn around the cul-de-sac where my friend lived, our tires tracing mud runnels across his front lawn. He mashed the brake and skidded the Buick into his garage, which - thankfully - was open by the time we arrived. We rolled down the garage door and hoped the cops hadn’t seen us.
Swapping the red Buick for our bikes, we pedaled back to the supermarket and got there twenty minutes later. The two kids from before were still out in the lot, one of them with a push broom and dustbin, scooping up bits of those shopping carts we had reduced to slivers. The other kid held a push broom too, except he used his as a prod to try to coax the shopping cart out of its tree. He’d have sooner gotten the cart down if it were a cat in a tree and he’d called the fire department, as the cart was a good foot or so above the end of his broom, even when he stood on tiptoes.
All the while the manager stood under the cart in the tree, shaking his head and throwing his hands up in exasperation.
Who better than he, an authority figure, to serve as our referee, and his throwing his arms up signified nothing less than that our field goal attempt had been successful.
Us: three points. Supermarket: zero.