Meet Mr. T.
If you were expecting the guy from the A Team, I’m sorry to disappoint. Mr. T was the nickname for my first car. That’s him in the background (and me in the foreground, on graduation day, 1999.)
Let’s rewind a little. It was the summer of 1998. I had just turned 17. I desperately wanted to be able to drive my senior year, and in order to do that, I was determined to have my own means of transportation. And that meant work. A LOT of work. I’d been promoted at my summer job at a local water park, from lifeguard to lead guard (the highest on the lifeguard ladder you can get as a student.)
While my peers spent their summer days basking in the sunshine, splashing in the water, and saving the occasional life, I patrolled the park, walkie-talkie hooked to my belt. My responsibilities were to oversee the lifeguards, put bandaids on skinned knees, and deal with water park emergencies (ranging from a rogue turd in the lazy river, to a broken leg on the speed slides.)
Every week, when my paycheck came in, I diligently banked that money, leaving myself little to spend frivolously on my rare days off. When I had enough for a car, I went to my dad, gave him the figure, and left him to find me something reliable. I know I tossed in the word “cute” more than once. But, having little cash flow, despite my summer of savings, I wound up with Mr. T instead.
An all-white, boxy, slightly rusty 1982 Datsun Maxima, Mr. T sported a sun-roof, a cassette player, electronic windows, and a back door that wouldn’t open.
I was instantly in love.
This little car took me and my friends everywhere we wanted to go. Afternoon trips to the beach, weekend drives up to Myrtle Beach to visit the boardwalk, Walmart for school supplies….Mr. T did more than just schlep us to and from school. And for that, we loved him.
|Spring of 1999, 4 best friends, and the beach. One of my favorite memories, captured on film.
From left to right: Trish, Tifany, me, and Becca.
Mr. T was solely responsible for many of our double-date nights. He took Trish and me prom dress shopping. If it weren’t for Mr. T, the four of us, thick as thieves, might have missed some of the most memorable moments of our lives (senior parties, sleepovers, days by the pool, nights by the ocean).
Becca was my most frequent passenger. She lived one neighborhood over, and I picked her up every morning for school. On the warmer days, she knew I’d be opening the sunroof at some point. I’d turn to her and say, “Sunglasses secured.” We’d flip our glasses down onto our faces, I would press the button, and the sunroof would creak open, raining down shards of rust and debris. The glasses were less about protecting our vision from the sun, and more about protecting our eyeballs from the detritus trapped between the metal and the glass.
But you may still be wondering how my little Datsun got his nickname. So let me tell you that tale.
It was the first day of school. It was also the first day driving my car alone, as a legally licensed driver in the state of South Carolina. I remember my mom standing on the front porch, tearfully waving goodbye as I backed out of the driveway. I’d gotten to school just fine, the day had come to an end, and Becca and I decided a trip to Georgetown was necessary. You see, we’d found out that a favorite teacher of ours was in the hospital there, recovering from surgery. We also needed supplies for one of our classes, and Walmart was calling our names.
So we loaded into the car and hit the road, Madonna blaring from the speakers.
As we pulled into the hospital parking lot, I started the hunt for a parking spot. I wasn’t trying to be a hero–I knew parking wasn’t my strong suit. I was looking for a spot as far away from another vehicle as I could manage. The best I could find was near the back of the visitors’ lot, near a big brown van that looked older than my Datsun. I figured it was worth the risk. So I turned on my signal like a good little driver, and started guiding the car into the space.
And almost had a heart attack when I heard the telltale “SCREEEEEEE” of metal on metal.
Still halfway out of the parking space, I slammed on the breaks and threw the car in to park. Becca and I turned to look at each other, eyes wide. “Did you just hit that van??” she whispered.
“I totally think I just hit that van,” I replied.
Panicked, I threw the car into reverse and sped out of the parking lot.
Minutes later, safely parked in the Walmart parking lot (approximately 2 miles from the actual store, or so it seemed.) We stepped out to survey the damage to my new-to-me car. We studied it from headlight to tailpipe and could find no evidence of the collision at all. The paint job was still in tact (in all the places it had been in tact before.) There had been no paint transfer, and there were absolutely no dents to speak of.
Becca looked at me, dumbfounded, and said, “Your car is indestructable.”
“Apparently,” I said. “Like a super-hero of cars.”
“Like Mr. T,” she said. And in her best Mr. T voice, continued, “I pity the fool who tries to scratch Abby’s car.”
And that is how my Datsun forever became Mr. T.
I had that car for 3 years. It went with me to college. I drove it from the mountains to the beach and everywhere in between. As Mr. T started declining in health, I even learned how to change the hoses beneath his hood. And when he took his last breath in the driveway of the basement apartment I shared with Brian and Jenna, I mourned for him.
RIP Mr. T. The super-hero of cars. 1982-2002.