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Growing Up In The Hub City: Hot Rod Heaven

Mar 06, 2017 05:18PM ● By Elizabeth Hesterly

When we were in high school, if we were even fortunate enough to have a car, we all drove hand me downs, or used cars, or cars that no one else wanted.  My first car was a gift from my grandparents.  It was a dark green Mercury Monterey, a model only made for a few years, and my precious grandparents presented it to me when they purchased a shiny new car for themselves.  I don’t think I was appropriately pleased. I remember thinking the color was rather dull.  Little did I know what kind of fun that car would afford me and what kind of mischief my friends and I accomplished because of my wheels. That drab green really didn’t matter after all.  

My brother Walt fixated on fast cars—and not just any fast cars. He searched far and wide for 1969 or 1970 Ford Mustangs. Why? Because he wanted what most of his peers wanted --- wheels that could take him fast and furiously through high school. He typically bought Houston and New Orleans newspapers every weekend, searching the Classifieds, hoping beyond hope to discover one of these beauties for sale. He found two. He didn’t have them long, though, because boys with fast cars are not a good combination.

When I notice what teenagers are driving now, I sense that they are missing out.  Most high schoolers I see have new cars—if not brand new, then almost new.  My husband and I fell into this trap when we bought our sons their first cars.  I have a strong feeling that my boys could have benefitted from an old jalopy, or at least from a vehicle that offered a flair for the dramatic, or from a beaten down car that would have created more memories than any spotless new one ever could. But they missed out because we simply forgot to consider our past.

I remember my closest high school girlfriends with a smile on my face, and I can identify them all by the cars they drove.  Sally inherited her mother’s white LTD.  It was long and narrow and floated down Hwy 93 like it was a barge from a Viking River cruise.  Prissy drove another cast off, and this car’s unique trait was a rear view mirror that lost its adhesion to the front windshield.  Consequently, we simply picked it up off the dash and held it at the proper angle when we were backing up.  Toni and Kathy shared a gargantuan station wagon that could hold every one of us and then some as we followed our football team throughout district. My Monterey had a gremlin living in the radio.  Without warning the volume would surge to high heaven and all passengers in my vast green machine shrieked with alarm.

Marc and Mark helped me recall what some of our guy classmates drove, including our good friend Glenn’s Cadillac that expended so much gasoline he could barely afford to fill her up. But when he did have gas in the tank, that old Caddy left three tire tracks in the dirt because of improper alignment. Hardy drove a pickup truck with 18-wheeler exhaust pipes behind the cab, starting a very popular trend. And our friend Danny sported a Trans Am that he once drove on the shoulder for miles through the State of Alabama.  

Bill had a metallic blue Volkswagen Bus, a groovy mode of transportation to be certain, but he once flipped it belly side up on a local boulevard. Bill and his passengers climbed out, righted the Bus, and then went fishing. Donald drove an old sedan, a car with serious mechanical issues, but he didn’t let a broken carburetor stop him. He rigged a long string through the hood, adjusting the carburetor from the driver’s seat, and he made that baby run all the way to football practice. Marc’s ’62 Ford Falcon had its own troubles, so with the lack of a functioning starter, Marc just pushed it to get it rolling. If you know Marc like I do, you know he was talking the whole time, coaxing his car with a good yarn. What that car lacked in important mechanical capabilities, it made up for in dashing charm --- a unique turquoise color hand-painted by its previous owner and seats bolted to the floorboard. Marc paid $300 for his set of wheels, the best money he ever spent.

When Jerry bought a Cutlass 442, he desperately wanted Mag wheels. He only had the money for two and thus put them on the back. Jerry’s in heaven now, and I can easily imagine that his dream car finally has a complete set.

My brother reminded me of his best friend Billy’s blue and white LeMans, a two-door model whose door swung so wide open for its passengers that it almost needed two parking spaces. His little sister still remembers the first time he let her sit in the front seat. Their friend Mitch drove a GTO, another speedy vehicle coveted by all the guys, and when he had it repainted, the body shop replaced the letters with a twist:  “P O N I T A C.”  He left it like that for the rest of the car’s life, only adding to its allure. Walt’s friend Blake yearned for a Corvette. He finally bought one. Never mind that it didn’t run. Well, maybe it did once, and that’s all that mattered.

We graduated from high school in the Seventies. Most of us didn’t even have our own cars. 

We waited for our parents to loan us theirs, always dependent upon their schedules and our scholastics. But those of us who had somehow been lucky enough to inherit wheels or clever enough to purchase some have a catalog of memories that binds us together. We still laugh at ourselves, at our cars, at our antics. Now I’m not saying that you can’t create good memories in your brand new car. What I’m saying is --- it’s doubtful.

*** The last names have been omitted to protect the anonymity of any unwilling participants in these sometimes foolish high school hi-jinks. Drive safely!  


Elizabeth O'Roark Hesterly was born and raised in Lafayette. She is a graduate of Acadiana High School and LSU, is too serious for her own good, admires loyalty and faithfulness, and strives for both.

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