I have never been one for expensive cars, I'm just glad to have one that it starts in the morning. Did I ever own an expensive one? No. I once went into a dealership and asked for the cheapest car they had. I walked out with a stripped down 4-cylinder red Toyota pickup truck with no radio and no air conditioner and was happy to have it. Did I ever own a sports car? No, never even considered it. Did I ever drive a sports car? That is debatable and depends on whether or not you would call the Pontiac Fiero a sports car.
When I first met my wife Arlene, her sister Joanne had worked tirelessly for over a year to get her out of debt. Once free of the debt that so heavily weighed her down, what did Arlene do next? She bought a brand new red Pontiac Fiero. Joanne promptly washed her hands of any and all future financial responsibilities and failures (and rightfully so).
At first it was great. I had a blonde-haired girlfriend who drove a red sports car -- I was living a Beach Boys song. Her red Fiero was a fast, sleek-looking automobile, but this is where the definition of "sports car" comes into play. A sports car denotes fun. After a while, the Fiero was no longer fun; that Beach Boys' song I was living started to have a couple of scratches along the grooves. The first scratch was the manual transmission that had to be replaced at 12,000 miles. The next was when the engine-mount bushings came loose, which caused the engine to tremble and shake when we drove the car. The shaking engine rubbed against the radiator hose that eventually burst one day, sending a river of green fluid down the driveway.
To repair the bushings we had to have the car towed to a dealership. Once they completed their work they tried to charge me for the repair. The car had less than 15,000 miles, already had the transmission replaced and they were going to charge us because the engine came loose. I refused to pay and told them to get their manager. After a heated argument, they decided they would let the car go without payment. Unfortunately, they added, the mechanic that had worked on the car that day had left already and they were unable to locate the keys. They kept me in the waiting area for over two hours before someone "found" the keys. There are reasons that car salesmen are trusted even less than Congress.
But it was one of the Fiero's "safety features" that nearly got us killed one day. (There sure are a lot of air quotes for this car.)
After six months of dating, Arlene and I moved into an apartment (kids, don't even think about it). We also worked in the same building so each day we drove her Fiero to work. It was winter and on this particular day, New Jersey was about to be hit by one of its worst snow storms of that year. At work we sat at our desks and watched as the snow accumulated outside the window; we waited for word to come down that due to the severe weather conditions the building would be closed. We were certain that management would not put us at risk and would let us leave early to avoid the horrific traffic conditions that this weather would most certainly create.
We waited and watched and still no word of our closing. Turned out, they were going to close the building, but not until after lunch so that the cafeteria would not have to waste any of their already processed food. Gives you a solid idea of where the safety of their employees fell in the food chain -- somewhere below grill cheese sandwiches and the soup-of-the-day. Eat up, guys, because it's going to be a long ride home (thanks).
Once we braved the steep, snow-covered hill the led out of the building, we turned left and drove south. Well, not so much drove but crawled, single file, like so many snow-covered ants. After two hours, for what normally would have been a five-minute drive, we turned onto the main highway and merged with the thousands of other hopefuls that just wanted to get home and put the day behind us.
We moved through the snow globe while huge white flakes swirled around our car; everything was white. The only outside color that pushed through the wall of white that surrounded us was the red glow of the truck tail lights that I followed like a loyal dog through the tire tracks in the snow.
This was when the safety feature kicked in.
Up until that point I hadn't paid attention to the continuous slapping sound that the windshield wipers were making and only noticed it when suddenly it was gone. We fell into an eerie silence.
"Fuck, we blew a fuse!"
I shouted for Arlene to get the manual and find out where the fuse box was in this coffin. I lowered the driver's side window and with my left hand wiped enough snow off the windshield to see the red tail lights that were my only beacon of hope.
She fumbled through the pages to find anything that had to do with fuses and windshield wipers. It was then that Arlene made the following discovery (and I paraphrase): 'If the f*cking windshield wiper motor gets too fucking hot it will f*cking shut down.'
Well, that makes perfect sense because who wouldn't want their windshield wipers to stop working in the middle of a blizzard to ensure that the windshield wiper motor wouldn't get too hot which would cause the windshield wipers to stop working in the middle of a blizzard (yup -- exactly).
How about a warning light instead of completely shutting down? That way, I could have regulated the windshield wipers myself instead of going blind in the middle of a blizzard. If Pontiac made parachutes, they'd implement a safety feature that would keep the parachute from opening because you were falling too fast.
After long minutes of sheer panic that I would lose my taillight guide and drive off the road, the wipers stumbled back on. With the impending fear that they would shut down again I manually turned them on and off for the rest of the trip. After four hours, we finally made it home.
I don't remember how much longer Arlene kept the car, but after that ride home in the snow I was pretty sure the Fiero was not long for our world.
One thing about driving the Fiero that I never experienced with any other car: Whenever I passed another Fiero on the road, the driver always gave me thumbs up or a friendly 'Hey, Buddy' wave and smile. At first I thought it was like a club and owning a Fiero automatically made you a member. In time, I realized it was something else. It was like veterans, or people who have shared a horrific experience that could relate to each other because of their mutual history. I realized after a while those drivers weren't saying, 'Hey, Buddy, nice car'.
No, I realized later what they really had been saying was, 'Hey, Buddy, I feel your pain.'