I like to think of myself as a really fair guy. Always have been. So when my dad reneged on a deal to buy me a car in my last year of college, I felt like the world had suffered a giant injustice, and it was my personal responsibility to make it right.
(In fairness, I should probably mention that my father had reasons for backing out, some of which might have actually been valid because I… suffice it to say that I said I’m fair, not that I’m perfect.)
I had no money, but when it came to cars, oh did I ever have standards. That meant that I would need to come up with an evil plan to force my father into buying me a suitably awesome car. If I wasn’t such a fair guy, I surely would have devised some way to extort myself a brand new Porsche 911.
Instead, I embarked on a slightly less karmically hazardous mission: find a cheap car that I’d love. My friend Mike found me the perfect car in Florida. One of his wealthy customers had been babysitting her son’s 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V for a decade. They were the original owners, and had driven the car only 28,813 miles. It was silver with black leather—my perennial favorite color combo—and it was absolutely, positively not for sale.
So they thought—until I started calling Mrs. C every day to convince her how awfully selfish it was of her out-of-state son to leave the car in her care. How inconsiderate it was that she should have to pay insurance on it. And how unfair that she should have to bring it in every year to have it serviced. Tsk, tsk!
A month into my torture, Mrs. C called with good news: I had empowered her to stand up to her son and deliver an ultimatum: come and get the Volkswagen or allow her to sell it. And when he finally agreed, I extended a low-ball offer so insulting it would have made Suze Orman fall over.
We went back and forth a few times on the price, discussing minutiae like a broken rearview mirror, and in the end Mrs. C agreed to sell the car for the teensy sum of $1570.
Fifteen hundred bucks was a teensy sum for the car, but my liquid assets probably added up to fifteen cents. Now all I had to do was figure out a way to pay for the car.
In step with my lifelong history of fairness, I had also fostered a reputation for trustworthiness, and so my father had long ago given me a credit card for use only in case of dire emergency. Indeed I had never used it, but graduating college with no hot car was a transportation disaster, code red.
Over the years, the credit card company had sent me a bunch of pieces of paper they called “convenience checks.” These checks were very convenient indeed—at sticking dear ol’ dad with the bill. I made the check out to Mrs. C, and threw it in the mail.
The card itself proved very convenient for booking the flight to West Palm Beach, paying for an oil change on the VW, and then filling it up with gas over and over on the way back home. Hey, gas was cheap then. My first fill-up cost $18.00: premium unleaded was $1.48 a gallon. And I swear, I stayed in the cheapest hotel I could find on the 1500-mile trip home.
In June of this year, I’ll have had that same Scirocco for fifteen years. And somewhere this August will be fifteen years since I got the phone call from my dad. “Who,” he asked, in a vibrato tenor I had managed to never hear in my twenty-one years on the planet, “is Mrs. C… and what in the…” You can imagine the rest.
I hate to say it, but I actually laughed. It wasn’t intentional; the chuckle just kind of slipped out. I’m sure it did nothing to shorten the speech I got—a speech I fully deserved. After all, what’s fair is fair. And it’s probably only fair that I thank my dad for my first real car. Thanks, Dad.
Subaru has a site set up to share your first car story at firstcarstory.com. If you enter the story of your first car, up to 150 words, you can animate the story. Here’s the quick version of my story animated.