Shifting Into Second Gear: More Odes to My First Car

Christa Deitrick, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
old red compact car in bad shape
The patron saint of used cars

Welcome to the penultimate batch of affectionate, exasperated, and always entertaining poems written by our staff about their first car. We threw down the challenge last week as part of National Poetry Month, and the response was automatic! If you’d like to join in the fun and share a poem of your own, just post it on Instagram and tag us @lapllitandfic. Be sure to check back here next Thursday for the final group of poems. Now read on for the second installment of Ode to My First Car.

1965 Chevy Impala

Oh my ‘65 Chevy Impala
My lowrider with BF Goodrich tires
which I loved so much, I did, I did
Traveled from San Fernando, Somis & TJ
While the fan belt be busted
fixed sometimes by nylon stockings
Sorry to see it go, longest owning, it was, it was

—Maria Zamora

Pontiac Skybird

There she was as clear as day
Pontiac Light Blue Skybird.
Plush bucket seats. Hooray!
She was a beaut
I thought I looked so cute!
I remember her like it was yesterday.
Barreling down the highway,
The Pretenders blasting on the 8-track.
I felt freedom for the first time,
freedom to drive, to live, to hear my music,
my choice, my ride.

—Esther Barrera

Toyota Corolla

Toyota Corolla

My older Sister got the Toyota first
It would start and stop in sudden bursts

She was afraid to turn it off to let me out
so she’d slow down, and “Jump” she’d shout.

I didn’t handle this task with skill or grace
more than once I almost fell on my face

An embarrassing way to arrive at school
I’m sure all who saw it thought she was cruel

When she moved out, the Toyota became mine
miraculously, the car began stopping just fine.

—Megan Young

interior of 1975 Buick Skyhawk
1975 Buick Skyhawk

A ‘75 Buick Skyhawk - Boy, Can I Talk!

What can I say? Seems like only yesterday,
New to L.A. in ‘80, I got my first car.
I searched hard just to find a used car of the kind
I could afford, yet could still take me far.

Dealers had many choices, and pushy salesmen’s voices,
Trying to get me to buy.
But some cars had brakes that almost seemed to be fake,
So I caught some salesmen in a lie!

At a dealer in Gardena, I finally came upon
A 3-door hatchback, that didn’t cost a ton.
Little did I know, it would slowly fall apart -
So for awhile, it was “fun in the sun.”

On the 101 and 405 freeways, I enjoyed Olivia Newton-John
And Linda Ronstadt, singing great songs.
So much more open driving - there was a “rush hour” then,
And it felt like nothing could ever go wrong.

As time went on, though, the “writing was on the wall” -
The local mechanic kept getting my call.
A dead battery or alternator, or fuel pump or engine -
The problems backed me up against a wall.

So I was led to Toyotas, that I’d learned were reliable,
And in 1985 I bought an ‘81 white Corolla.
But that’s for another time, since this is about my first car -
The saga of my “orange lemon” - that’s what I “tole” ya!

—Nina Beck

Toyota Corona

Corona, Corolla
You were one of them
We were bad together
And we liked it that way

—Caitlin Quinn

I yearned for speed & style, this was it for me


Dad wanted safety, so this is what I got
A stodgy little car that proved to be a rot.

Chevy Corvair

“A death trap!” Ralph Nader, so said he
I could’a bit the dust in either machine
More luck than brains, for Dad and me

—Sheryn Morris

Chevy Citation

External Combustion

A Chevy Citation.
It SHOULD have been cited,
for the engine alighted
so easily.

I called Dad queasily
from one: the dorm parking,
then two: Galleria,
and oh, Mamma Mia!
I had to fly home,
so I left it alone
in the parking garage.
Quel dommage!

My next car was stolen.
Its replacement? A rollin’
bought for a steal
(with insurance deal),
by my ex for a song
while he got along
with a 280-Z in the bargain.

The moral, my friend?
You can always trade in.
Shop well, be it spouse or a car, then.

—Liz C.

1972 Buick Skylark

Ode to a 1972 Buick Skylark

    the honks
    the taunts
    the angry gestures.

In my trunk
gallons of bottled water
assured of their usefulness.

Underneath the
Santa Barbara sunshine
you await my ministrations
with insouciance.

Oh, La Bomba!
Your rust the sheen
of Earl Scheib blue,
your ailing radiator
gray as a headstone.

—Catherine Sturgeon

1988 Chevy Blazer

88 Chevy Blazer

Green and black with running boards
It didn’t blaze it trundled
From El Chuco to the River City
From the River City to the Big Easy
From the Big Easy to the Heart of Georgia
Where it briefly died in sympathy
By the grave of Duane and Berry

Dim and cozy with tinted windows
A car but more like homelike
And a home you know is just a self
And a self you know is just a journey
From the Heart of Georgia to the Mighty Mil
From the Mighty Mil to Red Stick
From Red Stick to Fog City

Old and grimy bad suspension
I finally sold it to my roommate
He trundled it to a curbside spot
And sat there in it smoking
A big tree crunched it after a rainstorm
Hilltop woman up there shouting
We’d been touched or so he told me

—Daniel Tures

1978 Buick Opel

1978 Buick Opel

Glowed like yellow sunshine in a crowded parking lot.
All systems died abruptly when the temperature got hot.
The hood sprang up and bashed the windshield every other week.
Traded in my sweet bright Opel when its future got too bleak.

—Eva Mitnick

Toyota SR-5

Waxing nostalgic for my black SR-5
Which at time of purchase, I couldn’t even drive.
All I have is stick, it’ll be a lot cheaper
Said the salesman elated, you’ll find it’s a keeper!
I’ll teach you real quick, you’ll be home in a lick.
A quick turn and some sputters, off you go! salesman mutters.

My brother at the steady, me at the ready,
Our folks having left in their battered old Chevy.
Pray for green lights, he said in a panic
While we barreled down Whittier, bona fide manic.

We got home in one piece and let out a sigh-
My black shiny Toyota was really too fly.

On my amazing new tape deck I blasted the Vandals
Packed in all my friends and burned both ends of candles.
It served me quite well, my old trusty buddy,
Miles upon miles of L.A. streets did it study.

I would never have abandoned you, dear trusty car,
But like all things at some point, we must say au revoir.

—Ani Boyadjian

Nissan vehicle

White Nissan Car…
Hand me down from a cousin
Drove me quite far--
All the way to UCLA!

No electrical amenities:
Hand cranked windows,
Doors locked using a key,
No alarm for safety.

Towards the end,
It died out on my drives.
Time for me to pass and send
White Nissan car to the junkyard.

—Shirley Ly

Dodge Intrepid

Oh Dodge Intrepid,
Mighty golden boat of broken dreams,
American Spirits and Vanillaroma car trees
perfumed your needlessly spacious interior
Tears and ashes soon stained your once-plush bucket seats

We flew on six cylinders down Pennsylvania’s finest pavements
to kiss an aspiring artist in a Delaware meadow
who complimented my bone structure
and declared that he wanted to paint me
His mixtape of obscure and mournful ballads
oft whined upon your humble stereo.

One fateful day, on a hilly country road
we somehow ran over a snapping turtle.
A man with a parrot on his shoulder
stopped to offer his assistance
(If nothing else, he brought some levity.)
The snapping turtle’s shell was cracked,
but he eventually retreated into the woods after
careful coaxing from police.

I do hope that turtle survived
to snap again at people or parrots daring to
thwart his unknowable reptilian pursuits.
The Dodge Intrepid, alas, did not.
Its transmission soon failed me
much like so many of my childish hopes and dreams,
similarly gold and gleaming, oversized and inefficient.
And I never did get that painting.

—Donna Kern

See you next Thursday for the third and final installment of Odes to My First Car!

*If you share your first car on social media make sure it's not a security question on any of your online accounts. All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.