Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias During my junior year in high school, unknown to my brothers and myself, my father and uncle began plotting.

They evidently had reasoned that, since my twin brother and I had freshly minted driver's licenses in our wallets and could legally drive, we no longer needed to be tied to the unwavering schedule of the school bus.

So they bought us a car.

There it was, just waiting for us, parked in our farmyard as we exited the bus at the end of one school day.

From the outside, this looked like an extraordinary vehicle. It was a 1965 Ford Mustang. It was red, with a black interior. It was, well, just plain cool.

There was just one problem. My dad and uncle, we discovered, perhaps were driven more by thrift than helping my brothers and I experience a new degree of feeling "cool" and free.

Our vehicle may have looked cool from the outside. Its operating ability, we soon discovered, left something to be desired, however.

Let's just say our Mustang was run through the mill by its previous owner. Some problems could be fixed. It tended to pull to the right whenever the driver applied the brakes, so we had the wheels aligned.

Its ride was rough enough to reduce our behinds to tears. So we replaced the shocks.

We made little improvements like that all summer. We thought we were all set when fall and another school year arrived.

Then two things happened that definitely had us wondering if car ownership was worth the hassle.

First, it got cold. Naturally, we were greeted with frost on the windshield and windows every morning. That's when we discovered that, despite our car's tendency to easily overheat in the summer, it didn't generate an ounce of warmth through its climate control system.

In the fall, a towel became standard equipment inside the car. As the windows continued to fog up, it was the duty of the passenger sitting in the front to assist the driver from time to time by de-fogging the interior of the windshield.

In the winter, we had to bundle up because, I swear, we were feeling the effects of wind chill during our seven mile journey to school.

The towel had to be replaced with an ice scraper, because during winter weather the interior of the car's glass no longer fogged up. They frosted up.

We adapted to these problems, however. It seemed there was no challenge we couldn't meet. We were bound and determined to experience the freedom that accompanies having your own set of wheels.

Then something happened half a world away that we really had no way to control.

Arab nations figured out that if they cut crude oil production, they could cause the prices they received for each barrel of oil to skyrocket.

I can remember pulling up to a gas station in our hometown and paying 60 cents a gallon for the gas we pumped into the car. My brothers and I had always pooled our resources to keep that car running.

We suddenly discovered that it took nearly every dime we had just to keep the gas tank filled.

We had thought that, at some time, we could afford to fix the heater. Soon, we discovered that we could afford little more than gasoline and oil.

Soon our "cool" car had bald tires. It had worn shocks. It had no heating system. The only way to be comfortable in the summer was to roll the windows down because the interior fan broke.

More and more things were going wrong with our auto, and we didn't have the ability to fix any of these problems because our wallets were constantly being emptied at the gas pump.

Our adventures with our first car are dominating my thinking right now because, while driving to work this week, I noticed that gas prices are edging upward again to about $1.25 per gallon.

The year that we thought gasoline was so expensive at 60 cents was 1973. So, let's see, in approximately 30 years the price of the fuel has approximately doubled.

It's practically a steal. The result? We're consuming imported oil like it is an infinite resource.

Naturally, it isn't. That means that someday, we're going to drive to the gas pumps one day, look at the price posted on our favorite station's sign, and suddenly have that same sinking feeling experienced by my brothers and me while trying to keep our first set of wheels rolling.

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