Peter Takes a Pinto to Aspen

As September 1978 drew to a close, it was obvious that our 1972 Pinto, which incidentally was the subject of a previous column, was “…pining for the fjords…”, so off we went car shopping, which made us the proud owners of a new 1978 silver painted 4 door Dodge Aspen sedan with red imitation leather interior. We arranged to pick up the newest “member of the family” on the following Saturday. Our  plan was to pick up our new car then drop the old “buggy” off at the scrapyard.

Of course we shared our good news with our friends and family, to universal acclaim, naturally. For a brief, shining moment I assumed the mantle of “Employee with the newest car in the office.” But then funny things began to happen. I got a call from the dealership asking us to pick our new baby up on Wednesday night. The guy from the dealership explained that as long as our car was on their lot, they were responsible for it. Although it required some adjustments to our schedule, we were able to pick it up on the requested date. This, however, meant that we had to do some juggling parking two cars in a one car parking spot on a temporary basis. Not easy at the best of times, but damned near impossible in Toronto at any time. 

We were able to get through the rest of the week without any new automotive problems, and on the following Saturday, we took the old car to its well deserved retirement and received our 30 pieces of silver. The rest of that day was spent at home, relaxing after a very stressful few days. 

When I opened the blinds the next morning, there was a baby blue Ford Pinto parked in front of our apartment.

It took me a minute to realize that it was NOT our old car back from the scrapyard seeking revenge, but it was a very bizarre occurrence. 

Later that day, we took the new car around for my in laws to inspect, and they apparently approved, ( of the car, at least). 

Over the next week, (after work, at least,) we basked in the joy of our newest acquisition. I remember going out to our parking spot and just looking at it, smiling proudly at our lovely “magic carpet”,  which was waiting to do our bidding. We decided that the following Saturday, we would take it out and give it a good “shake down”. That was the intention, anyway.

So we phoned a couple we knew. Let’s call them “Fred and Wilma”. We were taking the new car out to Kitchener on Saturday and wondered if they wanted to accompany us. We could do some shopping and have lunch. They said that it sounded like great fun.

I said that we would pick them up at their place, and I stressed just how quickly we would be there and how much quicker it would be than public transit. ( I was young and foolish and full of hubris.) Plans were finalized and the Fates were duly tempted.

So it was that the rendezvous occurred.  “Fred” got in the front seat with me. On the way out, we spoke about military aircraft and plastic modelling, topics which constituted the gist of our relationship. I am not sure what “Wilma” and my wife of the time talked about, their relationship was more one of mutual tolerance than genuine friendship.

We arrived in Kitchener and proceeded down the street, talking about lunch possibilities. 

Arriving at an intersection, I put on my signal to make a left hand turn. As I waited for a break in traffic, I noticed that the odometer was just turning “1000” kilometres. My heart jumped in response to achieving this milestone. As there was now a break in traffic, I stepped on the gas pedal to complete the turn. My heart sank as I heard the motor rev without any attendant forward motion.

Although I am not an automotive mechanic, I was immediately able to diagnose a broken transmission. The silence in our car contrasted with the impotent roar of the engine. 

Of course my grasp of the misfortune which had visited us didn’t alter the fact that our beautiful new car was stuck in the middle of an intersection. On Saturday morning. With 4 souls aboard. 

Mercifully some people gave us a hand pushing the beast out of the flow of traffic. I offered them some money as a tangible show of my gratitude, but they just smiled, shook their heads and wished me a better day as they walked away. 

Now you must remember, Loyal Reader, this was 1978. We had no cellphones. We were also in fairly unknown territory. I had to find not only a payphone, but a payphone with a current, reasonably intact “Yellow Pages”.

Single payphone by a city wall.

Thankfully I was able to find one, figure out exactly where the Hell we were and contact the local Chrysler dealer. They had us towed in,  called the dealership in Toronto and I got to speak to someone in Service there. I was assured that the situation was under control. After all, there were TWO dealerships handling this case.

The next while was a blur, but I do remember eventually getting the four of us onto a train for the trip back to Toronto. It was an extremely subdued train ride, I can assure you. I figured that I would be the “headliner” at my office’s impromptu schadenfreude festival on Monday. At the same time,  “Wilma” was casting a baleful glare at me, as if I was personally responsible for the disastrous turn of events. Having heard how she talked about others when they weren’t around, I knew that she’d be burning up the telephone line as soon as she got home with tales of my “malfeasance”.

But then I realized something, Loyal Reader, and I want to share it with you. Although the day had turned out to be less spectacular than we had hoped, that wasn’t my fault. I had done the best I could, under rather trying circumstances. 

I had no control over anyone else’s reactions or opinions, but as long as I had done my best, as long as I was personally satisfied with my efforts, anyone else’s opinions on the matter were valueless and irrelevant.

Besides, things couldn’t possibly get worse!

Yeah, sure……….

See you soon. 


A confirmed Cat person, Peter dabbled with being a water boy, a paper boy and an altar boy before finally settling on a career with the Canadian federal government.  Once, in his youth, he ate a Dutch  oven full of mashed potatoes to win a 5 cent bet with his beloved sister Mary’s boyfriend. (Of course he was much younger and a nickel went a lot farther!))

He has retired to palatial “Chez Montreuil”, which he shares with his little buddy CoCo the Fashionable. He is blessed to have the beautiful Betty in his life. He is not only a plastic aircraft modeller, but a proud “rivet counter”. Military aviation and live music are among other interests of his, and he tries to get out to as many shows as he can. He will be here for your enlightenment whenever the stars align. Profile photo courtesy of Pat Blythe, caricature courtesy of Peter Mossman.

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