For some reason I could never figure, American car makers dropped the ball beginning in the early 70's. Quality and customer service went by the wayside. Planned obsolescence became their business model, and the savvy Japanese, in particular, Toyota, stepped in with a novel idea-- build and sell economical vehicles that are actually made to last, and stand behind them. Seems now, 40 years later that the big three in America are finally getting a clue, but I wonder, why did it take so long?
 
 
   1972- in the far east of... KANSAS, USA
 
I was 13 years old, awkward and bespectacled- socially anxious over my upcoming debut at high school, when Dad appeared at home one summer evening with a new car. He tended to take these matters into his own hands, rather impulsively at that; a subject of some behind closed door controversy between him and Mom who was in charge of the ridiculously tight grocery budget with four kids to feed. Regardless, he’d done it, again, but what exactly was this... this, thing?
 
Hunter green, small and not at all stylish... a what?
 
"Toyota Corolla!"
 
"Huh.. toy what?"
 
Dad seemed proud of this boxy, bug-eyed mini-vehicle, the brand of which no one I knew had ever heard of. Four doors, four on the floor, and 1.6 liter four cylinder engine that could “stretch a gallon of gasoline up to 30 miles on the road,” he declared with a wry smile stolen directly from Clousseau. The price? $2000 and change.
 
 
 
         image- it looked similar to this
 
None of us were too very impressed as I recall, at first, but over time the freaky looking foreign vehicle proved it’s mettle. 
 
1973-- OPEC oil embargo: energy rationing-- gas prices doubled and Dad was looking pretty smart to the neighbors who had scoffed not so silently the year before. 
 
1975- The Toyota kept running, and running well, with minimal maintenance. Dad took me to get my first drivers’ license (on real paper, sans photo) and then to the K-Mart parking lot on Sundays to learn to drive, in the Corolla. I quickly mastered the manual transmission and basic skills to his satisfaction and was tentatively turned loose with the car, although on a short leash. 
 
1976- May of that bi-centennial year, I crossed the stage at my high school graduation after somehow making it through, though with only dubious honors! Having no real plan for the future, I got a job at Dub’s Dread golf-course as “night waterer” where I drove “the Toy” across fairways and rough to the various ponds to prime the pumps. It was absolutely fun, me absolutely high on the fine Colombian weed that was cheap and plentiful then, navigating the course, shifting gears in the line of duty, much to the chagrin of the evening golfers who would shake their fists towards me. 
 
1977- After a short stint at junior college (later called ‘community college') where I majored in running into glass doors while walking with head turned the opposite direction ogling girls’ asses (DOH!), I took a job at UPS which seemed to make more sense to me than college. I’d had enough of school in general, so, had Dad teach me neck-tie fundamentals and took to learning ten key by touch, making, yes, FOUR DOLLARS PER HOUR! *minimum wage then was $2.10*
 
1978- Gainfully employed, I bought my first new car with the help of dad’s co-signature-- a Honda Civic lift-back with a five speed manual. I loved it; drove it all the miles from my first home away from the folks in hard-partying Lawrence to the UPS job daily... ‘til the engine blew.
 
 
1982- The ‘72 Corolla, still in family possession, continued to give faithful, maintenance free service, a point not lost on me.
I had spent my entire tax return plus savings on the Honda engine which left me jaded and angry (had other plans for that money!), so went and traded it in... for a brand new Toyota Corolla SR5 Coupe. Unlike the very basic dad car of ten years prior, this thing was gahgeous! Gloss black, sunroof, magnesium wheels, sporty streamlined hatchback styling, larger more powerful (though still four cylinder) engine, killer stereo with... hold the phone... CASSETTE!
 
Soon after, I made my first trip to New Orleans, cruising in economical style, myself and friend Keith trading off driving duties through the night, non-stop. Two weeks paid vacation baby! It was a trip to remember; sporting in my sleek black Toyota.
 
 
                   imagine in black and showroom new
 
1986- 9 years at UPS and fired- just after I’d paid off the car. Tail between legs, I moved in with Mom who had recently divorced Dad. Dropped insurance from full coverage to liability, since I could, to save money... then, like the next day, was t-boned right into my drivers' door by a huge dinosaur-ish Monte Carlo (yes, my fault).
 
At the hospital I wept as I was examined by the doctors. They asked where it hurt. I said “left arm, left leg, left rib-cage, left side of my head.”  Yes, I was in exquisite pain, but what hurt most was knowing that my car that I loved, finally paid off... was totaled. 
 
Using my UPS ‘thrift plan’ money, I bought a used Chevy (temporary loss of reason?) and moved to San Diego with Nanatehay, only to return after dismal California failure. Reagan was president. Not much was ‘trickling down’ and the Chevy soon turned to shit.
 
1988- Acquired a very used, hideous yellow, Toyota truck with over 200,000 miles for one hundred dollars. I could literally see the road through the floor board, but all that vehicle ever needed was gas.
 
1990- Met Eli’s mom who moved in with me soon after. Loaned her the truck one day which she promptly wrecked. Now, uglier yet, it still ran just fine.
 
1991- Sold the truck, looking like hammered ass... for one hundred dollars, same as I had paid.
 
Fast forward to 2001- After 9 un-fruitful years in the conveyor belt industry, driving this and that American made P.O.S., I had begun self-employment and was doing well. This, before Bush the be-fuddled.. well, you know THAT story.
 
Purchased a 2000 Toyota Tacoma Prerunner truck, used...with 14,000 miles. It was the same color as the Corolla Dad dragged home in ‘72. In it, eventually, I taught my own teen-ager to drive.
 
 000_0259
 
The Tacoma in Metairie after Katrina
 
2012- A month ago, took my faithful Tacoma which has been back and forth to New Orleans a dozen times when I worked there after Hurricane Katrina, the truck that never, ever, broke down... in for an oil change. The mechanic informed me that the frame of the truck (still running perfectly) was rusting; that the leaf springs in the rear were actually pushing up into the failing frame, and that if I was ever hit from behind the rear-end would ‘fall out.’ Additionally he warned me not to go over sixty on the highway.  
 
The good news however, per my mechanic... Toyota recognized the defect in 2000 and 2001 model year trucks and will buy her back for 1.5 times, perfect condition, Kelly Blue Book value. 
 
I went to KBB.com to calculate 'perfect condition' value (and believe me, it’s far from perfect).
 
With much trepidation and a tear in my eye, I dropped her off at the dealership last Tuesday, being promised a call from the Toyota rep.
 
Yesterday, I received that call, with the buy-back offer. It is substantially more than perfect condition times 1.5.
 
Today, via UPS next day air, I received the official letter for my signature, and a return next day air envelope, freight prepaid, in which to return the signed offer. Next week, the local rep will meet me at the dealership with the check which will allow me to upgrade to a newer vehicle.
 
 
 
 
Think GM (or Ford, or Chrysler) would do the same on a truck aged twelve years? Somehow, I doubt it, but do hope the new trend towards quality continues in vehicles manufactured by the big three.
 
Still, that said...
 
 
 
 
 
... three guesses what I’ll be buying... 
 
 
 

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