Valley Voices

Recalling a life in cars, and all the escapades therein

Pauline Sahakian recalls her cars and driving escapades.
Pauline Sahakian recalls her cars and driving escapades. File photo

1962 college freshman: The first car I drove was Dad’s 1957 four-door, pink and gray Nash Rambler with a front bench seat that reclined to make a bed. Once, trying to move the seat forward, I flipped the lever. The front seat hurled me backward while I gripped the steering wheel with all my might. I eased off the road to return the front seat to its upright position, feeling more embarrassment than fear.

I drove the Rambler to college, even after my violent encounter with a car on Shaw Avenue. Running late, I sped through a yellow light and into a line of cars snaking out from the left-turn lane into campus — all at a standstill. I braked hard. The Rambler swerved right, crossed two lanes, and hit a car parked at the curb. Within seconds, a young man appeared on the apartment balcony above me. Hands on head, mouth agape, he gazed down at his crushed car. I backed away from his vehicle and parked along the curb as he ran down the steps. Insurance information in hand, I begged him not to call my father. He did anyway.

1964 new wife: My junior year, I drove my new husband’s Pontiac Grand Prix to college. One afternoon, heading east on Shaw Avenue, then a two-lane road, the cars in front of me came to a screeching halt. This time I stopped. The driver behind me didn’t, destroying my left fender. “That’s it!” I told myself. Thereafter, I took the bus to campus and to my job downtown, convinced of my bad driving karma.

1967 high school teacher: A Clovis Unified School District teaching contract signed, I drove with my husband to Herwaldt’s Pontiac in downtown Fresno. My eyes landed on a new sporty, green Firebird with adjustable bucket seats. “This is me,” I announced. My husband haggled a bit with the salesman to lower the price, and the next day I drove the Firebird off the lot.

The Firebird’s only flaw? Black interior — unbearably hot when parked all day in 100-degrees. Undeterred, I covered the driver’s seat with a towel and wore white gloves to hold the steering wheel. I loved my car until a lady ran a red light, broadsiding it. Upon contact, her hood flew open, and battery acid flew into my open window, popping holes in my nylons and stinging my husband’s face. The paramedics rushed us to emergency, where the doctor neutralized the acid burns and removed glass splinters from my legs and my husband’s arms and face. The insurance company totaled the Firebird. I opted for repairs.

1972 mother of toddlers: When our family grew, we sold the Firebird, and my husband chose a used, pale green Thunderbird. “It fits two child car-seats,” he announced. T-Birds were sexy in their day, but not this four-door model. Eventually, everything that could go wrong, did. The catalytic converter fell off, the transmission blew, and the engine caught fire on Shaw Avenue as I drove the kids to day care.

1974 mother of school kids: Our next car was a used Oldsmobile Cutlass my husband swore was dependable, safe. The Cutlass was a sensible two-toned beige and bronze. Medium sized, its weight provided sturdiness, its engine reliability. I could adjust the steering wheel and move the bench seat forward enough to reach the pedals without my head bumping the visor.

1977 midsized luxury car: When the repair bills multiplied, my husband, believing car buying was his manly responsibility, again took charge. At the blast of a horn in our circle drive, I rushed out to find him sitting behind the wheel of a new Lincoln Versailles, salesman in the passenger seat.

“It’s beautiful! Come look!” my husband called. “Look at this…and this…and this…!” he chanted as he raised and lowered the power windows, moved the driver’s seat forward, backward, up and down, patted the center console and tape deck, and demonstrated the automatic locks and sun roof. “And our name will go on a chrome plate on the glove compartment!”

It truly was beautiful, two-toned champagne and taupe — a four-door model, compact, yet roomy. And I could reach the pedals without my head stuck in the visor. I drove the Versailles until the power windows died, the sun-roof leaked, and the transmission sputtered. And yes, I still have the engraved chrome plate, a piece of our car history.

1984 graduate student: Finally, I took the lead, choosing a new metallic gray Volvo with high safety ratings. “Are you sure?” my husband asked. The no-frills, box-shaped vehicle looked sensible and intellectual — perfect for a high school teacher returning to college for master’s and doctorate degrees. I drove the vehicle for 14 years, replacing it with a 1998 Volvo, which I drove for 10 years, traveling between my high school and university teaching jobs.

2008 university program director: With repair costs growing on the Volvo, I searched for and found my next car at the Fresno Convention Center Auto Show — a 2008 Mercedes C300. “This is definitely not a granny car,” my daughter assured me. “It’s classy and sporty and safe and will go for 200,000 miles,” a serious consideration for my round trips to the University of California Merced and monthly treks to Granite Bay to see our daughter’s family.

2018 retiree: The Mercedes is at 150,000 miles. I’m hoping for another 50,000 without major repair bills. In the meantime, I’ll be checking out the newest in electric cars, as this seems to be the way of the future. Notice I am speaking in the first person as I am clearly now in charge of buying my own car while my husband is in charge of his pick-up truck.

Pauline Sahakian is a retired Clovis English teacher, CSUF composition and eeducation instructor, and UC Merced Writing Project director. She was the 1994 Fresno County Teacher of the Year, state Teacher of the Year Finalist, and 2016 CSU Fresno Noted Alumni Award recipient. Email: