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Lots of miles and memories Richard Pena | Sat, Sep 24 2011 12:00 PM

When one lives in one particular neighborhood for any length of time he is apt to recognize his neighbors not necessarily by what they look like or how they dress but by the vehicle they generally drive.

For example, when we see that black pickup truck coming up the street in the morning we know it is that lady who lives down the street, taking her two daughters to school.

Or when we see that monstrous Chrysler of another generation we know it is our broker friend on his way downtown to work.

The car, it seems, is the tell-tale signal informing us of the individual and may even tell more about the family or individual.

For many years this was the case in my household.

People did not pay much attention to my mode of travel but they certainly knew about my wife, Zula. For her it all started in 1969.

Our kids were growing up and were getting self-sustaining, that is, no longer requiring a parent to be present when they returned home from school.

The hiring of baby sitters would have been out of the question, and, perhaps, even insulting to our sophisticated charges. They, in a sense, were latch-key kids before the term was ever invented. So Zula did something she had not done in some years; she got a job.

Oh, she knew she had a job doing house chores but she wanted to get out in the workplace and see what was going on.

Zula applied at Southwestern College and, almost immediately, she was hired. So for many years she graced the halls of higher learning in the library at the college. This was, of course, in the original library building, the one that came with the original campus. It was a pleasant place to visit and also to work. The staff was rather small, a characteristic that went with the space since it was not of great proportions.The important thing was she had a job and she liked her work.

But with work she needed transportation to get there. In those days we were a one-car family, finances being what they were. That one car was busier than a MTS bus at peak hours.

I, of course, had to get to work; the kids had to get to Little League, to dance classes, to piano lessons, and to all those mandatory places needed in their upbringing. Our family car, at that time, was a four door Pontiac that we had purchased at the Mile of Cars in National City.

We liked Pontiacs so we decided to stay with them. Therefore, one fine day I drove her to the Pontiac shop and left everything up to her.

Zula's mind, from the very beginning, was set on a small car. The Pontiac Firebird suited her to a tee. It was a two-door car and it was her favorite color, blue. The car was blue throughout, the top, the body, the upholstery and even the steering wheel. When she brought it home she excitedly told us all about her adventures with the salesman, with the front office people, but, more so, with the car itself.

"It has an overhead, cam engine," she told me. When I asked her what that meant she dismissed me as one who didn't know a flat tire from a Model T.

Zula, in our particular neighborhood, was the principal driver of that car for about 30 years. She drove it to work until she retired in 1980 and then drove it to her commitments in the valley. During our empty nest days she would sometimes ask me if I wanted a drive and we would go to her favorite picnic place, the Otay Lakes County Park. The last place to where she drove was to the Bonita Valley Tennis Club, a place that she would attend two or three times a week. This continued until I started hearing from her tennis buddies about various traffic infractions of which she was guilty. I, very reluctantly, had to take the Firebird's keys from her.

The Firebird has sat in the garage, untouched for a couple of years. Some time back I cancelled the registration and the insurance. This past weekend my visiting daughter, Coni, and her husband Frank, volunteered to help me clean my garage. This necessitated moving the Firebird. We gave the battery a charge, put in a can of gas, hosed it down thoroughly, and, to the surprise of no one, with little coaxing it revved up.

The Firebird's fate is not absolutely certain. I think I will just let it sit in the garage as it has for 42 years. Too many pleasant memories are attached.

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