#YEG: Joel Cohen

One man’s broken down car is another man’s miracle.

Illustration Byron Eggenschwiler

It was a miracle and, like all miracles, it happened in Edmonton (full disclosure – very little research was done for this article).

It was 1988, I was a U of A student and my roommate and I decided to buy a car. With little in the way of money or standards (a combination that always leads to good things), we settled on a ’64 Plymouth Valiant for $150.

By the time we got it, the car wasn’t exactly “valiant,” but more like an automotive Joan Rivers – an ancient undercarriage hidden under layers of rust, Bondo body filler and electrical tape.

On a historical note, it may have been the first low-emission vehicle in Edmonton; no exhaust came out the back, instead it was all blasted into the driver’s face. This may sound unhealthy and dangerous, but only because it was. A simple kilometre drive would burn a quarter tank of gas and thousands of brain cells. We could barely afford either.

You didn’t start this car, you resurrected it. Its value doubled by putting two weeks of groceries in the trunk. I could go on, but you get the picture. We knew we were driving on borrowed time, so we kept $20 in the glove box with the understanding that when the car inevitably broke down, we’d abandon it and use the money for a cab home. This may sound heartless, but my parents had a similar policy with me – they called it “tough love.”

Alas, I promised you a miracle. The Valiant survived an Edmonton winter and, when spring finally came, it was still running, transporting and poisoning us all over town. And then the miracle had a sequel (tag line: “This time, it’s financial”) – we sold the car for the original $150. Well, actually, a net $130; we forgot to take the $20 out of the glove box.

Thinking back, I miss that car. I miss it like I miss all my friends in Edmonton who themselves are still wheezing along today, still stinking of their own exhaust, and still owing me 20 bucks.

Calgary native Joel Cohen is an L.A.-based writer for The Simpsons who once dropped a baked potato off an Edmonton balcony and started what he assumes is now an annual tradition.

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