’68 Mustang ramps up Mom’s cool quotient

If you want to be the hip high school health teacher, here are two tips: First, drive a 1968 Mustang. This is the strategy employed by Mount Abraham Union High School health teacher (and field hockey coach) Ann Pollender. “It definitely ramps up your cool mom image,” she told me.

Second, be sure and stress that your 1968 Mustang is “lime gold,” the official Ford color, and not “puke green,” the color your children use to describe it. Ann has a daughter in college and a son at Mount Abe.

Now, I’m not a car guy. I’m the kind of guy that opens the hood of a car, looks at what’s there, and murmurs, “Yup. That’s an engine.” I can add washer fluid, but that’s about as good as it gets.

But I took a ride in Ann’s Mustang the other day, and instantly I understood how a person can get excited about a car. It was like a time machine: Suddenly, I was a kid again. There on the dashboard was the AM radio with the square pre-set buttons. There were the two Flash Gordon-esque ovals, one for the speedometer and one for the fuel gauge. And there, running across the middle of the car from the front seat to the back, was the hump: The carpet-covered mesa atop the car’s transmission and drive shaft. (Just for the record, I learned what was under the hump by calling my friend, Dan Adam. Dan knows classic cars and inspected Ann’s Mustang for her. If you had asked me to guess what was under the hump, I would have said “axle,” “gigantic Lincoln log,” or “kayak.” I’m serious: I’m REALLY not a car guy.)

My grandfather – my mother’s father – owned a now classic 1965 Mustang when I was a little boy: White body, black vinyl top. He called it “Tony the Pony,” and buying it might have been the most impulsive, wild and crazy thing he ever did in his life.
And, in some ways, buying the 1968 lime gold Mustang might have been among the more impulsive things that Ann and her husband, Alan Kamman, have ever done in their lives. (Incidentally, that bar is higher than you think: Ann has a terrific ivy tattoo on her ankle.) Alan, a guidance counselor at Mount Abe, saw the Mustang for sale by the side of the road in Danville, Vermont, and recalled a couple of things about his wife: Green was her favorite color and she had a thing for 1968 Mustangs. And because life is short, sometimes you just have to throw common sense to the wind. They bought it.

Ann isn’t precisely sure what it is that she loves about 1968 Mustangs, but it is some combination of Proustian associations with her own childhood, and the exterior and interior aesthetics. The lines of the vehicle. The retro, triangular side windows. The galloping Mustang symbol at the front and the back of the car. “I wanted a car like this since I was a little kid,” she said.

She readily admits it’s not the most practical vehicle in the world. “Did you notice there are no cup holders?” she asked me, laughing. “And AM radio gets a little tiresome. You can only listen to Rush Limbaugh or the Yankees for so long without screaming at the radio.” And it lacks power steering: I watched her making a tight turn on the River Road in Lincoln, and it looked like a serious cardiovascular workout.

Nevertheless, she says driving the car simply makes her happy. That’s all there is to it. “It’s instant hipness,” she said.

It really is: Like a lot of vintage cars, it’s one of those solid Motor City links both to the people we once were, and the people we hope someday to be. Not bad for a couple thousand pounds of metal painted puke green – excuse me, lime gold.

(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on September 30, 2012. Chris’s most recent novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” was published in July.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.