By Alicia Poole

It was a matchbox car, really, but its simplicity of structure made it all the more miraculous.

Pink. Sparkly. Small. It was Tonia.

Her father, a used car salesman, gave it to her for her 16th birthday. The slightly iridescent paint job was the only new thing about it, but what else matters to a 16-year-old girl? Old, comfortable, worn black bucket seats and a backseat big enough for our backpacks was all we needed.

Being three months younger, I was the appointed co-pilot, right-hand man, partner in crime. I know, you are thinking I would’ve been far more useful as a direction finder, map folder or sign reader, but what fun is that? We were 16, after all – the age of all-knowing, never worrying fun. Every moment in that car was magical fun only two innocent girls could have.

To make it hers, Tonia placed a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy on the black dashboard: a pink Snagglepuss on a wheeled surfboard. Whenever we would go around corners, he would sail hopelessly off the edge, tipping into my lap with his constant grinning face and outstretched arms. No matter how old the joke, it was funny every time as we coined the phrase “taking the turn.”

The car rode low, too low for most intelligent folks, but again, we were young and cared only about our freedom in this pink wonderwagon! Over speed bumps and roads we’d fly, pushing the pedal to the floor only to reach 60 mph. Feeling every bump and divot was a joy, reminding us that life is not for the faint of heart. You have to learn to laugh at the bumps.

So many mixed tapes we listened to in that car. The quality of the music mattered not, just the beat and the way it made us feel alive. Nothing mattered when we were in the car, just being together. I ditched my first high school class in that car. A quick getaway, you ask? Hardly. We drove out of the Righetti High School parking lot, tears of laughter rolling down our cheeks as we watched my notebook fly off the roof and across the blacktop. Four years of hard work, studious concentration, complete compliance to authority gone in one heart-pounding moment in the car.

Then came the night Tonia decided I was to learn to drive. She would give me lessons, of course. It was dark in the K-Mart parking lot, but what better time to cruise a large deserted area of asphalt? I will never forget the look on Tonia’s face as I bottomed out through the drainage areas of the lot. She grasped the dashboard, but never a word of discouragement or fear. Her eyes, round in shock, made me laugh and laugh, wanting the night to never end. It wasn’t a car. It was THE car.

The years have passed, almost 20, to be exact. I now drive a safe, family car and Tonia drives a Jeep. We both use our cars for functionality and work, no longer needing them to prove our independence or freedom. We rarely drive together, but I guarantee, when you get in Tonia’s Jeep, you will find a pink Snagglepuss on a wheeled surfboard grinning at you from the dashboard.