Heads turn. The plate glass windows lining the buildings reflect flashes of turquoise and pink and waving flags. Teens whistle, laugh, and shout, craning their necks for a better look. I’m not the one getting the attention, though. All eyes are on Lola. Subtlety is not her style. Kids are drawn to her, but older women roll their eyes. There was a time, not long ago, when I agreed with them, but experience has deepened my wisdom and now I understand: There’s something special about Lola.
Living many hours from sandy shorelines, my friends and I longed to bring the beach to Indiana. Or maybe it was a midlife crisis. Either way, we needed a convertible. So, my husband, Tim, the fix-it man, set about making it happen. The ’89 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight was faded, worn and past her prime, but she ran, and she was cheap. Four of us each chipped in a hundred bucks, and Tim brought her home to do his magic.
Many hours, plugs, and wires later, after wrestling with a Sawz-all and a dead blow hammer, Tim unveiled our new convertible. (Maybe “convertible” is the wrong word, since it doesn’t actually convert; it’s simply a car with no top.) With the addition of a giant pink swimming noodle glued around the sharp, rough metal edge of the windshield for protection, we set to work. Using nothing but spray paint and paint tape, I turned the lower sides of the car into a grainy, sandy beach and transformed the grimy white metal with metallic blue spray paint. Against this watery, shimmery sky, I added a couple of palm trees in back and a swirly, spirally sun across the hood.
Peggy and Tammy hot-glued felt flowers around the rear-view mirror and pink fur to the dash. We strung garlands of blue silk hyacinths around the windshield and back seat, intertwining strands of plastic bananas and pineapples. Silk leis and sandal air fresheners dangled from the mirror, bath mats covered the floor, and striped beach towels became seat covers. A fake grass skirt undulated from the rear bumper and a beach umbrella stuck up proudly – if wobbly – from the center of the open car.
At heart, she was still the same, but a transformation this radical required a flashy, exotic stage name. The words of the song clinched it: Her name was Lola. She was a showgirl, with yellow feathers in her hair and her dress cut down to there….”
Where Lola’s back window had been, a rear brake light begged to be used as a stage. Using Liquid Nails, we placed a dashboard hula girl there where she danced for onlookers until the day we hit 50 on the highway and she flipped her spring, bouncing and flopping and contorting. As we envisioned her taking that inevitable final leap, in all her ceramic glory, through the windshield of some stunned onlooker unlucky enough to be following us, we sadly relegated her to the glove box. No longer our showy mascot, at least she could still be part of our adventures.
Accessories are everything
A friend asked us to enter Lola in a small car show he was having. Her beauty was less exquisite and more, well, internal. So we set to work accessorizing. Thanks to our friends, Lola had a sunny antenna ball from Hawaii, a spiral windsock, a magnetic clipboard that exclaimed “Aloha!” from the dash, and – the pièce de resistance – a 10” carved coconut monkey hood ornament. We sprayed the wheels hot pink and hot-glued hundreds of shells along the top of the back seat, filling the gap vacated by the kamikaze hula girl with a giant rubber pineapple. A silk parrot and boogie board on the trunk completed the look, and we high-fived and admired our outrageous handiwork, secretly hoping not to be asked to be seen with her in public.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful
It was time to deliver Lola to the car show. I’d been worrying about how the serious restorers and collectors would react to Lola, because, well, she was not very serious. At the small city park, balloons bounced in the wind and our friend hunkered in the shade playing oldies on scratchy loudspeakers. Lola preened between the vintage, gleaming, radiant, airbrushed machines; a washed-up hooker among aristocratic gentlemen from old money. I was as embarrassed for her as if her dress had been tucked into the back of her pantyhose. Parked jauntily in a corner, with her colorful rear end facing the crowd, Lola was surrounded immediately by giggling kids. The owners of the “real” cars stayed in their lawn chairs shaded by sun umbrellas, mumbling to their wives, waiting before casually (and disdainfully) walking close enough to get a better look. Once we’d registered, I left.
Later that day, I heard a ruckus and ran out front. There she was, in all her kitschy glory – a beauty queen at the end of the runway blowing kisses to her fans. Lola had been named Best of Show, an award determined by the popular vote. (Men muttered that kids stuffed the ballot box, and we’d better not cross railroad tracks in “that thing,” “that car-that-isn’t-a-real-car,” because it is sure to fold in half.) Peggy was honking the horn, with her kids triumphantly hoisting the massive, garish trophy. I hopped in and we drove around town, rejoicing with the kind of exhilaration one feels for an underdog who becomes the unlikely champion.
More than meets the eye
If Lola were a woman, she’d have a great big beehive hairdo, even bigger cleavage, long nails with jewels on them, and leopard print tights. Pretty in the right light (or at closing time), she’d wear red stiletto heels and a great sense of humor. Her kindness, sprouting from first-hand knowledge of being judged by appearances, would keep people near. If she were a house, she’d be a broken-down double-wide, freshly painted pink and parked in an upscale neighborhood, with lots of symmetrically matched candleholders and fake plants hanging on the walls. And if she were a monument, she’d represent the sustaining power of friendship and community and fun. She’s just like my friends Tammy, Peggy and Glenna – a whole lot of fun, just a little bit silly, and real, solid, spirited, and true.
(And maybe just a little bit saucy.)