In a flash I recited “Shema Yisrael,” convinced that death was imminent and I would soon be another crash victim on the New Jersey Turnpike. My car was roiling with thick black smoke from its tortured engine. I couldn’t steer or brake. Nothing worked and the giant truck, oblivious to my impotence, charged at me filled with venom and malice.
My car was less than two months old. It was a rich, navy blue Cadillac Sedan DeVille — glossy, luxurious, and beautiful — but actually a menace on wheels.
I had never been into showy cars. I loved to drive but it never mattered much whether it was a splashy new convertible or the 10-year-old Buick Special that my father handed down to me when I got my driver’s license in 1957. I drove that car for years, up and down Newark’s Chancellor Avenue and through Weequahic Park, proud as punch that my bicycle could now rust in peace.
As my young family grew, station wagons replaced sedans. Our Plymouth wagon had a huge dent from a collision with a deer, yet I continued to happily drive that car as I embarked on my real estate career. The car was my constant companion as I learned the trade and mastered the streets and avenues of Union and Essex counties. I was good at this work and I loved it. I maintained my integrity always and was proud of my honor and commitment to my clients. I took out my customers in my dented Plymouth, never thinking they might judge me by my car.
The Cadillac I had been driving on the Turnpike that day was bought at the urging of the manager at my real estate office. He told me of my talents and, with little subtlety, described my car as an embarrassment. Success would depend on my chauffeuring clients in a luxury vehicle, he said. So we bought the lemon that came close to ending my real estate career, and my life.
The first event that made me ponder my choice was driving with my four kids on Route 78, deep into horse country in western New Jersey. I could not tell you why we were there, but it probably had something to do with Hagalil USY (the Conservative movement’s youth movement), which was the destination of many of our sojourns in those days.
We were on the highway in a pounding, blinding rain and my windshield wipers didn’t work. I couldn’t see. Somehow, we made it home; I was shaking with relief. The next day the wipers were fixed.
All remained calm until that fateful day a few weeks later when I was returning home from dropping off our daughter at Columbia University. All was fine until the Turnpike. On a short bridge, the “check engine” light went on. Uh oh. I spoke to the car, “Wait until I’m off the bridge. I need a shoulder to pull onto.” The car replied, “Nope,” and drove with a mind of its own.
There were three lanes running south on the Turnpike and I was in the furthest to the right. I never knew that when a car engine stalls, the power brakes and steering stall as well. My car kept going straight, at 60 mph. I couldn’t control it. The truck followed the road’s curve and seemed oblivious to the fact that I was not. He headed straight for me.
So I did the only thing I could and turned to Hashem to recite the “Shema.” Somehow I found myself stopped at the shoulder of the road, with the car spewing black smoke like a detonated bomb. I walked, heart pounding, to the nearest toll booth, where arrangements were made to have the cursed Caddy towed. I vowed to never set foot into that car again. And I didn’t.
The postscript to the story are my clients, Jim and Barbara. They were a lovely Jewish couple who had been transferred to New Jersey from California. I sold them a beautiful home in Scotch Plains after several outings in the “deer-dented” station wagon.
They called to tell me that they were returning to California and needed my help selling their Scotch Plains property. I drove to their home in my shiny new Cadillac.
Barbara groaned, explaining that they had had confidence in me because of my old banged-up wagon. They felt I was honest and trustworthy driving a wreck like that. Go know!
And so the lousy Caddy was exchanged for a Chevy station wagon, which eventually earned me a T-shirt from Chevrolet for exceeding 200,000 miles.
I became a broker and the absence of a luxury car did nothing to hurt my career. Jim and Barbara taught me that driving my clunker may have even helped.
Rosanne Skopp is a contributor to NJJN and blogger for the Times of Israel. She lives in West Orange and Israel.