There She Was…Gone

This past Friday evening, I attended Diaries and Dissent in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. Organized by Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, it was a refreshing gathering of (almost all women) bloggers  for an open-mic night in the back room of one of the local restaurants. The event was a most-welcome diversion from my current crappy circumstances – a night out, an opportunity to bask in other talented writers’ creativity, a chance to share my own writing.

What I didn’t realize until the next day is that the theme was Love – so, my reading about a silly car I used to own was, perhaps, a tad out of place. But, I really did love that car. Ten years old when we bought her, she was a 1991 black convertible Lebaron. Eventually, we nicknamed her The Enchilada – more than just a car, she really felt like a member of the family. She brought my newborn son home from the hospital, and my husband and I cried together when she finally gave up the ghost.

She had personality. A sense of humour. Style.

And stories


It was a typical Saturday in May 2007; warmish, sunny, perfect for taking The Enchilada out to run errands. I was 6 months pregnant, and quite frankly, tired of my man’s shit for the day. I sat crammed into the front passenger seat. Due to the large amount of supplies from Home Depot that stuffed the car, my seat was pushed all the way forward, knees around my chin. Over my right shoulder, sticking out my window were several 8-foot lengths of wooden boards for a garden project.

We pulled into the grocery store parking lot. Somehow, I extricated my girth from the car. For obvious reasons, we couldn’t leave the window down, so my man pulled out the boards and placed them on the ground underneath the car. He put up all the windows, shut the door, then realized that the keys were locked inside.

This, of course, was my fault. [Insert the special type of vicious banter that only long-term couples expecting their first baby engage in without breaking up here.] While mansplaining why it was my fault that he didn’t take the keys out of the ignition, my husband retrieved the hide-a-kay from the wheel well, got the keys from the ignition, locked the car, put the hide-a-key back in the wheel well, and we went about our business.

So wrapped up up in our own bullshit that we didn’t notice we were being watched. By a dangerous offender.

Pause for thought.

We did our groceries. When we returned to the parking lot, we found the wood where my man had placed it on the ground.

But no car.


NoNoNoNoNo. Nope. This is not fucking happening. But, it did and it was. The car was gone. Undeniably not where we left it.

Pregnant, cranky and no way to get my groceries home. It was awhile ago now, so some details are fuzzy – running in circles, hyperventilation, friends and neighbours trying to calm my pregnant ass down, a store manager that really just wanted me to go away. Somehow my best friend ended up at my side talking to the police who were called to the store.

Officer: What’s the make of car?

Me: A 1991 Lebaron. Black. Convertible.

Officer: That should be easy to find. There aren’t many of those left on the road.

My best friend: It also has a duct-tape roof.

Me: And no hubcaps.

My best friend: It should be really easy to find. The duct tape is silver. The whole roof.

Me: Okaaay. I think he gets the idea.

My best friend: Yeah, but it will be reeeeally easy to spot on the road.

She was right, of course. The thief chose to steal a one-of-a-kind, stand-out, people-stare-when-you-drive-by-because-it-looks-like-a-piece-of-shit kind of car. I went home, allowed friends friends to calm my pregnant hysteria and eventually went to bed, tired, sad and worried. At 4 in the morning, I was awakened by a call from Vaughan police saying they had recovered the car, exactly 12 hours after it was stolen.

The next morning, my best friend drove me to Vaughan to reunite me with The Enchilada. One hundred seventeen of my own dollars later, I got her out of the impound. She had to be towed, you see, because the thief (who was a 21-year-old violent offender wanted by the RCMP) didn’t give up without a fight. Police had to ram my beloved, unique little baby when he wouldn’t pull over. The driver’s side was fucked – dented, scratched – plenty new scars. The muddy footprints on the driver’s door also told a story of the thief being forcibly removed from the car through the window. There was a hole in the passenger seat where he had stabbed the Swiss Army knife he found in the console.


He filled the tank with gas and only drank a couple of beers out of the case that was in the trunk.


He got a weapons charge for the Swiss Army knife that belonged to us. He also left his cell phone in the car along with a huuuge NY Giants ball cap and one leather glove. (OJ much?)


She had more wrinkles, more scratches and dents, but she was alive and we got her back along with a helluva story. For that, I am thankful.

How the Enchilada Got Her Lid

Gather round, children. It’s time for another Enchilada story…

You may recall the anecdote about the squirrel who occupied the Enchilada for a week while my man and I froze our soggy butts off in the wilderness. You may further recall that said squirrel gained access to its vacation home through a small tear in the ragtop. It was a tight fit, but the squirrel remedied the problem by making the hole bigger. Resourceful little asshole.

This is when duct tape entered the Enchilada’s life.

I will never forget the day my man came home with silver duct tape that was 12 inches wide. I can say with only a little exaggeration that I have never seen him happier. Winter was coming and he was over being cold and wet in his car. By this time, she had lost all four hubcaps and was sporting an impressive collection of dings. The most impressive of all came from being pinned in by two police cars on the day she was stolen. I was pregnant and we had been doing groceries–

But that’s another story.

The silver duct tape roof got us through a couple of winters. And then I found something on the internet that I couldn’t put out of my mind.

Two over, two under. Easy peasy.

I outlined my idea to my BFF and we were off to the races…

Thirty-two rolls of black and white duct tape. I really wanted black and purple or lime green, but I wasn’t the one who had to drive the car and I really wanted to live another day.

Recipe for stupid shit: two crazy women, one sunny day, 32 rolls of duct tape, a case of beer and eight hours with nothing better to do. Toss and serve.

I repeat: thirty-two (32?!) rolls of duct tape.

Almost houndstooth art car.

Enchilada? Meet Turtle Island Truck

As promised, here’s another story about the car we all loved.

Circa 2006
My man was attending a training session one beautiful spring afternoon. From what I recall him telling me, the session was the type where the material is rote, boring and not at all in touch with the reality of the job. So, it was a pretty typical training session. Guffaws from the back row occasionally sent the room into restrained giggles. In my mind’s eye, there is also the odd spit-ball.

Some time after lunch when the food comas had taken hold, a random guy in coveralls poked his head into the room and said, “Hey.” Everyone perked up. “Does anyone here drive a black Lebaron?”

It’s never good to hear that. Especially when the car so-named is nearing extinction. As was repeatedly pointed out to my man as he made his way to the door to check on his baby.

It turns out that during the regular course of business, a really large and pushy recycling truck got randy with the Enchilada and gave her a bumper-to-bumper hickey. She was blushing. And looking pretty ravaged.

Around this time, we had had to admit that she was starting to look older than she felt. It became obvious when her body started turning on her. The hubcaps had hurled themselves into ditches just to get a few moments of peace and quiet. The paint had begun to fade in odd patches. The hole in the roof and the resulting musty smell were getting hard to ignore.

But still she purred. Her charm was intoxicating. And she was wicked funny.

Of course, we got her fixed up as far as the insurance would pay.

She returned to us from her convalescence at the auto body shop half a block away. The passenger side looked just like the Enchilada we knew and loved anyway: fading paint, a couple of parking lot dings, missing hubcaps, but with the essential curves still where they should be. The driver’s side was another story altogether.

The whole side of the car had been smoothed, painted and buffed. The driver’s side had the same curves as the passenger, but they gleamed. The door emitted a disturbing crunch when opened all the way, but she looked half-lovely. The insurance paid for the damaged panels. That is all.

She came home to us with more personality than we ever suspected. Two of them, in fact, split right down the middle between the driver’s side and the passenger’s side. I’d never owned a car before that had even a little personality, let alone two of them. I think I fell in love with the Enchilada all over again that day. At any rate, I started sitting in the driver’s seat more. Way cooler.

The Enchilada: Vroom, baby…VROOM!

There’s a Hollywood feel to flying into town top-down, with your hair flapping and your cheeks tingling from the combination wind-sun burn that has been ravaging your face for a whole day. The drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay on a beautiful August day is twenty-two hours of fresh, fast, bright and hot air, locked inside a gusty silence as the city fades to suburbs, then small towns dot dot dot into the odd village. Eventually, it’s just rocks and trees and roadside motels. You can`t really talk because the wind steals your hearing. But that’s okay because human beings travelling at that speed in a fun car on a sunny day will always smile. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to do this, but convertibles are romanticized for a reason.

It was 2002 and we were going on a 10-day fly-in canoe extravaganza. During our stopovers, our little beauty was the topic of conversation. She was still in her prime: about 11 years old, but with low mileage, her original ragtop and still pretty and shiny. We asked a few locals for survival advice and heard a series of stories about all the convertibles that had been to Thunder Bay. Undeniably great, but not extremely helpful.

Sure, cars get demonized, but I can’t afford to fly for vacation, the train is almost as expensive and I’d rather have my soul violently sucked out than take the bus (never mind, it’s the same thing).

Travelling in a convertible to northern Ontario, you can lay your head back and see big sky while the rocks in your periphery grow in stature. And you whizz by knowing that bigger rocks and slower days are in the very near future.

Three hours north of Thunder Bay you’ll find Armstrong (make sure to fill the tank before leaving T-Bay because there are no gas stations in between). Armstrong is where the OPP get sent when they really mess up. Or so my dad tells me. There is an outfitter with a beautiful lodge who knows everyone who has anything to do with Wabakimi Wilderness Park. Bruce is an amiable guy: children’s folk singer, Raffi, was sleeping on his couch when we swung by to plan our trip.

We stayed in a trailer away from the main lodge for the night before our trip, finished packing our bags, had a few a drinks and set the alarm to meet the bush plane that would take us to the first lake. Once the clouds had cleared, away we went on one of the most challenging canoe trips I’ve ever experienced. We encountered low water and water rushing faster than adrenaline, and came face-to-face with the primal. Wit and charm kept us from killing each other during the three days of rain, and we had a wicked good time complete with a near-death experience.

We made it back, wet, chilled, cold and generally miserable – but we also managed to make last call in Armstrong. The next morning, I glanced at the car and queried about a small tear in the seam of the ragtop. “Does that look bigger to you?” I asked Steve, who shrugged. The outfitter later told us that a squirrel had been living in our car while we were gone – thus, the tear being larger. The squirrel had squeezed its girth through it repeatedly for 10 days. It was the beginning of the end of the Enchilada, but throughout its long life, that car illustrated that if you look like hell and feel like a million bucks, it’s better than just looking like hell.

Flashback: The Enchilada

Circa Summer 2008:

It was my turn to drive to baseball. I had just picked up my teammates Rob and Shaun and was turning onto Dundas. The two of them were having a whale of time making fun of the car. At one point, a truck pulled out of a parking space on our right and made a U-turn in front of us, blocking traffic in the process. Rob was indignant about the manoeuvre, then realized the guy was staring at us.

Rob said, “What is he looking at?”

I waved and smiled at the truck driver as he passed by. To Rob, I said, “The car, Rob. He’s looking at the car.”

The car was a 1991 black convertible Lebaron. It was dented, the finish on the hood and trunk were gone, like someone had poured acid on it, and the hubcaps had, one by one, run for freedom the previous summer. The convertible roof, having rotted at the seams, was now entirely composed of duct tape. And it had recently been given a make-over: the tape, black and white, was woven in a very large houndstooth pattern.

Yeah, that guy was definitely staring at the car.

Rob and Shaun dissolved into laughter that lasted until we hit the highway. As I accelerated to merge, Shaun leaned forward from the back seat to get a closer look at the dash.

“Whoah,” he said, “You are pulling down some serious RPMs.”

That car was the most fun I’ve ever had driving. I miss the Enchilada.