My Brief Love Affair With Mickey Blue Eyes
It was a complicated relationship from the get go. I didn’t think I deserved him, and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to handle him. He was foreign, and on the older side. You had to know and understand his intricacies. You had to be ok with the stares, the questions, and the comments you would get when you were out with him. He had to be managed with finesse and skill.
I was 21 years old when I was introduced to Mickey Blue Eyes. I was living with my boyfriend in Lisbon. I’d been an exchange student in Portugal a few years before and had moved back for college and, presumably, to live for the foreseeable future.
The boyfriend had just graduated college and gotten his first job. It was a well-paying one, though it required that he travel for months at a time. But it made for a fairly comfortable living, considering we were so young and living on our own in the city. His parents had both passed away when he was younger, and mine were in the states, so when he traveled for work, I was on my own.
I had friends, of course, and I’d meet up with them often. But traveling around the city by bus or by taxi as a young woman, especially at night, wasn’t ideal. I had more than my share of shady cab drivers, and one very scary experience walking home late at night from the bus stop.
So my boyfriend decided that I needed a way to get around more safely without having to sacrifice my independence. And that is how I got introduced to Mickey Blue Eyes.
My boyfriend’s uncle was an amateur car collector and dealer. It was something he did as a side hustle, mostly for fun and a little for profit. Sometimes he’d bring my boyfriend along to look at a new acquisition, or to take one for a test drive. Not that my boyfriend was especially into cars either, and he didn’t even have his driver’s license.
One day, they invited me to come along on one of these test drives. I had nothing going on that day, so I figured why not?
The car we would see that day was a 1979 Renault 4L, in baby blue. You’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of this car, especially if you live in the US.
I’m not a car person, but there was something about this one that was just… so cool. Maybe it was the design. It had something of a surfer vibe to it, but it was also very European. It was a kind of cross between a station wagon and a coupe. It had a working radio and cassette deck and that was it for amenities. It had sliding windows, but no air conditioning.
But it was fun to drive, or in my case, ride in the backseat. Despite its age, it still had something of a new car smell to it. The seats were vinyl, but not the cheap and uncomfortable kind that sticks to your skin whether you’re sweating or not. The back seat had plenty of legroom, and it had seatbelts which, with the way the uncle was driving this car on the dirt roads outside of town, that seemed like a really important feature. The car was sturdy and seemed safe despite the fact that it was over 25 years old. Oh and did I mention it was painted baby blue?
After driving around for a while, my boyfriend asked me if I wanted the car. I thought I must have misheard him over the roar of the engine and the wind blowing in from the windows, which were all open as far as they’d go (half way). I thought he’d asked me if I liked the car, so I enthusiastically yelled over the rush of wind blowing my hair all over the place, “Yes, of course! I love it!”
He said, “Ok, it’s yours!”
Turns out my boyfriend had already been talking to his uncle about getting me a car, and this was the one he’d decided on.
How could I say no? The car was mine. I named him Mickey Blue Eyes.
There was the small issue of me barely knowing how to drive standard, let alone a car that was technically considered an antique. To add to the challenge, the gear shift was located in the console of the car, above the radio, right next to the steering wheel. You pushed it in and to the left for first gear; pulled it back and to the left for second gear; in and to the right for third, then back and to the right for fourth. For reverse you had to move it back to the middle, jiggle it, and then pull it way left and then way back.
I learned how to drive Mickey Blue Eyes by going into Lisbon at two in the morning when there were very few cars on the road. Lisbon is great a city for learning how to drive standard if you enjoy learning because you’re terrified and have no other choice. When you’re stopped at a red light going up a hill on a wet cobblestone street, you have to find the engagement point of that car because the only other option is to roll backwards helplessly.
By now, I had fallen in love with Mickey Blue Eyes. I loved that he was different from all the other cars on the road. I was a sucker for anything bright and unique. I loved that I could now safely go wherever I wanted, without having to worry about creepy cab drivers or getting followed down darkened streets. I was able to connect my Discman to the tape deck, so I could listen to whatever music I wanted while cruising around town. There was no heat or air conditioning, but that was ok. Lisbon has a pretty temperate climate. I loved the freedom of driving myself around and how empowered I felt when I finally mastered driving a stick shift.
For about a year, I was happy and loving my life with Mickey Blue Eyes in it.
But, then he started failing. He was old, after all, so it was inevitable. My boyfriend was away for work (he’d often be gone for four months at a time) and his uncle lived five hours away in the northern interior part of the country. I was alone with Mickey Blue Eyes in Lisbon and I couldn’t afford a mechanic on my own. So, I had to make do. I learned that when he stalled out randomly at a stop light, I just needed to push him over the side of the road and add some water to the radiator. That solved the problem 99% of the time. (If you’re a mechanic — please don’t judge me. I was just doing the only thing that I knew would get the car started again, and it worked.)
Then there was the time that we went through the car wash. I hadn’t taken him to a car wash yet, but my cousin was visiting from the US and we were taking a road trip with Mickey Blue Eyes up north to Porto. We thought it would be fun to have the car all shiny and spiffy for the trip. What I hadn’t realized was that the rubber seals around all the doors were so old that they’d shriveled up. They no longer worked as seals are supposed to, and water poured in from all four doors. But we were young and carefree and we thought it was hilarious. Plus we happened to have a roll of paper towels on hand, so everything was fine. It was just a little (a lot) of water. My cousin and I still laugh about that day.
But, then things got worse. Suddenly Mickey would not only stall out, but the gear shift lever would come loose while I was driving. In this car, the gear shift lever was connected to the gearbox under the hood of the car by a single metal rod, held in place by a little round metal hoop, lined with rubber. This piece had started popping out of place while I was driving, so I couldn’t switch gears. I couldn’t do anything but pull over, shut the car off, lift the hood, and pop the piece back into place. Soon, this was happening more often than not, and I no longer felt safe driving the car.
Between the stalling, the leaky doors, and the gear shift issue, Mickey Blue Eyes had lost pretty much all of his appeal. Having such a unique and interesting conversation piece is only fun when the car actually works. When you have to push it to the side of the road multiple times in one trip, or when you have to keep towels in the car in case it rains, it’s not fun anymore. Did I mention that Lisbon is a very hilly city? When your car stalls on a hill and you can’t restart it, it really sucks.
I ended up going back to taking a bus or a cab to get around.
As I mentioned, we didn’t know any mechanics in Lisbon, so I insisted that we have the car transported by train to where his uncle lived. He was the expert, he would be able to fix it. Plus, there was a train station literally right down the street from the uncle’s shop. On our end in Lisbon, it would only require a 15 minute drive to the train station, and the actual fee for putting the car on the train was affordable. It seemed, in my opinion, like the most logical solution.
But my boyfriend wouldn’t hear of it. He’d gotten his driver’s license by this point and said that if I didn’t want to drive the car anymore, he would. He even went so far as to buy me a new car so that he could drive Mickey full time.
Eventually, though, even he had to admit that the car needed fixing. I again insisted that he put the car on the train. Trying to drive the car all the way to his uncle, five hours away, seemed incredibly unsafe. A major leg of the trip would be on a two-lane highway through mountains, a road that was considered one of the deadliest in the country. Driving on that road with a car that would randomly stall or become impossible to shift gears seemed like possibly the worst idea ever.
He disagreed. He insisted that he could make the drive. I told him I wanted no part of it. If he wanted to attempt it, he was on his own. Maybe I thought he’d give up the idea if I showed him that I was serious about how dangerous it was.
I should have known better.
For reasons that I still can’t explain, I agreed to go with him to the gas station to fill the tank before he made the drive.
It took us two hours. Two. Hours. To fill the car with gas. Why? Because the car kept stalling, and the gear shift lever kept popping out of place.
It was hot that day. I remember this because at some point towards the end of the ordeal, we pushed the car to the side of the road near a cafe and we desperately needed something to drink. My boyfriend went into the cafe to buy bottles of water. When he came back out, I told him, again, that I thought it was a really bad idea to attempt to make the drive.
He told me that this was all my fault.
“How do you figure?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “you obviously don’t want me to go, so you’re putting a spell on the car so that it keeps breaking down.”
“I’m doing what?”
“You’re a witch, and you’re casting a spell on the car because you don’t want me to make the drive!”
“Are you serious right now?”
He was 100% serious.
I had been holding onto the keys to the car, and I threw them at him. Just tossed them right at his face (I think I hit his chest). I told him to go ahead, make the drive, I didn’t care anymore (and probably a lot of swear words). We just so happened to be only a few blocks from our apartment at this point, so I left and walked home. I left him to make the asinine journey on his own. I wanted no part of it, and I no longer wanted anything to do with that car.
That was the last time I ever saw Mickey Blue Eyes. He apparently stalled out for good about two hours into the trip and had to be towed the rest of the way.
I regret that we parted on such a bad note. I’ll never forget how much fun I had driving through the streets of Lisbon and feeling completely free. Windows open, music blasting, able to go wherever I wanted. In our brief time together, Mickey Blue Eyes had allowed me to feel capable, independent, and not-just-a-little badass. I’ll never know what became of him, but he was my first car love.
Originally published on Medium.com