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Mary Lou Fallis and her dog Percy in her Toyota Echo. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Mary Lou Fallis and her dog Percy in her Toyota Echo. (Moe Doiron/Moe Doiron/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

My Car

A hand-me-down Echo ... from her son Add to ...

Mary Lou Fallis

Profession: Soprano, comedian, writer

Age: 62

Hometown: Toronto

Notable achievements: One-woman show, Primadonna, based on her own life as a singer; won ACTRA award and nominated for a Dora; winner of Toronto Arts and Letters Club Award, music producer on the Gemini award-winning Bravo television series Bathroom Divas

Currently: in the October cast of Love, Loss, and What I Wore; new CD out, More or Less Live, one-woman Primadonna shows ongoing

Mary Lou Fallis and her Toyota Echo.

She's a talented soprano with a comedic flare - best known for her award-winning one-woman shows, Primadonna, and her CBC radio series, Diva Diaries. On stage, Mary Lou Fallis has presence and a huge voice; on the road, she blends in, driving a small 2005 Toyota Echo.

Why did you choose an Echo?

We didn't actually choose it. It was our son's car.

My son, Benjamin, was looking for a new car. He was just out of school. He didn't have a lot of money, so he decided on the Echo. I thought it was a cute little car. Then Benjamin moved to New York and at the same time our other car, a Subaru wagon, died. We took over the lease and then we bought it.

We had to have a car big enough to put my husband's double bass in because my husband played in the Toronto Symphony.

I taught for 10 years at the University of Western Ontario so I'd drive from Toronto to London a lot. I find it a very good highway car, but I must admit to being a little scared with all the big tanker trucks passing me particularly in the snowstorms."

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Are you a car girl?

I'm not a car person. As long as it gets me there and doesn't break down, I'm happy.

Sure I enjoy getting into a leather-seat car with bum warmers, but I really don't need it and I'm not used to it. Maybe it was the way I was brought up. My grandfather always had big cars, big Cadillacs, and he traded them in every year. I loved riding in those cars when I was little. But we always had the family station wagons.

For me it's what your priority is in your life. I'd rather buy season's tickets to something or get a great new pair of boots or take a family trip rather than spend money on a car.

Then you have to worry about it all the time - where you park so you don't get scrapes on it. I just feel there's so much in this life to worry about I can't be bothered to worry about whether or not someone is going to hit you with their car."

So you don't worry about damage to the Echo?

Sometimes we leave it out on the street and one time some kids walked over the car.

From the street they walked on the hood, walked over the top and then walked down the back. It was pretty awful.

We came out and there was this big dent in the roof and the hood where this kid had put his foot. My husband managed to bang out the one in the roof of the car. We did as best we could for the one in the hood, but it's still a bit dingy.

What's the best feature on the Echo?

Being able to put the seats down. Believe it or not, it fits the bass. It's a tiny car, but it carries a lot of stuff.

I like tooting around in it - it has a nice feel and it's easy to park, too.

What's the worst feature?

My son didn't get four doors. It was more at the time for him. Two doors are a bit of a pain to pull the seat back to let people in and out or get things out of the back.

What does an Echo say about you?

It says we're thrifty. We don't need a big car to express who we are. It's kind of cute.

It's all about priority. Some people are house proud; some people are proud of their garden; some people are proud of their car. A car does say an awful lot about you.

What was your first car?

It was a wedding present. My grandmother gave us a car for a wedding present - it was a yellow Datsun station wagon. It was just such a lovely thing to give to us. Of course, cars were a lot cheaper then.

It was new and it had that new-car smell. It said we're married, we got a car. It started out our married life - it made us feel married.

What's your best memory on the road?

Between my first baby and my second baby was the time they put in car seats. So the first time we came home from the hospital with my son Ben we didn't have to use a car seat. I think I had him in my arms in the front seat all the way home.

What was your worst driving memory?

I was in London and I drove my Mini into the city. A friend of mine had come over from Paris to visit and we took in two shows - a matinee and an evening. We came out from the second show and the car hadn't just been clamped, which was bad, but it was towed away.

This woman was pregnant and we had to go 10 miles to where they tow the cars. It must have been a $150 at the time back in the '70s. It was a real fiasco.

Do you rehearse behind the wheel?

Oh, yes!

One time I was driving in the car up to Parry Sound for a concert. Because I was doing a show that I had already done I had a tape of it in the car and I was playing it to remind myself how it went and I put it up loud and I was singing at the top of my lungs.

I was driving along and I noticed out the back there was an OPP cruiser following me and then they put the lights on. And this big lady cop came over and said, 'Did you not notice we were trailing you for quite a while?' I said no because I was singing so loud. I said I'm so terribly sorry. I'm practising. She said, 'Best you turn the radio down a little bit.'

There was a chap with her and she turned to me and said. 'This is your lucky day because I'm just training him.' So I got off.

If I could bring you the keys to any car what would it be?

I'd like a Mercedes in pale blue.

They're not like a Bentley or one of those cars that are really flashy, dashy. It's seems to me like a comfortable, well-made car.

It wouldn't have to be a big one. It would be nice to have a great radio in it and nice leather seats.

The interview has been edited and condensed.


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