I have always been a “good guy.” I have always been safe, rule-following, responsible, and generally boring. And for the most part, I am ok with that.
Yet I know that many “good guys” come with a certain level of passive aggression. They want to be rebels, but only on a part-time basis. They watch Gladiator and then switch over to a cooking show. They listen to hard rock but never so loud as to damage their hearing. And they go skiing for the adrenaline rush and then mosey down the slope, getting passed by the occasional chipmunk.
Their very nature will not allow them to express their inner rebel in a way that poses any danger to their marriages, their spinal cords, or their wallets. And almost by definition, a rebel has to risk one or more of these (begging the question “what is so cool about being a rebel anyway?”). Nevertheless, they keep looking for something that is dangerous but in a safe way.
One traditional way for a part-time rebel to do this is with his car. He finds a car that has room for his kids’ car seats and excellent safety ratings but also happens to have more horses than a John Wayne film and a spoiler so big it doubles as a picnic table. So when my car got totaled by a drunk, uninsured motorist (whose rebel side had apparently gotten out of control), I thought it was time for me to engage in this particular form of automotive passive aggression. I immediately began scouring the internet for a used car that conveyed the message “Born to be Responsibly Wild.” I aimed high and set up a checklist for my new car: good looks, edgy, unusual, powerful, and modern. It was a good checklist; too bad it didn’t have any checks.
At the end of the car-buying process, I was left standing in the driveway, examining my newly purchased ten-year-old small sedan. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but suffice it to say that it was cheap, reliable, safe, and came with all the style and excitement of a yam. I had avoided getting a mini-van or anything with a beige exterior. Other than that, all of my requirements for a cool car had come crashing down like Evel Knievel on a very bad day.
I stared at the vehicle skeptically. It represented my rebel side caving in, and I resented it. My mother was raving about how nice it looked, how un-boring it was, how much she wanted one. At one point, she even said that the interior looked so clean that the car must have been owned by an old woman who just drove it to church; my wife winced, knowing that this was not what I wanted to hear.
Because what man wants to drive an old woman’s car? I didn’t want the previous owner to be Aunt Martha. I wanted the previous owner to be the FBI who had impounded the vehicle from a cross-border drug runner that they had only cornered by deploying Apache helicopters. Instead I had a car that looked like it could be cornered by a VW Bug with an attitude.
But as I drove the car, I began to realize that it had unseen qualities. It had a touchy accelerator, a merciless break, and a respectable power-to-weight ratio. The ride was firm and the engine sounded angry as it powered me to speeds that my last car would have struggled to reach (my last car had a hard time doing 65 against the wind). Gradually, I began to realize that I had found a car much like myself. And I knew that buried deep beneath the bland exterior, the beige interior, and the five-star safety ratings beat a heart that was not quite tame, the heart of a part-time rebel.
And then, just as I came to terms with my new car, the engine light came on.