I knew a guy who said cars reflect our identity. He arrived to work full of swagger and bravado, driving a massive, powerful Dodge Magnum pickup truck. Bit by bit I saw him emasculated by people who were more adept at getting things done, and his confidence faded like Sarah Palin on election night. Eventually he downsized to a used Toyota, and left for a smaller company. Now he’s biking to work.
I have two cars that are complete opposites, sending very mixed signals. My commuter car is a light blue Hyundai Accent with four doors and four cylinders that cries “grandmother of ten” on my daily commute. You have to rev the hamster wheel hard to hear if it’s running, and hope for a long downhill run to pass anything larger than a salad crouton. Every morning I dutifully warm it up and go into ultra conservative mode, whispering along at 35 mpg, moving aside for anything faster than Dutch Elm disease. I’m doing my part. Shame on you heathens, cruising in gas guzzling luxury.
The other car damns me to hell. It’s a 1986 Z28 Camaro stuffed with a 520-horsepower NASCAR engine and a suspension built for launching John Glen. It can surpass 200 miles per hour, and people move over from the approaching sound. It’s registered in Maine because Connecticut put an emissions facility in lock down after their computer screamed “burn this car and kill the owner.”
So what does all this say about me?
I’m thinking frugal and understated yet vengeful and nostalgic. Maybe a little Clark Kent as Superman meets Speed Racer meets Saturday Night Fever era meets a Korean health bar.
“I really hate that race car,” my wife likes to say. “Every time you take it out, the house shakes and I say a rosary.”
“But it’s once a week during the summer,” I retort. “If the weather’s nice.”
She smiles. “More reasons to sell it.”
She kicks a tire and stalks off. “My car needs an oil change,” she mumbles. “And you’re polishing chrome.”
I ignore another blatant metaphor and retrieve the oil filter wrench. How did things get so crazy? Where is the justification for such a beast? Who am I?!
I guess it started in high school during the mid-seventies, a very opportune time for gear heads pumping gas and saving money for used muscle cars, which were cheap and readily available. I had two friends and a nerdy math teacher with Shelby Cobra Mustangs. Mark the Shark had a ‘69 Charger, and the infamous Barsano brothers ran a ’57 Chevy. Hemi Harrington had a Road Runner and was legendary. One afternoon he test-drove a Pantera and lost control on Nobscot Mountain, launching it into the woods. What a fun guy! Neilbo had the sweetest ride of all, a dual-quad 427 AC Cobra. During senior year, I weighed-in with a ’67 fastback Mustang GT. Instant Steve McQueen — Hello chicks, bye-bye college. We laughed when Arty opted-out with a VW bug, but he’s now a multi-millionaire. In retrospect, my wife had a very valid point. Also, our carbon footprints humbled the Grand Canyon. Paleontologists built a museum around them.
But there were times my friends, there were times: Bruce Springsteen was singing “Thunder Road” on a hissing 8-track, the girl and sun were both hot, the Mustang was running sweet, and Officer Dudley looked dashing in reflective shades, explaining how one more ticket would get me an army gig down in Fort Benning, where most sport vehicles had 50-caliber guns attached. Ha-ha! What a great dude!
Now there’s the daily commute, where a boring ride is often a good thing. But hey, go ahead and giggle when the wind pushes my little Hyundai around, and discarded cigarette butts knock it off course. I’m doing my part, moving over as you smirk and bull rush the tiny rear bumper. Go ahead and have your brief moment of gas guzzling testosterone. Tomorrow, I may rumble up the middle lane as a fuel hungry predator cruising schools of helpless guppies, and ye shall tremble! Ye shall know me by the sound of sick and brutal horsepower! Amen, brothers and sisters, pay homage to the rebirth of a terrible thundering dinosaur, and quiver upon my passing!
What’s that? My wife just got home? Ha-ha! Excuse me while I go do some dishes and . . . er . . . vacuum.