I don’t get it. Why am I the only person in my family who can see the beauty and fun of the automobile? Since I was a kid I loved cars, looking at classics, knowing what models and makes were cool, which ones were clunkers. I learned to drive on a sweet, shiny copper 1964 Chevy Impala. That thing had an engine! Just touch the gas and you were riding low and fast down the highway, and it was as heavy as an oceanliner so it hugged every curve of the country roads where I lived. Steel. Steel and chrome.
Please, allow me to reminisce.
My parents loved cars. When I was a baby they drove an orange Porsche my dad was fixing up. They had to get rid of it because it was so bright it became a target for speed traps and started costing a lot in speeding tickets, or so they said. (They’re not much of speeders, so I think this might be an exaggeration.) We also had a Jeep Willy’s Wagon, two-tone, mustard and white. There was a 1962 Chevy pick-up that belonged to my grandmother, her fishing truck. Also a sweet 1960s era International Scout, two-door. We had a giant yellow Oldsmobile, a 1978, with black interior, my mother’s “real estate” car from the years she was an agent, and which she traded straight across for a 1977 Honda Civic during the gas crisis years when we moved farther out of town – even though there were four kids in the family. One kid had to sit in the 6″-wide hatchback area. And scrunch down. It was great.
Then there was a 1983 Subaru wagon, 2WD (I’m sorry to say), that had a few good years and then had the loudest brakes you EVER, EVER heard, a car to keep a person humble when she drove it in college, a car that started only if prayed over first, thus teaching a driver faith preceeds the miracle. Many stories accompany that car, and its 335,000 ultimate odometer reading. Yes, its little hubcap has been placed on a hook and is now a cherished Christmas ornament.
And the 1980 cherry red lemon also known as the Pontiac Phoenix. The white leather interior was so pretty. But the car itself was pretty iffy. And it was a hatchback, thus sealing the doom of all other hatchbacks in my opinion forever more. (Sorry, hatchback fans.) Its sister-model was the Chevy Citation. Did the designers not realize that “citation” is another word for “speeding ticket?” I bet they laughed all the way to the showroom on that one.
Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I drive a 1999 Suburban. Before you laugh, (har har, it’s paid for), you have to know I saw one in a car museum/sales room in Las Vegas in September listed at $75,000. Granted, it’s the one driven by Tony Soprano in his eponymous TV show, but hey. Ours has association cachet. And seats that are a darn-sight more comfortable than the LaZBoy in our living room, I’m telling you. And it seats nine, so…everybody rides.
Anyway, a couple of years ago my brother subscribed to AutoWeek magazine for us, and I weekly devour it. All the new models of all makes of cars are in there, and they have brilliant writers with great vocabularies, and it’s just a fun read. I love it. (And no yucky ads, if that means anything to anyone. I hate those yucky ads that are in so many car magazines. No “yikes” moments as you flip toward the back.)
But I’m the only one who reads it. Even my teenage sons can’t muster an interest. I try, and I try. I turn on Top Gear, I rave about this or that model as we drive past Johnson Motors on our way to and from school. I mention my abiding dislike for crossovers, or my deep love for chrome, and it falls on deaf ears.
I’m an island.
So I was temporarily excited the other day when my 8 year old daughter started noticing cars in the Walmart parking lot. Brace yourself, though, this has a sad ending. Stop reading if you don’t think you can handle it.
Here’s the car she saw and asked about:
In about 1980, General Motors took their design of the aforementioned Pontiac Phoenix (such a looker), bumped out the hatchback and tweaked it into a family station wagon (makes me think of my own days with a station wagon). And way back when, someone bought it. I suspect it was the lady who was driving the white, dull-paint version, slightly dinged up, through the Walmart lot on Monday. It looked like a “one owner” to me. I happened to recognize the driver, a lovely person, a lady who volunteers for “Friends of the Library,” and very sweet. She’s older, elderly really. The handicap plates were of the earlier model of Arizona colors – on dark maroon with white paint. Remember those, car people? Do ya?
Well, anyway, we see this motoring by, and sweet lady can barely see over the wheel. Her windows are down, of course. It’s a warm day. Pretty sure the ol’ AC ain’t functioning anymore, poor dear.
My daughter pulls my sleeve. “Mom! Mom! Look at that car!”
I perk up. I’m elated. I can’t believe it’s finally happening. A child of mine is taking an interest in the old mom’s little hobby. It’s a dream come true, a windy-day miracle for sure!
“Which car, sweetheart?” My eyes are scanning the Walmartscape for something notable.
“That one!” And then she asks the question that lets me know I’ve failed entirely.
“Is that a Ferrari?”
But I guess, there’s a beauty in that. Somewhere. Deep. What is it? It’s that my daughter looks on the heart. She can see that old dinged up station wagon and see a Ferrari. She can see the inner beauty of a car that’s been running that long, serving its owner for years and still running her to Walmart and the library and such. It’s much better than an Italian sports car that needs to be garaged and babied and mileage kept low. It’s great that she sees its intrinsic worth. I love her.
I hope someone, when I’m old and dingy and my AC has broken down, will look at me and ask, “Is that a Ferrari?” And though it may cause a temporary fit of laughter, I hope the answer will be, on some level, yes. Fast, valuable, worth something. Fast to help someone in need, valuable in a crisis, worth something to those I love.
So, yeah. Feraris and old station wagons. The worth of a soul. And a good amount of laughter at our kids–even when they make us feel like an island.
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