Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Classic Cars and Mid Life

The email subject line said, “I found it.”  It was from my husband who had discovered a classic car for me to buy.  I wasn’t really in the market to buy an old car, but the idea sounded intriguing. 
            My husband and I had been going to the neighborhood Cruise-Ins where local classic car owners gather on a Saturday afternoon to park and walk among each others’ ’69 Olds, ‘70’s Camaros or ‘50’s Bel Airs.  There is lots of talk about restoration, speed, and memories of favorite cars from childhood.
            I’ve always liked old cars, the smell, the feel of the old metal dashboards and thin steering wheels and the sound of the motor as it idles has a certain way of taking me back to my younger days.  Not a typical interest for a woman, but my husband thinks it’s cool.  When I was thirteen, I began driving my mom’s 1969 Pontiac Bonneville, driving around the neighborhood, my vision barely clearing the dashboard.  Then it was on to her 1977 Ford Thunderbird.  I could get about 10 of my friends in that car, before seatbelt laws.  You could go 80 miles an hour and it felt like you were driving on a silk road.  Needless to say, I got my first speeding ticket in that car!
            But the earliest car I remember was her 1950 Comet.  I was barely five years old and I clearly remember this car.   She’d warm up the car in the cold Minnesota morning while I ate breakfast and then we would get in the car to go to my ice skating lessons.  The woven, plastic, turquoise seats were still cold even though the car had been idling in the garage for 15 minutes. 
            It probably had something to do with the fact that the floor pan on the driver’s side had rusted out from road salt and all that separated mom’s feet from the road below was a piece of cardboard.  The tail lights looked like cat eye glasses with their turned up angle and the little triangular side window would pop out just a little so mom could flick her cigarette ash out of it.  In the dark of those mornings, I used to love to watch the red glow of the short cigarette butt make sparks behind the car as it hit the slushy ground when mom would throw it out the window. 
            So, when I opened the email from my husband, there it was.  Pictures of a 1950’s Comet for sale, just like the one I remember in my childhood. 
            What on Earth would I do with an old car?  We had no room in the driveway for it, I had no extra money to pour into fixing it up, although it looked to be in pretty good shape and I didn’t have the time.
            On the other hand, I thought, you don’t see old Comets for sale very often, this one was a good price and my husband said he’d help me fix it up. 
            Was I just looking for a way to be young and impulsive again?  I had been going through a bit of a rough patch.  Mid-life crisis, perhaps, and I had been wringing my hands to my husband about how life was passing me by.  I wasn’t in the job I envisioned myself in, I wasn’t making nearly the money I’d hoped I’d be making by this time in my life, I hadn’t seen the world like I’d hoped and I wasn’t even doing much writing, which I love to do.  Mid-life was hitting me square in the face.
            I wanted to turn back the clock to a time when possibilities were endless.  When the future looked like a vast field with plenty of time and no limits to what you could do.  Was I getting this car in a feeble attempt to turn back time?  To reclaim my youth?  Perhaps, but what was wrong with that? 
            We met the 18-wheeler transport truck in the parking lot near our home and it was exciting to see the car finally here!  When the truck driver backed it off the truck, I saw my Minnesota childhood all over again.  I was really excited.  That excitement soon gave way to reality, however.
            The Comet, advertised by the seller as having very little rust, had a significant amount of body damage from rust.  And, although, I was excited to get to learn how to drive a stick shift on a steering column, it quickly became evident that the transmission would need work.  The car kept getting stuck in second gear as my husband drove it around the parking lot.  “It’s okay.  We’ll fix it up,” my husband said.
            I took pictures of me standing with the car and posted them online.  A flood of messages came back from my friends:  “When can we have a ride?”, “Cool car!”, “It’s totally you!”  But, I was afraid to drive it.  The gears are hard to manage and the car just didn’t seem reliable.
            One night, my husband suggested we take the Comet out and get some dinner.
            We hadn’t gotten five miles down the road when I noticed a burning odor.
            “Do you smell that?”  I asked.
            “Yeah, let’s pull over for a minute and check it out,” my husband said.
            After a brief inspection of the car, turns out one of the brakes locked up.  We would have to sit for a while to let it cool off and then head back home, hoping that the brakes would work.
            As we sat on the curb in a strip mall waiting for the wheel to cool, I thought maybe this isn’t the car for me.  It’s an awesome car, but maybe my attempt to recapture my youth is misguided.  Maybe it’s not what I have that represents my youth, but it’s my attitude and actions.  Maybe I need to act like I’m young again instead of lamenting my age.  Maybe I was missing the point.   Maybe it’s not the Comet that needed repairs.
It was me and my attitude about life that needed a tune up.
            Or, maybe I just needed to buy a red convertible instead.

1 comment:

  1. I love it, you are such a lovely descriptive writer. My family has gone the old car route, too. My brother has two Studebakers that he restored (our Dad used to sell them, he even did the local TV commercials) and I have my 72 Datsun 240Z. Barely an antique, but still intimidating to drive, I seem so much lower to the ground than everyone else I'm afraid I'll get run over. Something I never considered when I was younger. But that's OK, every once in a while I still take it out on an empty road and drive it way too fast. Just to feel the rush.