Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Quarter Century: On The Road

I drive a silver 2002 Toyota Corolla. It is the 4th — and will be the last — Wood family hand-me-down car that I have driven since getting my license in January 2003.

Growing up in the country (have you noticed how much I love starting sentences that way?) I did not have the fear of driving instilled in me like they show in the movies. Maybe no one really does, but I sure didn't. In the country you grow up driving. You see 12-year-olds drawing the trailer in straight lines while the older men throw bails of hay in the back. You pass kids 4-wheeling to the church for their cub scout meetings. It's all good.

I remember the first time I drove on the freeway with my dad and my learner's permit in tow. I thought to myself "The freeway? The freeway is supposed to be scary. I've seen Clueless!" When I got on the on-ramp I said, out loud "oh, there's no intersections or traffic lights? You just cruise? This is awesome!" And it is. To this day, I love driving on the freeway. I'll hop on for a few blocks if I'm nearby and the exits match up.

More than that, I just love driving. I can't imagine any form of therapy being as good as plugging in my iPod, throwing on some sunglasses and just hitting the pavement for a while.

My first car was the blue Ford Escort. We had two escorts, a white and blue, and I can't remember what happened to the white one but by the time the blue was passed to me it was already on its last, wheezing legs. The dash light was out so we had to buy this cheap blue neon adhesive light that plugged into the cigarette lighter. It gave the whole interior of the car this ethereal glow which would be cool if it wasn't a jury-rigged solution to an old, broken car.

The blue escort died six or seven months later, which was awesome, because with old blue out of commission the only option for me to drive was the car I had always dreamed of driving. The Astro.
Back in the 80s, vans were vans. They weren't this "mini" nonsense with stow-and-go seating and automatic-opening doors. The Astro sat 8, had a hitch and back wheel drive. It towered over the compacts on the road and from my perch in the bucket seat I felt like a freaking airplane pilot.
It was a blue, 1987 Astro, as old as me. I had grown up dreaming that it would be "my" car but my parents had always said that the kids would never drive the van because it was enormous, top heavy, had huge blind spots and handled poorly in the snow. Huntsville gets a lot of snow.

But, when you're the youngest of 5 children and your high school is 30 minutes away -- and your friends are completely unreliable -- your parents eventually figure "fine, go roll the thing and kill yourself. Just stop bugging us."

It was the manly van. I had fuzzy dice in the mirror and a stuffed hamster on the dash that I called "Finch" who would rap Fat Boy Slims "Funk Soul Brother" when you pressed his foot. I was king of my castle, master of my domain.

In the winter time I would get stuck about once a week and developed an amazing knack for un-stucking myself. It also just became a recurring gag with my friends that as I would leave a party I'd need 3 or 4 guys to come push me out of the snow. Eventually, my siblings grew up and got cars of their own, freeing up the safer, compact-er Cavalier for (most) of my freshman year of college.

After I killed the Cavelier (more on that in a moment) I was back where I belonged for my last month as a freshman. The Astro was 19 by then, just like me, and hadn't aged as well as I had. It sputtered, stalled and the door handles starting popping off. One Sunday I was driving back from church with my roommates when the Astro started to really struggle. We only had a few blocks to go and the Astro carried us, panting and gasping into my parking stall. As soon as I put her in park, the Astro gave up the ghost. It got me home just in time before it laid down and died. Like a freaking champion.

Before that, though, I killed the Cavalier. Twice.

The first time I was driving in a caravan of friends along a country road and forgot that I needed to make a turn into a driveway until the last second. I slid through a patch of gravel and swan-dove off a 12 foot embankment, luckily landing in a tree that broke the fall. The tree died. I remember the kid in the backseat putting his hands up and "woohoo-ing" while we sailed through the air, like he was on a roller coaster.

A few months later, in the winter, I came around a blind corner in Ogden Canyon and went right over a rock the size of one of those concert beach balls. That did the trick.

It died, then the van died, at which point I began driving the silver toyota corrola.

My relationship with the Corolla is one of comfort and maturity. It gets me where I'm going, reliably and without complaint. In return I see to it to it that its gas and oil needs are met. The Astro and I had a star-crossed romance, like teen lovers who meet under balconies to sneak off and stare into each others eyes. With the Corolla, I feel like I've found a sensible mate that I can settle down with and discuss the family budget over the kitchen table.

Don't get me wrong, we have fun. We go camping, hiking, out to dinner and a movie. I remember after a Carbon Leaf concert we went to Hires Big H and did an irish jig in the parking lot.

Most importantly, when I come home after a long, hard day and want to go for a relaxing drive, she doesn't fight me. She doesn't whine about how she's been on her feet all day and just wants to take a hot bath. She's always game for a late nigh snack run or an early morning stroll up the canyon.
She turned 200K last month, I meant to get her something but like a jerk, I forgot all about it until the day arrived. Maybe for her 300Kth I'll get her detailed. Even an old barn looks good with some new paint.

Now, bring me that horizon.

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