Some people affectionately name their cars. I vow to drive my car into the ground.
I am not impressed with color or shine or seat warmers or the increasingly techy sound systems or those commercials where silver-tongued announcers say words like “driving experience” or “performance” or “driving modes.” These are all lost on me. I’ve always said as long as it gets me around I don’t care what it looks, feels or smells like.
When I was little, my parents drove my brothers and me around in a blue ‘86 Chevy Celebrity station wagon. The paint job couldn’t hold up, and it ended up peeling and curling in long strips down the hood. I was so embarrassed by it I asked my father over and over again not drop our family off in front of the church on Sunday mornings. “Please, can you just park in the back and then we can all walk in?” I begged. My dad would give me a quizzical look and kept right on dropping us off at the door.
When I was in high school instead of being embarrassed by a car, one embarrassed me. I was at a youth group picnic when one of the new youth leaders drove up in his car. It was small and black and so shiny it blinded me in one eye as I went up to greet him and the other kids. I leaned casually against the hood. He promptly turned white as did several of the boys.
“What? What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You’re leaning on my car.”
“So?” I got up and the group gave a little collective sigh of relief. One of the boys saw the shame and confusion on my face and explained to me that it was a Maserati 3200 GT, a special object costing over a year’s salary that was allowed outside for car shows only. I backed away and tried not to roll my eyes. I thanked heaven I was going away to college the next week where presumably no-one would drive a $90,000 car for me to smudge accidentally.
Without having the money to afford a nice car, I have always simply driven hand-me-down little four-doors. In college I drove two cars: one that had been abandoned so long a nest of mice had taken up residency in the engine (there was a small, unpleasant surprise for me when I had to replace the dome light), and a navy Celebrity wagon so like my parents’ car, I nicknamed it “The Blue Bastard”. Cars have alternately been a source of embarrassment and a source of indifference to me over the years.
For the past ten years I have been driving a tiny Corolla. There’s nothing very special about it—but then there is something special about it to me. This was a car I bought at 22 and had a very long payment plan on, but I managed to pay it all myself in my twenties. It became a badge of adulthood for me. Responsibility, too.
For several years, I had a job where I would spend my lunch hour in my car. I sat in the parking lot reading books by Lauren Winner, Susan Howatch, and Rob Bell, thankful for a whole hour inside a quiet, familiar space with beloved authors.
Some of my coworkers would go to mid-day Mass, some would spend the hour shopping at the mall the next town over. But my spot was in my car. It was a place to pray in, to reflect, to take time out from hard or boring work situations. If I had a late night, I’d eat my sandwich, crank the seat down and take a nap.
Eight months ago, my husband Dan and I drove my little car from Cape Cod to Denver. I was doubtful it would make it. It’s now fourteen years old and New England winters are tough on cars, with five months of gravel and salt under the wheels every year. But we decided to put our money into repairs, rather than buy a new car just yet.
You see, I’m really attached to it.
I’ve never cared for cars because of what they stand for. Wealth or poverty. You can tell by looking at someone’s car how they live, possibly guess at their monthly payment, and judge what they value. I value my four wheel fortress of solitude. The paint is peeling so that’s a little embarrassing—the old feelings of shame well up! But I’ve reclaimed my car and cars in general because of their potential as a quiet box, a room I can take anywhere with me. I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to my car because she and I have had a lot of good moments together. It’s a bit of home that’s with me still even as everything else has changed.