The summer before I turned 16 my gearhead dad brought home a car for me–a 1971 442 Cutlass convertible, royal blue with white hood scoops, white pinstripes and white interior–and with a monster 455 engine under the hood. In my dad’s mind, it was the perfect first car for his oldest daughter who was just learning how to drive.
I hated that car.
Or, at least, I hated it in the beginning. I had wanted a neon green Volkswagon Beetle, something cute and tiny that I could zip around town in, but my dad had deemed such vehicles as accidents waiting to happen; a bottom-heavy, hot roddin’ muscle car was much safer for his little girl. And so, because I had no choice, I grudgingly accepted his gift and waited impatiently for the day when I could finally grab the gearshift without dear ol’ dad riding shotgun.
And then . . . what glorious freedom! With driver’s license in hand and Three Dog Night blaring from the eight-track, I hit the highway for the very first time and almost immediately learned a life-altering truth: Maybe I wasn’t crazy about that 442 Cutlass convertible . . . but the boys were. First they noticed the car, and then they noticed the scrawny little girl behind the wheel, and suddenly my teenage world became infinitely more wonderful. I started seeing that car through their eyes, and she was beautiful and sleek, fast and strong. I named her Daisy (in honor of Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby), and I remember driving Miss Daisy all over the county and beyond in my first baby steps toward self-discovery.
And isn’t that how we all felt about our first vehicles? Some of my best–and worst–memories were created behind the wheel of that car. I remember cramming it full of laughing girlfriends for Saturday-night cruises from one end of town to the other (over and over again). I remember driving down our gravel road when the boy in the passenger seat sheepishly told me he loved me for the first time, and I remember all the times I stormed out of that car when the same boy proved not to be so loving after all.
More than anything, I remember the sheer joy of wandering aimlessly down country backroads, disappearing into the black of night with the top down and the hot summer breeze whipping through my hair as I outran the mosquitoes and kicked up dust clouds behind me–and then parking near the bank of Cane Creek under a star-studded sky and letting the calming stillness consume me. I could sit for hours writing poetry by moonlight while listening to the rush of the creek and the chirp of the treefrogs–perfect solitude–until rustling from behind a nearby tree would convince me that hobo killers or giant cottonmouths were closing in, and I would rev up Miss Daisy’s 455 and pummel my would-be attackers with spewing gravel and choking dust.
But for all the nights Miss Daisy transported me into another world where parents didn’t argue and boyfriends didn’t disappoint, for all the times she saved me from boredom and saved me from myself, I couldn’t save her . . . one summer night before I left for college a drunk driver slammed into her, sending me to the emergency room with a concussion and my beautiful, my beloved Miss Daisy to the salvage yard. Oh, the indignity.
Fast forward 20 years. After borrowing my mom’s ’71 Nova SS to get back and forth to college for a couple years, I finally scraped up $800–just enough to buy a ’68 Mercury Monterey tank that I affectionately dubbed “Mildred.” After a few years Mildred was sidelined for Big Red, a ’78 Ford Bronco that served me well until a second transmission and mommyhood convinced me to take my kids and carseats, juice boxes and Cheetos, t-ball gloves and beach towels and enter into the ho-hum world of minivan mediocrity.
I had traveled many miles since driving Miss Daisy, but I had never forgotten the rush of the wind in my hair and the warmth of the summer sun on my shoulders. And then one day not too long before my dreaded fortieth birthday–when middle-aged madness was beckoning every time I looked in the mirror and saw only faded remnants of the wind-blown girl who used to be–on a routine trip to a neighboring town, I spotted just the pick-me-up I needed to feel young and alive again. There, on the side of the road, its emerald greenness glinting in the afternoon sun, was a beautiful 1997 Camaro convertible, and it was shouting–screaming!–my name.
I rationalized and begged, scraped and borrowed until that Camaro (henceforth known as Costner) came home with me. My three sons loved Costner, and I was a cool mom–for a little while. After a few years, though, their little legs outgrew the cramped back seats, and they tired of holding their book bags and band instruments and ball uniforms in their laps. And so I bid a sad farewell to Costner and traded in coolness for cross-over practicality. Comfortable. Safe. Boring.
But the wind was still whistling through my soul.
My sons are grown and gone now, and it dawned on me a couple months ago that there was really no reason to continue driving a 7-passenger vehicle when I am almost always the only person in it. I needed (okay, wanted) something smaller, more economical, and (could I dare hope?) sportier. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but there were two mandatory requirements–it had to be blue, and it had to be a convertible.
And then I found IT . . . a 2013 Mustang convertible in the prettiest shade of blue imaginable. It has a V6, not a V8, which seems to disappoint every man who asks, but I don’t need anything faster because I am retiring and setting my life on cruise control. I’m in no hurry, gentlemen. All that really matters to me is that it is beautiful, it makes me smile, and it makes me feel young and alive again when I slide behind the wheel, lower its cloth top, and once again feel the rush of the wind. I thought for a long time about a suitable name for my latest convertible; I had already dubbed my camera “Clooney,” so that was out, and somehow “Pitt” just didn’t sound right. And then it hit me–I would name my little pony after my favorite poet, Pablo Neruda, whose poetry is sexy and beautiful and sleek, which is how I imagine my car to look as it is cruising down the highway–sheer poetry in motion.
A friend of mine over at The Laughing Bunny has taken some stunning photos of the lines and angles, curves and colors of beautiful cars (you can check out some of his shots here–and see even more photos and “like” his Facebook page, Laughing Bunny Photography, by clicking here). He recently wrote a post on our fascination with our vehicles and pondered why we usually name the “hot and sexy” ones but seldom the boring minivans. It was an interesting observation, and I think the answer is that we spend so much time in our cars that they become an extension of our personalities, an intimate part of our lives, and we name them because of the way they make us feel about ourselves. My minivans made me feel old and frumpy and dull; I certainly didn’t need to put a name to that (Helga? Agnes? Ethel? I don’t think so). But, ahh, the convertibles! When I hide behind my sunglasses and let my hair fly, I can be anybody (at any age!) I want to be. In fact, right now I’m pretending to be Heidi, a foreign exchange student from Sweden, but I’m thinking next week I’ll be RainBo Derek, a hippie chick from a California commune . . .
I have a lot of plans for Pablo and me in the months and years ahead, a lot of country backroads yet to explore. It won’t be the same as driving Miss Daisy, but I have a feeling that cruising with Pablo might be even better. Just as soon as I can figure out how to use the built-in GPS system and all the other new-fangled gadgetry he offers, he and I will be hitting the road and following the wind.
How about you, readers? Have you had a favorite car, and if so, what made it your favorite? Did it have a name? And what would your dream car be?
This is me at age 16 with my ’71 442 Cutlass convertible “Daisy.”
And this is me with Pablo. Notice the hat–I wear it when I’m driving to keep my hair out of my eyes (and you can’t see them, but there are little white daisies around the brim!). My family laughs at my hat, but I think it’s the perfect accessory for a self-proclaimed hippie chick.