A friend of mine recently moved from DC to Northern Virginia (and we’re very glad to have him back), but there was a side effect I wasn’t expecting. While I was aware his kids had all grown up in DC, it never occurred to me that they wouldn’t appreciate car culture, particularly his eldest. She’s in her late teens, and yet the other day she complained about several people nearly running her over. I actually had to pause to think about this for a minute, because the very idea was so alien to me. Then it registered: she was on foot – OUTSIDE.
The very idea of it honestly came as a complete shock at first. I mean, sure, intellectually I know people do that sort of thing, but you so rarely see it around here that it just doesn’t occur to me as something normal people do. I had to explain to her that she doesn’t live in the city anymore, and the rules are a little different out here. And for my money, thank goodness for that.
I honestly can’t imagine what my life would have been like without cars; especially from the time I became old enough to drive them solo. While I’ve never been a gearhead, I’ve always had a special attachment to the cars I personally have owned. They have served me in every conceivable way: as transportation, storage, even shelter at need. They may or may not have aided me in the acquiring and hiding of street signs, and more than once I used them as a means of enjoying a romantic rendezvous away from the prying eyes of inquisitive parents and a nosy sister. Ever since I first got my license cars have equaled autonomy, or at least the potential and promise to have it. All you needed was enough money for gas and you could just go as far as the tank would take you, and the only thing that would bring you back was your own decision to turn around.
My friends and I always had special names for our cars, names that reflected our personalities, our feelings about our cars and our relationships with them. I have owned such delights as Casper (the Not So Friendly Child Eating Ghost), Cheshire, Lincoln, and Alice. Another friend owned various incarnations of The Road Smasher, and one notable friend and former roommate owned Zippy Blue Unfaithful. (If you ever have a few free hours, you should buy him a beer and ask him to tell you “The Story of The Death of Zippy Blue Unfaithful”. I was there, and I can promise he sticks to the facts… mostly.) This ritual of naming our cars did more than give us something to talk about and a way to distinguish one used hand-me-down from another. They distinguished us, identified us, and helped us to shape ourselves and our environment at a time when we had precious little control over our circumstances.
I’m not as free now as I was when I was a teenager, but every once in a while I still feel the urge to hop in my car late at night, pick a direction and just drive. Maybe it’s nostalgia for a time in my life that I can never capture again, or maybe it’s something deeper, more primal. Either way, I’m glad to have my car, to have that option should I choose to take it. All I need, even today, is enough money for gas (even if that is a lot more than it used to be) and I can go as far as the tank will take me, and the only thing that will bring me back is my decision to turn around.