Recently, while sitting with two new friends, one asked whether I was into cars. He pointed to the beautiful classic truck in his backyard and asked me, for example, whether I’d have know this particular truck were a Ford if it weren’t for the letters F-O-R-D written on the tailgate.
I confessed that I would not. As little as I know about the history of different makes and models of cars, I know even less about what goes on under the hood. My other friend, like me, knows little to nothing about cars. “It’s a mule,” was his reply.
To me, it is however, more than a mule. As little as I know about cars, I’ve had a love affair with them since I the State of Indiana issued me my first drivers license. Cars equaled freedom and the ability to move and to travel. Cars, therefore, have played a powerful role in my life. Each car I have owned has been representative of a season of my life. The cars I’ve driven tell my story.
Starting with my first car…
1983 Honda Accord
In high school I worked at an Arby’s and saved as much as I could from each paycheck to buy a car. My first car, which I purchased in 1997 as a junior year in high school, was a 1983 Honda Accord that I paid $800 for. There was nothing special about the car but it got me around.
My strongest memory of the car is driving around the country roads in South-Central Indiana listening to John Mellencamp. The car did not have a CD player, and in a time of transitioning technology, I had an adapter that allowed me to connect my portable CD player through the tape-deck. I don’t remember whatever happened to the car. It my mind it seems to have just one day disappeared, but I know it was history by the time I went to college and I was driving….
1989 Merkur XR4TI
I remember the first time I ever laid eyes on the Merkur. It was at Flick’s, a used car dealership in my hometown of Martinsville, and it was beautiful. It was the summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I was working at FedEx and again saving money for a car. I took it for a test drive and I wanted it. I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for the car, but it was a stretch. The car was a ton of fun to drive. I had moved up in the world — I had a built in CD player, a sunroof, heated leather seats, and a car with plenty of zip. I loved that car.
At college, I met a guy named Todd Bushong who lived a few doors down from me. The first time we walked out to my car to go somewhere he went nuts. He’d seen the car sitting in the parking lot outside of our dorm and had looked at it with envy. He couldn’t believe it was mine. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I drove the car to California. The car would never return. At summer’s end, somewhere in the desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, that car went up in flames and burnt to a crisp. I kid you not. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell on this blog for a long time, and I plan to do so later this week. It’s a grand story and I’ve got photos to document the tale.
1991 Chevy Cavalier
When the Mercur went up in flames, some kind of deal was struck with my parents for me to acquire their Chevy Cavalier. If, for me, a car was ever just a mule, this was that car. The Cavalier did faithfully serve me, though. I drove it during my junior year of college and then it took me back to California the following summer. That car, too, would never return to Indiana. Because I was only returning to college for the fall semester to finish school and then return to California permanently after Christmas, I made arrangement to store the car with a friend in Santa Barbara and then borrow my parents ’81 Oldsmobile for my final semester of college.
Funny enough, the Olds’ actually died on my watch. I packed it up after I finished finals and started to drive home but only got a few miles down the road before I was broken down. The Olds’ was dismissed to the ash heap of history. When I got to California, the Cavalier was waiting on me. It was a boring yet reliable vehicle. It didn’t have heated leather seats a sunroof, or the zip of the Merkur. Heck, I was even forced to revert back to using a tape-deck. But it also didn’t catch on fire. Driving to work one day, the light turned yellow and I stepped on the gas to get through the light. On the other side of the intersection, cars were stopped and I slammed into the car in front of me. Insurance totaled the car, but there was really nothing wrong with it other than the fact that the hood was bent up toward the windshield. So I took a sledgehammer to beat it back down and took the insurance money and did God knows what. This is the car I was driving when I met my wife, and I have always said that I know Monica didn’t choose me because of the car I drove. Finally, one day the car broke down while I was driving to work. I pulled over and parked it by the side of the road and walked the rest of the way to work. I never drove it again.
2001 Ford Mustang Convertible
I was 22 years old, I made good money, and I lived in Santa Barbara, California. When my Cavalier broke down, though, I was prepared to make a very practical choice. I had my mind set on finding a Ford Explorer that was 3 or 4 years old. My roommate was my chauffeur when we went to the dealership, and the smart people that design the way these lots are laid out do it in a way where you’re forced to walk by the Mustangs before you get to the late model Explorers. My friend laid out my life for me. He told me I was going to buy an Explorer, then Monica and I would eventually get married. I’d get a mini-van and for the next several years tote my family around in this very convenient yet very “sigh…” vehicle. Then my kids would get older and I would end up with some boring sedan. This moment was my moment. This was my chance. If I made a bold decision in the choice of my next car I could change the entire trajectory of my life.
I never got past the Mustangs. I never even looked at the Explorers, let alone taking one for a test drive. I got behind the wheel of that Mustang and I never looked back.
I’ll always look back at that car as a special one. It symbolizes a special time of my life. I remember driving home from Monica’s house late at night and listening to Elvis with the top down. I remember driving home the night before my wedding with friends and listening to and singing at the top of our lungs the song “500 Miles.” I remember the dozens of road-trips Monica and I took up and down the coast of California in that car.
In the last year I was an employee and before we had kids, I’d get up very early every morning and drive into downtown Santa Barbara where I spent time reading and writing at my favorite cafe. It’d still be dark, but I’d have the top down. I loved it. I loved that car.
When I bought it I said I’d never sale it. Someday, I said, I’d give it to my kids. But circumstances change. The Mustang was now our second car and my wife and I were preparing to go on a 6-month road-trip with our then 1-year-old son Jackson. To give ourselves an extra few bucks before the trip, I drove the Mustang over to a shopping center in Santa Barbara and put a for-sale sign on it. I was sad to say good-bye, but my sadness was surpassed by the excitement for the adventure ahead. Your life is a reflection of what you value most. Life’s about trade-offs and choices. I was making mine.
Besides, our primary car at that point had become our….
2006 Hummer H3
For quite some time, even before we were married and living together, my wife and I shared a car. Initially, we opted to forego the expense of a second car to save money for our wedding. We got so used to it and felt little need for a second car so brushed off the amazement of our friends who couldn’t believe we shared a car. Finally, though, when we were starting to think about having a baby we decided to add a second, and more practical car.
We wanted an SUV but we didn’t want something boring. We wanted 4 wheel drive and we wanted something that would push us toward adventure. We got a Hummer.
For 7 years now, the Hummer has been our base-camp. When we rented out our home and traveled across the United States for 6-months, it was the only sense of permanence we had. We’ve never been homeless. We had our Hummer. As much as we longed for adventure, we never imagined how far we would adventure in our Hummer. Sure, there were some off-roading adventures in the Santa Ynez Mountains at the 688 acre Reagan Ranch, where I was the deputy director when we bought the Hummer. But in time, adventure would become our way of life. The road-trip was a precursor. There’ve been bikes and skis and cargo boxes attacked to the top and back of the Hummer ever since. We moved to Tahoe. We embraced an outdoor, adventurous way of life. Our Hummer hasn’t just been our car. It’s been our base camp.
In recent months, for the first time since we bought the Hummer, we’ve been discussing the idea of a new car. I know everyone thinks Hummer’s are huge, but three car-seats in the backseat are a mighty tight fit. I hate the idea of buying a new car, but that time is getting closer and closer. On this blog we often talk about ensuring that what you spend your money on lines up with what you value, and with as much as we love car-travel if there is anything that makes sense for us to spend money on it is a car. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there.
We bought the Hummer when we were DINKS (Double Income No Kids). We made a lot of money and were living the life. We held onto the Hummer when we had almost nothing else and were living in the in-laws garage. It’s remained our base-camp as we’ve rebuilt or life and have come to call Tahoe home. If my earlier cars have each symbolized a season of my life, the Hummer has symbolized many.
The romantic terms in which we talk about our cars is fascinating. We give them names and say things like, “I’m gonna take care of her.”
And while I’ll probably never know much about what’s going on under the hood, I do have a love affair with cars. It’s not about the make or the model or the amount of horsepower. It’s the freedom and the adventure.
That’s what I love.
What about you? What was your first car? Is your car just a mule or do you share my love affair with cars?
I’m glad you found our blog and that you’ve stuck around long enough to make it all the way to the bottom of this post! I’m Clark, and my wife Monica and I are on a quest to work less, live more, and travel the world with our family. We view life as a great adventure — that’s why we never really got too down even when we were moving into her parents garage. On this blog you’ll read about many of our traveling adventures as well as how to live a life of your own design. I hope this won’t be your last visit here. You can also like us out on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.