the automobile

For most people the automobile is a perfectly normal part of daily life, accepted as a fixture of what it means to be human. It is the way we get to where we need to go. It is an extension of our identity and a mechanical wonder that just about anyone can find a use for.

Cars come in as many different variations as you can fathom, and most of the variants have nothing to do with pure function. I like blue cars. The color doesn’t help me get to where I’m going, but it makes a simple example that we are more deeply connected to our vehicles than we might realize. Your car takes its cues from your personality. It shares in your outward appearance and your features that make you unique.

I was thinking back to when I was a child and I would beg and plead with my dad to let me drive our family car just down our street to our house — and sometimes he would relent. I would sit in his lap and he would push the gas pedal and I got to steer us the two hundred feet to our driveway. I’ll never forget how it made me feel. I felt important and free and happy. I was getting to operate this wondrous piece of machinery many years before I was legally ‘allowed’ to. It was then that I realized what a symbol of freedom a car can be.

I was always so enamored with cars. I would go to car shows in Lynnwood parking lots on Fridays in the summer time as a kid and walk around, mouth agape, staring in wonder at all of the shiny, beautiful classic autos. The lines, the colors, the diversity. I could find something I liked about just about every car.

The natural course of this childhood took me to being fifteen years old and getting my first car, a blue 1966 Ford Mustang. I went with my mom, dad and sister to get it. My mom drove it home, and I of course begged her to let me try driving it in a parking lot. I had never driven a manual transmission car, and I couldn’t get the car to go. I felt like a failure, and yes after a half hour of trying to get the car to move, I cried. This amazing symbol of my freedom and my coming of age was too much for me to handle. I spent many nights sitting in my Mustang in the dark, imagining driving it — imagining the day I would get my driver’s license and would get to cruise around with my friends, and it never got old.

Thinking back to those times, I realize how many cars were in my life that I won’t ever forget. I can tie a wide array of memories to countless cars. Family road trips in our cramped Chevy Nova hatchback when I was young, trying to sleep in the back seat on the way to Montana, leaning over on the snack bag. Being there for my friends’ first moments of getting their first cars and sharing in the euphoria of being young and on the road with no adults in the car. Whether a car was beat up, leaky and noisy, or smooth and clean, cars were just plain exciting. Going to the same old places in your own car or a friend’s car suddenly became a new experience.

We all had those friends who always had candy wrappers and pop cans rolling around on the floor, or books in the back seat. There was also the perfectionist types who wanted their vehicle to stay spotless at all times and dedicated a lot of time to caring for their precious ride.
And on either end of the spectrum, the messy carefree attitude or the neat freak — You see now that those cars are vivid memories in your head. So much identity of the important people in your life comes from their car and how they connected with it.

I also realize just how many emotions can be linked to the cars in my life. Fights that have taken place in cars that I won’t ever forget, or long drives at night with people that I love. The car always played the unsung setting of an emotional experience.

A car can be looked at for what it is; A sum of mechanical and electrical systems that allow it to function properly and be operated for what it was intended for.
But it can also be looked at as a piece of yourself. A tangible vault of moments in your life. This feeling can be amplified the longer you have the privilege of owning a car for a long stretch of time — you and your car go through so much together. You take care of it, and it takes care of you.

I shed tears the day I got my Mustang when I was fifteen years old, and I shed tears the day I sold it when I was twenty-three years old. I wasn’t saying goodbye to a object of function, I was saying goodbye to a friend. I said goodbye to almost a decade of memories, good and bad, and a part of who I was.

Cars are so normal today that it’s easy to overlook their true relevance. There was a period of time over a hundred years ago when the automobile was a brand new thing. It truly was an invention intended for the sole purpose of transporting people to their destinations quicker than a horse could.
Today cars are so far beyond being just modes of transport. A car is a noble thing. It is one of the rare and beautiful parts of our world that has transcended its intended function and become a companion.

So give your car the recognition it has earned, and never forget that one day you’ll look back and heave a sigh of nostalgia — you’ll remember all of the good times and bad times you and your mechanical friend went through together for the rest of your life.

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