Thursday, January 24, 2013

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Despite my disdain for basically every miserable part of winter, there is something inherently soothing about walking outside into the brisk, biting air of a January morning.  There's a certain calmness to it that doesn't exist at any other time of year.  Winter mornings possess a stillness that no other season can really claim.  During the first warm months of spring, you'll hear birds chirping as they welcome the new day.  And as the months grow hotter, you'll hear cicadas humming in the distance, or leaves rustling in a warm breeze.  But, in the dead of winter, there is just silence and cold.  A certain nothingness.

Then, on those cold mornings when you start your truck to allow it to warm up, that silence is broken by the uneven rumble of an engine, and the blowing of the defroster in the cab.  And, when you are about to start your day and head off to work, you realize that you've somehow locked your only set of keys inside the cab, as they set firmly placed in the ignition.

That's how my day began yesterday morning.  And as I stood outside in the sub-20 degree weather, with my truck running and wasting gas in my driveway, that soothing calmness I briefly felt was instantly blown away by the cold January wind.  Not only did I have to endure the humiliation of calling my principal to explain why I would be late to work, but I also had to sit outside in the freezing cold, because I had locked myself out of the house, too.  And locksmiths, like the government, are never in a big rush.

That inconvenient occurrence got me thinking about some of the past experiences I've had with the various vehicles I've driven over the years.  I've made a lot of good memories driving around with friends, cranking some of our favorite tunes, somehow avoiding any serious trouble, despite our apparent desperate efforts to find it.  I've also had some unfortunate and scary moments in those vehicles, but I've always come out clean on the other side.  And no matter how many cars you drive in your lifetime, there's always a special place in your heart for that first one.

My first car was a charcoal grey 1998 Ford Escort sedan...As stock as they come.  It had manual windows and locks, cloth seats, a steering wheel that could not be adjusted, a radio without a cassette deck, and 2.0L 4-cylinder engine.  Let me tell you, I was the envy of all of my friends.  Nonetheless, that car was reliable and got outstanding gas mileage, so I can't really complain too much.  On countless Friday nights, Mom or Dad would give me a $20 bill, and I could fill my tank, go grab a bite to eat, and spend all night out with my buddies and still have some left over for Saturday.  We put a lot of miles on that car driving to Paducah, cruising around looking for something to do.  No matter how many times we planned on doing something epic, we usually ended up eating at Wendy's, going to the mall and walking two full laps, going to a movie or bowling, then capping the night at Steak 'n Shake.  Despite the newfound freedom we had when I got my license, our weekends were usually fairly predictable.

Things didn't start out so well for me as a licensed driver.  About a month after I got my license, my friend Blake and I were going to a concert at the Paducah riverfront, and as we were pulling out of a parking spot, I backed into a black Ford Mustang.  I was horrified and speechless, because I knew my Dad would end my life.  But, the driver of the other vehicle didn't have their headlights on, so it didn't end up being a big thing.  Blake immortalized the ordeal in a song he wrote to the tune of "3 AM," by Matchbox Twenty and sang it in our Arts and Humanities class in front of 30 of my classmates.  It was hilarious and incredibly embarrassing at the same time.

Another time I was driving down Scale Road on my way to Paducah.  My rear passenger side tire went off the side of the road and hit a bump where a driveway met the road and sent the rear of my car spinning back towards the opposite side.  I managed to get the car under control and stopped...On the edge of a ditch that sloped down about 12 feet from the road.  Despite my efforts to prevent it, the car slowly (really, it felt like slow motion) creeped over the side and down into the ditch.  Not two minutes after the car came to a stop, I heard the familiar sound of Papaw's diesel Ford pickup come rumbling over the hill.  I flagged him down, and he and Memaw got out and soothed my nerves.  At the same time, a man that lived just up the hill had heard my tires squealing, and came down in his tractor to pull me out.  Me, and luckily the car, were both totally unscathed, and I continued on my way.

There were plenty of good times, too.  It's funny how, when you reminisce, seemingly miniscule details become permanently engrained in your memory.  So many stories my friends and I retell over and over about our high school days occurred in that car.  Or at least are tied to it.  We'd pack the trunk full of firewood and drive out to the lake to go camping.  We'd sit in parking lots with the doors open, music blaring from the cheap, factory speakers in the doors.  We'd drive around and talk about life, the future, or sit in total silence and talk about nothing at all.  As I sit here now, I can almost feel the vibration of the steering wheel, or smell the old air freshener I kept in the glove compartment.

While that car was the exact opposite of a high-performance machine, it got me from point A to point B countless times.  It took me on my first date.  It drove me to college for the first time.  It took me on my first road-trip with my friends.  It got me into trouble a few times, and probably got me out of it a few more times than that.  And while I don't know where it is now (the last time I saw it, it was wrecked and sitting in an impound lot), I'll always be able to remember the good times I had in it.  And even some of the bad ones. 


  1. 1. You are such a good writer: clear, concise, and yet still interesting.
    2. Thank you for making me think back on my menagerie of vehicles. It has made me smile.
    3. Why didn't your lovely wife come let you back in the house?!!

  2. 1. Is "clear and concise" a nice way of saying it is simplistic?
    2. You're welcome...I'm always glad to know someone gets something out of these posts.
    3. She was busy entertaining a room full of 6-year-olds...I figured it'd be much easier for the landlord to come unlock the door than her!

  3. I agree with Liza. You are a wonderful writer. This has also got me to thinking about my first car. It was a used baby blue Ford Pinto. It set me back $1500 which I had to borrow from the bank. It too, got me from Point A to Point B. Up until that purchase I rode a ten speed bike on WKU's campus. Ahhh, those were the good old days. Thanks for jogging that memory of some 40 years ago.