This blog was never going to be about cycling alone. It is going to be about all of my passions, and my life. There seems to be a lot going on in my life right now, but mostly it is about finding a job. The irony is my continued unemployment is the last thing that I want to talk about. I have been concentrating on bicycling because it has been my focus as I try to become healthier, but today I would like to talk about my first love.
She was born in 1979 in Michigan. I don’t know how she came to Connecticut, but the first time I met her she was at the house of a family friend. She was in the front yard when I got there and it was love at first sight. Once I had seen her I realized she was everything that I had been longing for in my fifteen year old brain, and the only thing I could think about once I had seen her. She ignited one of my passions in life and was the first of many more to come. She was a 1979 Mercury Cougar XR-7. She was my first car. Beautiful, huge, and loud, the Cougar was a stereotype of American cars of the 1970s. Our family friend sold her to me for $500 and my mother drove her home to sit until I turned sixteen. I started the car once every couple of days to keep the battery fresh, but that was an excuse to sit in the car and imagine what it would be like to drive it.
The Cougar sparked something inside me that had lain dormant. I was not the type of child that hung car posters in his room, or one that really thought about driving all that much. I always had older friends that drove me around, and my parents were always willing to drive if I couldn’t find a ride. Cars were an appliance to that younger me until I had one of my own. Suddenly I needed to get my license when I turned sixteen. I began to badger my parents to take me out driving. I talked my older friend into letting me drive. It was reckless, but I had to be behind the wheel. The joy of sitting behind the wheel and controlling these massive lumps of metal and making them do exactly what I wanted was immensely satisfying.
The cars themselves began to matter to me as well. I still had no love for exotic cars that I would never see, let alone drive, but I fell in love with the Firebirds, Camaros, and Mustangs of the 1980s. Cars I could actually afford to buy and insure. There were others as well. One of my favorite cars was my friend’s pick-up truck. It was a tiny little diesel Toyota. It might have had 50 horsepower, but it was what I learned to drive standard shift with. We took that truck all over the east coast. We baked in the summer and froze in the winter with no air-conditioning and not much more heat. Nothing really worked in the truck but the engine and transmission and we loved it because it took us everywhere. I think my friend might say that it was his favorite car growing up.
I was always far less practical than he was. The Cougar was just the beginning of my automotive choices that were equal parts poor and wonderful. I have owned Firebirds and Trans-Ams. Camaros and jacked up Blazers. Two door Dodge Avengers and sad little Saturns. I have owned my own pick-up trucks and SUVs. Almost all of them have managed to find a place in my heart, even if it is more out of pity then respect. The poor choices also led to positive results. I had to learn how to fix what I shouldn’t have bought in the first place. I am not mechanically inclined in many ways, but I know how to install a new blower fan on a Chevy Blazer so I could have heat again in January. I know how to drive a standard shift car with a bad alternator without stalling to limp it to the garage to avoid paying for the tow truck. I know how to jury rig a carburetor to keep working when I am fifty miles from home. I have learned the sometimes misplaced confidence of knowing you can fix whatever has broken long enough to limp the car home. I have also learned when something is over my head to call the experts because they will tell you when your attempt at fixing something has actually cost you more money than just going to the garage would have in the first place.
Cars have not defined my life, but they have been there when I did. They were often the costars in whatever was an occurring at the most monumental moments in my life. These are the cars that took me on epic road trips to amusement parks all over the east coast with friends as we tested our freedom. They took me to high school and college. They took me to concerts and athletic events. They earned me dates with high school sweethearts and one poor little Saturn sedan took me on my first date with my wife. They brought my son home from the hospital and amused him as he sat on my lap pretending to drive.
I know that the role of the automobile in the world is changing. No one can really claim that climate change isn’t happening and urban congestion is leading to other issues with cars. We will drive cars less and even the idea of what an automobile is will change. Hydrogen and electric power will replace gasoline and large land yachts will become micro city cars. That is a good thing. Adaptation is the key to survival, and that is what is important to me. I still love cars and I want them to be around for my son to love them as well. One day I want him to feel the thrill of taking that first solo drive just like I did in that old Cougar.