Thirty-five years ago when I was nearing my 17th birthday, my dream car was a brand new Mercedes Benz 350sl. Red. Convertible. I just imagined the radio playing a favorite song and driving along curvy hills overlooking the ocean somewhere. Hair blowing in the breeze, not a care in the world. Freedom.
I might have been willing to settle for a “pre-owned car,” you know something like a 1965 Mustang (’65 because that was the year I was born, and I love significance and symbolism). What I wound up with was my mother’s old car. She got a new – well pre-owned although they didn’t call them pre-owned back then – Cadillac which I guess was her dream car, or as close to it as my parents could afford – or wanted to spend at the time with college tuition around the corner. I was mortified. Living in affluent northern New Jersey, all my friends were getting brand new Camaros or Firebirds and here I was with a nine-year-old mustard color Chevy with a rusted fender.
The dream and the reality (courtesy of Google Images).
I accepted it. I didn’t have the balls to object and demand something better. My father – as wonderful and gentle and loving as he was most of the time – would have kicked me into he middle of next week, if I didn’t express anything but gratitude for what I was given. He would have reminded me that growing up where I did skewed my perception; that having access to a car – any car – 100% of the time that I didn’t have to share with anyone else was a privilege bestowed upon the more elite 17 year olds. I also knew with the measly salary I earned at my part-time jobs, I wouldn’t have had enough to buy a better car myself, even if I saved every dime. So I kept my mouth shut.
A funny thing happen though. The boys at school thought my 1973 Chevy Malibu with the 350 cubic inch V8 was pretty cool. And I also learned that freedom came from just having a driver’s license, from being able to get from point A to point B by myself. And yeah, great driving music on the radio and a warm breeze through the open windows makes it that much sweeter.
The mustard-color Malibu died its final death about 3 weeks after my college graduation and I bought a 3 year-old Camaro. A step up. A car I picked out myself. Now I had my own car. And my own car payment and my own insurance premium. But holding on to that Malibu through college allowed me to save some money. Patience is important. The ability to put off immediate gratification for long-term gain, I learned, is the first sign of real maturity.
The “family car” that brought my daughter home from the hospital and saw me through 13 years, 3 dogs, numerous memorable road trips, and almost 180,000 miles was a hunter green 1999 Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. When that died, I had my “affordable midlife crisis” purchasing a 2012 Fiat 500c. It was such a fun little car and my first convertible. I loved that car! It was the first car since the Camaro so long ago that was just mine. After my husband died, and the Fiat became our only car, I was faced with the reality of its impracticality. Driving my daughter and her friends and lacrosse equipment around in such a tiny car, just didn’t make sense. I made a very difficult decision to trade it in for a 2012 Honda CR-V. All-wheel drive, safe, roomy, practical. Mature adults make sacrifices (temporarily).
In less than seven weeks, my daughter is scheduled for her road test on her 17th birthday, just like I did. And like me, she will be getting her mom’s hand-me-down to drive. 100% access, all of the time (with a year of satellite radio!). And like me, joining the elite 17-year-olds. Her mom? Well, I bought a pre-owned 2015 Volkswagen Eos. 2015 because that was my first full year as a widow. Eos is the Greek Goddess of the Dawn. I love significance and symbolism. Plus I got a really nice deal. It’s as close to my dream car as I can afford – or wanted to spend right now with college tuition around the corner. It’s a convertible. It’s German. I outgrew red. After 35 years behind the wheel, I finally have what I want and deserve. I really earned this. Freedom.
Saddle River County Park, Paramus, New Jersey, February 2017