By Louie de Palma
Reader Road Warrior
Somewhere in the dark, dusty abyss that is my closet, there sits a worn box. Inside are toy Chevron cars from years past. These collector cars have headlights for eyes and grills for mouths, and each was unique in ways that hinted at their demeanor and individuality. Each year I would receive one or two new toy cars. I would then personify each one, eager to watch them become alive with their own special properties. I often stumble across those cars while looking for something else or see one at a store about town, and before I know it, my thoughts are commandeered—carjacked, you might say—and replaced with memories of those old toy friends, their personalities, the adventures we used to have and how we got on together.
The personification of cars didn’t stop at childhood for me. It’s a concept that stuck with me into my adolescent and adult years, evolving and manifesting into the cars I’ve driven over the years. Every car I’ve driven earned a name and a personality regardless of where I was in my own life. We created a symbiotic relationship—a partnership of sorts—with a common goal of getting … well, somewhere. I had a Bronco named Xena that was badass but always seemed to land me in trouble. I had a Ford Fiesta that my friends and I just referred to as The Fiesta, or The Party. It blew up after three days at the Gorge for Dave Mathews. Then there was the Ford Explorer called Eddie Bauer (I didn’t name it—it was already emblazoned on its exterior). These are just a few examples, but you get the idea.
Personification of cars is no new idea. Car companies have been selling cars this way forever, suggesting a car’s performance should match your own attitude and lifestyle. It also leads me to associate certain cars with certain people. Every time I see a car model that an old flame used to drive, I think of that person, much like seeing a Chevron car reminds me of an old friend. Driving around all day as I do, you’d think this could get pretty sad, spotting cars that remind you of old lovers constantly. It is. It’s maddening, too. It’s the happy, bitter, sweet, salty pang of nostalgia chocolate. It’s like finding a box of old toys, an artifact of a time when you and everything else were different. You miss it, but you’d never go back. Just wave and drive on. Hello Accord, good day Subaru, hey Subaru, hey Subaru … yeah, it’s North Idaho. Subs are everywhere.
Much like with people, I always entered into a relationship with a car thinking it was going to be a pretty long commitment we’d ride out for a while. Unfortunately in my experience, you don’t always make it to the end of the road together. Inevitably, there are breakdowns, usually from one party not giving what the other needs while asking too much, taking it down roads that it’s not equipped to handle. Maybe you take the wrong path at a fork. Blindside a deer. Hit another driver. Buy into something marketed the wrong way. Really, there’s enough metaphors here to blow a head gasket. Eventually, somewhere down the road, the car gets driven into the ground, the wheels fall off and you break down.
This is the way it always seems to go. It probably has something to do with my life as a taxi driver, driving around in circles and experiencing a revolving door of people coming and going. Maybe it sounds depressing. But it allowed me to meet someone completely and earth-shatteringly amazing: a rental car. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense—it’s not something to be used and returned. More accurately, with a rental car, everything starts with a clean slate. You know you can’t keep it, so it’s casual. Light. There’s no wondering about the end of the road. Then you slowly learn you really like this car. Secretly, you hope that through some miracle you can keep it, but you know you can’t, because it would ruin the magic. The car must go on. It must follow its path. You cherish the time you have with it and resolve to not to damage it before you give it back to the world.
That gorgeous, clean-running, smart car taught me to lighten up and let go of the idea of getting to the end of the road. You don’t have to drive it until it breaks. Just enjoy the ride while you’re on it, and lean into the turns. As a guy who drives around in circles all day, I intend to do just that. It’ll be sad to watch her go. But like those Chevron cars, when I see your type of vehicle again, I’ll think of an old friend.