Saturday, August 20, 2016

Red 'n me

When I was a kid old enough to get a driver’s license, I didn’t worry about it too much.  My folks had one car and with all the comings & goings of a family with seven kids, the odds of my getting the Mercury Comet for a football game or an evening to drive across town with my girlfriend to see a movie were slight to none.  Thanks to good-buddy classmate Bob Kesler for providing dependable wheels back then.  

Truth is I’ve never been too jazzed on cars.  A couple friends had to have high performance Chrysler products, but when I acquired my first car the sole decision was if I could afford to run it and pay for insurance.  Fast and beautiful cars seemed like a world away for me.  Maybe it was being one in a big family that did it:  there was never much to go around, and what did go around was enough.  We all had decent clothes and nobody ever went to bed hungry, but my fixating on an expensive car for me was something beyond my comprehension.  

I finally got my license the summer after senior year.  Or was it junior year?  Can’t recall exactly, but it didn’t make any real difference until I started taking the bus every day to Wright State.  From the time the bus pulled out of the Fauver Avenue bus loop and dropped me off downtown for a transfer out East Third Street to the WSU connection, at least 45 minutes had passed.  Waiting for that last bus and actually getting to campus took another 20 minutes minimum.  As much as I celebrate public transit, the time spent in making all those connections twice a day took its toll on my impatient self.  By October of that year I was in negotiation with a disabled neighbor I had helped over the years who had a car I knew she would never drive again.  She eventually agreed to sell it to me for $375. 

And, I don’t mind saying, that car was damned cool:  a 1956 Chevy Bellaire.  Sweet and classic, not that I was all that aware in 1968.  Acquiring the car was a real personal challenge, that’s for sure.  My mother was not in favor and my dad reluctantly agreed, I had the sense, because he figured I had come of age.  Truth was, I was making the biggest investment in my life to date under the watchful eyes of parents who questioned if it was the right decision.  Nah, no pressure.  :-/

And, as you might have guessed, the car drove me to the poorhouse.  The twelve year old Chevy had only 24k miles on it, spending much time parked in a garage.  That meant, of course, that gaskets, belts, and other expensive systems had run their life’s course and were ready for replacement.  Just about then my bank assigned me a brand new product — a bank credit card — not a credit card from Rike’s or Elder-Beerman or Sears.  I could use my Master Card anywhere, most frequently at Parson’s Gulf at the corner of Smithville and Wayne.  You getting the picture?  

In any case, I had a great deal of fun in that old Bellaire.  My girlfriend back then still remembers how cool it was that you had to lower the back taillight to access the gasoline tank.  The car had bench seats, too, and I have to tell those of you who have only driven in bucket seats, bench is far better on a date.  Trust me on that one.  

There’s an Infinity commercial out now that professes the only way to judge is car is by how it makes the driver feel.  Again, I’m not sure I agree with that completely, but it does get me to thinking about how cars I’ve owned have somehow helped shape how I feel about myself.  I don’t know how far I’ve driven in my life, but my guess it’s been about half a million miles.  That’s a lot of time, my friend, for developing a relationship with a constructed device that has the task of protecting you and family and getting all safely to your destination.  One doesn’t forget flat tires changed on interstates and cars on garage lifts changing stripped out oil plugs or toasted alternators.

I’ve kept the last few cars assigned to me successfully on the road for ten years each.  They probably could have gone farther, but ten years seemed okay with me.  By that time in the family financial cycle Cindy’s car would be paid for and it would be my turn.  

First off I have to say I feel more connected to cars now than I used to.  It has been a personal progression.  Now the vehicle doesn’t just cover one of the prime loves in my life — travel & seeing places — but also the entire music genre I own.  If you know me well at all, you know how important by music collection is.  I still have four cases of vinyl sequestered in boxes in the closet across the hall.  Can’t get rid of ‘em. 

 Now, however, with all of my music available on a mobile device, one of the prime selling features I was looking for in a new car was very friendly iPhone compatibility.  I needed a moonroof, too.  Never had one except in Cindy’s old Accord, and oh, what fun that was.  I narrowed my focus to the Ford Escape (since mine had treated me pretty well), the Nissan Rogue, the Honda CR-V, and the Subaru Outback. 

I liked the Rogue because my niece’s husband works for Nissan in Tennessee.  I liked the CR-V because it ranked well with Consumer Reports and like Cindy’s Cruze, is assembled here in Ohio.  But I was most interested in the Subaru.  Years ago when my buddy Mark and I took kids to see the American West from a geological and humanities perspective, we joked about how Subaru must be the state car of Colorado.  It seemed every other car on the road was a Suby.  And loving visiting Colorado as I do, Subaru had risen to the top of my buying hierarchy. 

So upon that first test drive at Wagner Subaru in Fairborn, a company I preferred dealing with due to it’s commitment to public radio & tv & the local park district, I was hooked.  If they didn’t have a car on the lot that suited me, I am confident I could have walked away.  But there on the lot was just what I was looking for — radio and moonroof and all — in a Venetian red Subaru Outback.  A very nice sales guy took care of me and I drove it home that afternoon.

Just last Sunday I got back home from my first solo trip in the Suby:  all the way to Hog Island in Maine; then a week in Amherst, Mass., Emily Dickinson’s hometown; followed up by attending an important memorial service in New York.  Over 2.5k round trip.  Along the way everything worked as specified.  The radio was great, able to play anything on the phone still in my pocket, along with offering a zillion channels on SiriusXM satellite radio.  The ride was the smoothest I recall in any car I’ve owned.  All good. 

So I was thinking maybe I ought to give this car a name.  I mean, if we are going to have a long-term relationship, it’s best to make it personal.  I had been thinking of a few names, but nothing was sticking.  Then I got a call from my LA buddy, Will, who asked how I survived the trip with my new 4 wheeled pal ‘Red.’  

Red?  Why, sure!  Perfect name.  Thanks for that, Will.  

Next trek up in Red is with Cindy Lou to Colorado for a couple weeks at the Nada Hermitage in Crestone in late September/early October.  As the Wagner sales guy said, ‘Taking good long trips are the way you are supposed to treat an Outback.’  That’s a damned good thing.  

And so it continues in this latest chapter of my life:  I suppose it will be new adventures with Red ’n me.  

For the record:  Car’s I’ve owned:  ’56 Chevy Bellaire, early 60s VW bug (yellow convertible), ’72 Ford Pinto sedan (new), ’72 Chevy Nova (used), late 70s Ford Fairlane wagon, a couple new Nissan kid mobiles, Basil Fett’s old Honda Accord with killer sound system, then my SUVs:  First was a used GMC Jimmy, then the Ford Explorer, then the smaller Ford Escape (all used).  Now, the brand new 2017 Subaru Outback.  

Today’s elder idea:   Love — it’s what makes Subaru a Subaru. 

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imagesabove:  The Chevy shot on my old Kodak Instamatic.  Note the date on the frame.  below:  Red at the Poetry Walk trailhead at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s place, Steepletop, in Austerlitz NY.