Americans, and Their Cars

As Americans, much of our identity seems to be tied up in our cars. I know that some of the most popular stories I tell about growing up involve a story about a car.

My very first car was a 1992 Mazda 626 that my dad bought me for $1,200. The back two windows didn’t roll down, the valves were leaking, the green paint was peeling, and the tailpipe had a huge, rusty hole in it. Oh, and it was a stick shift (I assured my dad I could totally drive that). The first time my dad took me out, we practiced driving in the abandoned King Soopers parking lot in Cottonwood. After a few successful starts and stops, I told my dad I was ready to drive her on my own. So, I dropped him off at his house, and made my way to my friend’s. I stalled through three light cycles, until the person behind me got out of his car, tapped on my window, and asked me if I needed any help. It was at that moment my car jolted forward, and I was on my way. Nevertheless, my dad came to pick me up at my friend’s house, we switched cars, he drove mine for the next seven months until I mustered up enough courage and skill to drive it on my own.

The Mazda came to college with me. It had excellent gas mileage, warmed up super fast, and the rusted tailpipe warned anyone I was coming down the road. I loaned out the eight keys it came with to my friends to drive around (insurance covers “lost” and “stolen” vehicles, right?) One day, my oil light turned on, I called my dad, and he said, “You need to get to a gas station right away”. Well, “right away” to me meant let’s take a trip down 36 to Wal-Mart, because, of course, the oil would be cheaper there. I picked up my friend, Lauren, we treked down the highway, until suddenly, the car started smoking, the steering wheel locked up, and I just drifted over to the side. As I was standing on the side of the road, waiting for relief, I was wearing my Chip the Buffalo t-shirt, and got about 10 messages from my friends, asking, “Were you the one standing on the side of 36?” Yes, yes I was. Good bye Mazda.

I then bought a 2001 Silver Nissan Altima (stick shift, of course. It took me so long to learn the first one, I wasn’t about to give up this skill). I got mad at my room mates for abusing the parking pass we all chipped in to buy, so I bought my own that was in a closer lot, and would pass by them in the mornings on our way to workouts. The Altima got me through the rest of college, until one day my sister called me as I was leaving yoga to tell me I lost a quart of oil in the driveway. Being a ‘pro’ at this problem, I pulled over right away, and called my dad. He inspected the car, determined the oil plug had fallen out, the car therefore had no oil, and again, I seized a second engine. Oops (the worst part was, I was student teaching at the time at my old high school, so my dad had to drop me off in the front to get to school, and I had to bum rides off the teachers to get home). Luckily, all five classes that I taught at the time were sympathetic to hearing my story, so I felt better with each rendition.

So, we decided it was time that Britany stop buying cheap cars, and just fork over the cash for a new one. On June 30, 2012, new teaching paycheck in tow, I rolled off the lot with a 2012 Silver Corolla S (‘S’ meaning sun roof, alloy wheels, spoiler, and stick shift), with 3 miles. Life was good.

Since then, the Corolla and I have had many adventures together. About a month after I got her, I backed into a boulder at my boyfriend’s parent’s house, and slightly ripped off the bumper; luckily, the boys at the Toyota dealership were very nice, and helped fix it for free. Since we live on a dirt road, it often gets stuck in the driveway when it snows too much, and I have to wake up my room mates to tow me up with their big Dodge trucks. I got my first two speeding tickets in it (it’s a ‘sporty’ car, so I am always tempted to race people off the stoplights). A few months ago, we slid off the road into a no service zone, and I spent ten minutes, crawling around my car so I could call someone to save me (it was due to bald tires, not my driving). Two weeks ago, I left one of the windows down, to which I woke up to a Frozen-scene in my passenger seat, and just last week, my brand new front tire ate a screw. I one time got pulled over for not having my up-to-date license plate stickers on, and then got out of it because the police officer knew my family. And, before I left for Paris, my room mates thought it would be really funny to move the Corolla around the corner, where I couldn’t see her.

For the 30 minutes I spend on my way to school, and the 30 minutes I come home, the Corolla and I jam to music; on days like today, it’s my old school country play list (Clay Walker “Live Until I Die”, Phil Vasser “Little Red Rodeo”), sometimes it’s God music, sometimes it’s music with no words (because I can’t handle anymore words), sometimes it is whatever I am choreograhing in my head. My Corolla has transported siblings, out-of-town dates, drunk people, friends, friends of friends, etc. It takes me to social gatherings, to jobs, to pom events, to church, to see my family. It’s seen me laugh, cry, throw up, etc.

To me, my car symbolizes my entrance into adulthood. The fact that I acquired a grown up job meant that I saved up enough for my own down payment, and that I worked hard enough to receive a low interest rate–all by myself. No co-signer, no leaser, no loan from a family member. I bought it, all by myself, and I am very proud of driving that thing around (even though it has accumulated a few new dents and dings).

And, my Corolla always reminds me of my dependence on other people. I take a lot of pride in being able to do things by myself, and I rarely ask for help. But, when my oil light flicks on, I forget to update my license plates, or the tire eats a screw, I am always reminded that maybe I can’t do everything on my own, and maybe I should ask for help.

As Americans, so much of our identities are tied up in our cars; we all have stories about the Shania Twain CD we listened to on the road trip to Iowa, or about the time we drove up to the mountain peak to watch the lightning show, or the time we got dumped in a car. We have stories about out running the cops, of going on a wild scavenger hunt and throwing shoes on the telephone poles (that could still potentially be there), of picking our friends up from places they are not supposed to be. We share stories about carting around ten very intoxicated football players as they fondled each other in the backseat, of the time we lost it in the parking lot and called our dad to come pick us up, or of the time we nearly avoided death when that deer jumped out.

As Americans, our cars are not just vehicles that get us from place to place, but rather friends that witness our journey through life. My Corolla, for one, has seen some pretty devastating, and pretty spectacular, parts of my adulthood, and I plan to drive her into the ground.

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5 Responses

  1. […] My Corolla: I did not realize how attached I was to my Corolla until last week, when it was stripped from me while it got hail-damage repaired. Anytime the body shop called to confirm my appointment, I avoided the message, because I just wasn’t ready to give up the Corolla. The rental car is an automatic, and as I am driving, I am constantly reaching for a shifter, only to find out there is nothing to grab onto. There is no sun roof, I can’t figure out how to program the radio stations, and I don’t trust the accuracy of the back up camera. I can’t wait to get the Corolla back. […]

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