I’m married to a car guy. No, not somebody with the finely-tuned, dispassionate and professional skills of a good mechanic (a good mechanic is, after all, the real Mr. Right both men and women strive to find--and is at least as elusive). I’m married to a guy who really, really likes cars. Really. Can I emphasize this last point fully enough?
He dreams of a ‘57 Chevy Bel Air two-door hardtop he owned in high school. This does not symbolize for him the lost innocence of youth, or the dashed hopes of the boy he once was. This is not about dashed hopes. This is about dashboards. It’s the car he longs to possess once again, not what it represents. When I think about cars and my adolescence, I’m thinking back seats. He’s thinking pistons. ( No, it’s not the same thing). I remember the words to the songs I sang when I had my first crush. He remembers what the odometer read when he turned seventeen.
Speaking of songs, did you ever notice that guys like my husband must be running the music business? All these love songs have been written to motor vehicles: “Gonna save all my money/And buy a GTO”; “Little deuce coupe/You don’t know what I got”; “Sting little Cobra/Get ready to strike” et cetera ad nauseam. My husband and I were having a conversation about this very point. I pointed out that girls grow up singing songs about eternal commitment (e.g. “I Will Follow Him”) while guys sing songs about automobiles.
My husband said, all wisdom, “But surely this changes as men mature.” “Yeah,” I replied, “They learn to make eternal commitments. . . to cars.” Turns out that guys think TLC means “Taxi and Limousine Commission” while women think it means “Tender Loving Care.” It means both, of course, but not at the same time.
I’m not claiming that men are incapable of deep emotions--please don’t misunderstand--but I honestly do know men who can remember the year of an important event in their lives only by remembering what car they were driving when this event occurred. For example, I ask my friend Joe how long he’s been living in Madison. Joe, an otherwise bright individual, muses “Let’s see. . .I was driving the VW bus. . .18 years.” At a reunion, I ask a friend from high school how long he’s been separated. He frowns, concerned with getting the chronology right: “I don’t know, really. Things started to fall apart while I was driving the Mustang , but she didn’t move out until after I bought the Seville.”
It seems that women often divide up chunks of their lives by who they were seeing, men by what they were driving.
This car stuff was all pretty new to me until I turned 30 and moved to CT. It was around that time (what I fondly recall as my “bus years”) that I realized I was the oldest living American not to have a license.
Where I grew up, cars weren’t essential. In Manhattan I lived two blocks from the best bakery on earth and only four buildings from the biggest wine store. In the city having a car was like having a kid: you had to wake up early, see to it’s needs, see if it had a bad night, and make sure it crossed the street safely. Who needed it?
I realized after leaving NYC, however, that if I didn’t learn to drive I’d soon be foraging for nuts and berries and not for health. I also realized that without a license as identification, I couldn’t get a check accepted at any store to save my life. Salesclerks looked at me as if I had been beamed down from Pluto and often asked me to repeat myself when I said I didn’t have a license. So I learned to drive.
It turns out that my husband and I have something in common. I discovered that I was, without knowing it, a car girl all along. I love driving, I love my car, and I love the girl versions of the car songs.
I turn the radio up, put the windows down, and sing along to “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.”
There's there’s nobody meaner.
Of course I mean that in a nice, TLC sort of way.