Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

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The Guilty, Ecstatic Near-Sensuous Pleasure of a Big Old American Sedan

Subtitle: Salvation through Grace and Works

I've written a post before about how my subcompact Geo Metro automobile attained a religious significance in my life, teaching me the importance of living with 3 cylinders in a 6 cylinder world. But today I fear that I descend into the near-carnal--the blue pleasures of driving a large, smooth white Ford sedan.

Driving aimlessly played an important part of my childhood days. My father worked as a country doctor in a two doctor town, and our household was an endless sound of the telephone ringing, summoning him day or night to treat the ill. In those pre-cell-phone days, the automobile was our only refuge from the imploring and deserving ill--the only chance my father ever had until I was fifteen to take three breaths in succession without the phone ringing.

We lived in a small town in the big woods. Our family of five would wander the highways, country roads and gravel by-ways of the pine woods all around us, searching out landmarks, checking on land, or just wandering. I can still smell my father's pipe, or his Dutch Master's cigars, as he drove, and although my father is not a "singing man", I seem to recall in rare instances improbable German lieder tunes being hummed and sung, although my father's German is textbook (as is mine), and we certainly never spoke German at my home. I will mark that last memory into the "unprocessed--generally odd personal fiction" section, unless a sibling confirms it someday.

My family had these large blue or white Cadillac Calais sedans, which seemed to smell like new cars for 30,000 miles, and then settle into Danish Modern Nagua scent. I am far too immoral to be a proper animal rights activist, but I do feel a pang of guilt about the endangered Nagua, overhunted to make La Z Boy recliners and American sedan interiors throughout my childhood. The legroom in those old Cadillacs was amazing. When I get into my wife's Toyota Carolla's back seat now, I long for those Cadillac days. I have owned one extremely well-used chocolate brown Sedan de Ville in my adult days, but I'll save much discussion of the third of my gurdonark car trilogy for another post.

I am not a "car person". I don't really care about expensive cars, or sporty cars, or fast cars, or cool cars. I have never gotten a date based on the car I drove, nor, now that I think about it (with a tinge of wistfulness), I have never gotten date based upon anything about how I or anything I own looks. To me, cars are transportation first, and I have an entire rant (best saved for another day) on how incurring substantial consumer credit debt for a car one can't afford has proven in my experience to be the economic suicide of many a twentysomething and sometimes a fortysomething or two.

But I must admit that I like the slow, langorous feeling of driving an automobile down mysterious pathways on well-shaded lanes. I love the ease of smooth handling--and isn't so much in life a matter of a light touch and smooth handling? Sometimes one has taken the journey so many times before, and yet the journey surprises and delights. Sometimes the tap of the brake and the feel of the constant gentle pressure on the accelerator are touchstones, little signals that one is in the moment, and all that exists is the moment, and within the moment is the ecstasy of the experience within. The first weeks with a new car, one feels as though one has never driven anything else--as if all drives pale compared to this drive--as though Heaven and Hell have opened their gates, and poured all the vices and virtues into one mobile contraption.

I must admit that I loved my Geo Metro with that kind of love that people call "as much as life itself", although I really didn't love it that much--it's just a poetic turn of phrase. My Geo Metro climbed mountains slowly, just as I do, and needed a little encouragement at intersections, just as I do.

But in 2000, when we were moving back to Texas, my parents called with news. Because Cadillacs had long ago moved from merely expensive to unfathomably expensive, they made the switch some years ago from Cadillacs to the Ford Crown Victoria sedan, the vehicle made famous as the wheels du jour of police officers and retirees everywhere. My folks had purchased a new car, and since in the cosmic and admirable accounting my folks keep of life in general, it was "my turn" to be bestowed a favor, they offered me their Crown Vic.

My Geo Metro had over 85,000 miles at that point, and although it was still a little tiger on the road (albeit a tiger with less than 100 horsepower), its days were not limitless. The Ford had only 50something thousand miles on it. Besides, I was moving to Texas, and taking on consumer clients, to whom I might be obligated to give rides to court and such in my car. With a fond longing, but a firm resolve, I did the sensible thing, and took my folks up on their offer.

I try my best not to have moral crises about the little sins I commit, when I have so many larger sins to address. It's so easy to keep picking at the speck in one's own eye, when the mote that is telephone-pole-size is the one with which one should be really dealing. But I confess I felt mildly politcally incorrect in my big sedan. It looks like an unmarked cop car, ready to ticket passing motorists in Bogalusa, Louisiana. People yield the road to me, figuring that courtesy is better than a visit to Garland Municipal Court. My car drinks gas in ways my Geo Metro could never do. It is one of those big boring American sedans that mark me as some sort of throwback Ward Cleaver.

But after a few months of mourning my Geo, and bewailing my political incorrectness, I must admit that I've now discovered that there's a grace in Big Older Model American Sedan (BOMAS). When BOMAS cross 75,000 miles, one is liberated from the guilt of driving a luxury car. It's no longer a luxury car when well-used, it's a bit of American fable. It has little market value, so one does not have to worry about living with the sin of luxury (and it's bland enough that one probably is safe from the sin of luxurie as well). BOMAS are butterflies which emerge from the chrysalis of inappropriate luxury cars.

Now when I drive on the President George Bush Tollway (yes, that is its name, just like Nobody was Clint Eastwood's), I feel the sounding roar of a gas pedal under my feet, and every morning becomes a sort of personal epiphany--a kind of "Radar Love" moment, if you will. I'm transported to the Seventies, or the Eighties or the Nineties or a hundred alternate nows. It's a Lynrd Skynrd feeling, a "Smoke on the Water" feeling, a "She's Lost Control" feeling. I have legroom, and a firm hand on the steering wheel, and the large windows let me see the world with eyes filled with bliss.

I know, deep down, that any affair with an automobile is not a higher thing. Cars come, cars go, and infatuation fades. I don't even like driving so much as seeing the sights. I know that, deep down, my BOMAS Ford is not quite politically correct. But at 95,000 miles, it's my personal "early morning singing song".

But if you went for a drive with me, what sights we'd see! We'd see nature and nurture, decayed barns and blooming trees. We'd see them all, in a big, old, white, hopelessly passe, wonderful American sedan. Driving aimlessly is a big part of my adulthood days. Someday, if God so wills, I will drive again in a subcompact, which may help me save my soul by losing it. But until that day, my BOMAS will serve me in good stead, as I gently ease on the gas, and roll down the freeway.
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