I got my first car when I graduated high school. My grandparents gave me and my siblings each a used car when we graduated. It was a car that they’d purchased and used, and then after we graduated the car was all ours. Mine is a white 2001 Chevy Cavalier.
I remember going out to the parking lot of a place called Damon’s, where we had my graduation party. My sister and I ran out of the building and there it was, beautiful and ready for all my adventures, decorated with balloons. A few days later I went with my grandpa to the Secretary of States office to get the title reassigned to me, and it was all mine.
I had never really been that interested in driving. When all my friends were anxious to start driver’s training as soon as possible, I was perfectly fine with being chauffeured. When I finally had to sign up to go, I spent the summer dreading the walk back and forth to the high school up the street to learn to drive with people I had previously gone to middle school with, but hadn’t seen in a few years since I’d switched schools.
I remember sitting with two of the popular girls as we drove around in circles in the school parking lot, and I said something about being worried about hitting a bird on the highway. I received a look of disgust, another girl rolled her eyes, and then they looked at each other and laughed. It was great, I was so glad to be experiencing this pivotal moment in my life.
When I got my permit, my dad took me to the Secretary of State office and we sat for hours with all the other kids waiting to get their permits. Later when we got back to the car, we watched one of the kids, with his freshly printed permit, back into a car in the parking lot. Then after reviewing my permit I realized they spelled my name and address wrong. Back into the waiting room we went. My dad asked me if I wanted to drive home. I said no. I was 16 years old. I didn’t care if I could drive, I had no where I needed to go. Socializing was not my thing. If it was up to me I would never leave the house unless I could walk to my destination. I had no need for a license.
I had to log a certain amount of driving hours before I was allowed to get my actual driver’s license. My hope was that I would never get the hours and then graduate and then I would move somewhere where I would never have to drive. My dad would have me drive him to church on Sunday. That was 15 minutes each way. My goal of never reaching my hours was easy to accomplish with that kind of driving time being put in.
Then I got a job, that I believe my aunt drove me to get, and after a while of my parents having to take me back and forth, my mom hired someone to prepare me for my driving test.
I have no idea who this man was, but he seemed ready to experience the worst driving of his life when we went out on the road for the first time. My dad sat in the back seat and dozed off a few times, while the kind man said I was not as bad of a driver as my mother had told him. I took this as a compliment. You see, this kind man had never driven with my mother, who once, while my dad was driving, grabbed onto that stupid little handle above the window on the passenger side and screamed, “MAN ON A BIKE!” My dad immediately looked everywhere for this man, expecting to hit him. When he couldn’t see him, he said, “Where?!” My mother followed up with, “ON THE SIDEWALK.” My sister and I laugh about it to this day. It was a great moment. Driving with my mother was terrifying. Love you, mom J.
At the age of 18 I finally took the driving test and passed, and as soon as I graduated I had my car, and I drove my car to my job, and my sister and I would drive around on the weekends and during the summer, windows down, singing to Nsync with the volume up so loud we could barely hear ourselves sing.
Eleven years later, I still have this car. In total, it is fifteen years old. There are 180,000 miles on it. The CD player no longer works, the dashboard is cracked and warped from the Florida heat. Sometimes if I hit a bump in the road one of the air vents pops out. The heat only works on the highest setting, the air conditioning doesn’t work at all. The lights behind the speedometer don’t always work. Usually once I drive over the railroad tracks on the way home from work, they are finally shaken enough to turn all the way on.
It is a mess, much like me, and over the past 11 years, has been the only constant in all my adventures. I listened to Sexyback by Justin Timberlake for the first time in that car, experienced the amazingness of the Future Sex/Love Sounds album on the way back and forth to Delta College with the windows down. We went through our first snow storm together, again, driving to Delta with the snow blowing sideways, sliding through the light right before getting to school.
We went from Michigan to Florida, from Florida to Michigan, Michigan to Maryland, then back to Florida again, and eventually to Ithaca. We’ve been to the Florida Keys, driven through the craziest rain storms I’ve ever seen, and on the hottest days. I know everyone says it’s just a car, but to me it is the thing that has never changed when everything else around me has. I have moved many times, gotten new jobs, gone to new schools, and my car has just been that one thing that stayed the same. And I need that.
At this point, all these years later, I have nothing Michigan left. My grandpa has since passed away. But I still have my little car. My little car that when I’m driving through Ithaca and I get lost and frustrated because I don’t know where I am, and I’m at a stop light trying to get my GPS to work, and the radio is off because nowhere here has a strong signal, and it’s quiet except for the loud tick tick tick of the turn signal, I think of my Papa. I’m not going to lie and say we were that close. I know I get a little of my crazy from him.
He used to pick me up from school sometimes and I’d sit in the back seat, watching him slowly turn the wheel of the car, I always remember how loud the turn signal was. Back when everything was easier and I didn’t need to remember where I was going, I could just look out the window and watch the buildings go by. I didn’t have to pay attention to street signs, or remember street names.
Even now, I prefer to have Marc drive. I’d rather sit in the passenger seat and count the waterfalls we drive by, read all the business names, watch the sun set and take pictures of the sky, even though they always turn out blurry.
It’s getting harder now, as my car gets older, as my Papa did. We spend every few weeks at a car repair shop getting things looked at. Going to a car dealership sometimes because the car is too old and some places don’t know how to fix it anymore. The pressure to “just get a new car” has been overwhelming. To the point that Marc went with me a few weeks ago to get it looked at, and when we were on our way home I started to cry because I thought the time was coming where I needed to let it go. Marc of course did whatever he could to fix the problem and suggested taking it to a dealership, where they were able to save it for a little bit longer.
Moving to Ithaca has been such a big change, and I just can’t imagine having to lose my car now too. To get something new from a place I don’t even feel like is home yet. So Marc has told me we will do what we can do keep it going. Is it financially smart? Probably not. But I’m not ready to say goodbye to my last piece of my first home. The gift from my Papa, that has been with me so many places, and through so many things.
I know people get new cars all the time, and to most it’s not a big deal.
But I remember right before I graduated college, I went home to visit and we were at my grandparent’s house. We were sitting around the table and I was talking about how I wasn’t even sure I was going to walk at my graduation, that I didn’t think it was a big deal. My Papa slammed his fist on the table and he said, “No, it IS a big deal. And if I could get on a plane I would come.”
Sometimes things aren’t a big deal to some people, but to others they are the most important things in the world.
I wish my Papa could see me and my little car now. The little car that could and its little driver that wishes she could keep it forever and always be that little girl sitting in the back seat after school, the steering wheel slowly turning, and the loud tick tick of the turn signal.