Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Coming of Age

Three and a half years ago I saw her in that drive way tucked unassumingly in the shade underneath a sprawling maple tree. The first time I drove past I just took a glance as I inched slowly to inspect her. It was love at first sight and I knew I would be back. The second time I stopped and took her for a test drive. I knew just then I would return for a third and final time when I could drive away with the previous owners in my rear view mirror. The third time I did just that and not myself or my car had any idea of the adventure that we were to embark on.

I had looked for a car every weekend that summer. My father and I went to practically every dealership in the greater Lakes Region, before I finally made my choice. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, although I knew that whatever car I bought, it had to match my ambition if nothing else.

The day I bought my used, black Audi A4 was a proud day for me. I handed over a $16,000 check to a man that I knew nothing about, other than that I wanted his car and that his records seemed meticulous enough to deem him trustworthy. It was a big commitment for me as big as anything I had signed my name for. I had never owned anything worth so much before. My previous car was a 1991 Saab Hatchback which while reliable had over 200,000 miles and was falling a part. I knew that whatever car that I bought I had to bring it with me to Texas across country and I couldn’t take the chance of it breaking down like the time I was stuck in the middle of a 4 lane tunnel on I-93 in Boston my senior year.

My Audi became an extension of me. I convinced myself that it was my reward for all of the work that I had put into getting my degree and commission and in a sense owning it made me feel as if I had made it in some small way. As I drove her off the lot that first time, my hands trembled as I felt the power of that mighty engine. For the rest of that summer I parked her far away from others when I made trips to the store, and inspected for scratches every time that I reentered. I took every precaution that I could. Before the rising gas prices I only put Supreme in. While in Texas she was professionally washed and detailed once a month, no questions asked. As the years past, so too did my treatment of her.

Almost four years later, I look back at the places my car and I have been. She has traveled across country and back again. Once adorned with the “Live Free or Die,” slogan, she now represents the “Aloha State.” While I still take her in every 3,000 miles to get an oil change or see to it that she is being serviced whenever something doesn’t seem right, I am no where near as scrupulous on car washes or interior detailing. Like me she has gotten older. Her paint no longer glimmers as brightly when the sun hits her. The scratches on the bumper are a result of my carelessness and the spilled liquid on the carpet happened without my knowledge. Since 2005, I have doubled the amount of miles on her from 35,000 to 70,000. The mechanics tell me that when I hit 100,000 we’ll have to replace the timing belt. I often wonder how many more years we’ll be together.

As the owner I almost feel guilty about the 52 mile commute that I put her through to get to work or that I bring her to Midas now instead of the Audi dealership to cut down on cost. It’s just that as the years have past and my car has gotten older so too have I. Together we have aged and each time I am about to open her door I have questions like; How many more miles do I have left on those tires, should I put more air in them? In a way, my car has made me think about my own life and how I too am growing older and am not the na├»ve teenager who once thought more about appearances than substance.

For me, growing older isn’t that drastic of a change. It might mean that I need a little more sleep if I want to stay out later or that I must stretch longer before working out. Most of all, it has given me an appreciation for everything in life that I never thought about before. Each experience that I have, I owe it to maturity. Aging does not upset me, rather it gives me the perspective that Earl Warren once had when he remarked, “never regret getting older, it is a privilege denied to so many.”

My car represents more than the lifestyle that I once wanted to portray to others who saw me driving around town. Now, it is a reminder of who I was back then; the optimistic college graduate who felt he knew everything. And now, heading into 2009 it takes on a different meaning. It’s no longer the flashy car that my friends once envied, as the newer models have out shined it. It is now just an ordinary car that has many miles and has been many places. As much as I would like a newer model, I wouldn’t trade the places I have been with her for anything.
This summer, I will embark on a new adventure as the Air Force is set to move me to another destination. I don’t know where I will be yet nor what I will see, but I know that wherever I go, my car will be ready to take me there.