Monday, April 20, 2009

Forever Cars, Part 1

One spring evening in 1961, in the suburbs of New York City, a gentleman who normally took the train home from the city each day instead pulled into his driveway in an odd little car, purchased that very afternoon.
The man’s family came running out of his house, and neighbors came from across the street to examine the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. The dark gray car with its bulbous snout and rounded fenders was not much more than half the size of the family’s other car – an Oldsmobile station wagon. Few people in the neighborhood owned more than one car, and no one owned anything like this.

Five years later, the man’s son, now 17, after taking his driving test in the little gray car, waited anxiously each day for the arrival of the mail, and the results of the test: Would the letter announce another failure, or would it contain a license to drive? The letter arrived. Ecstasy! On a bright, cool day in June, he slid onto the rust-colored vinyl seat, started the 40-horsepower motor and shifted into first gear, then rolled out the driveway and onto the road to freedom, at last, with an excitement not far from sexual.

A couple years later, the boy returned from college in the old Ghia, its right fender crumpled, its hubcaps missing, its faded body now decorated with two wide racing stripes the boy had fashioned from vinyl cupboard liner with a floral design that he had purchased at Kmart. The boy’s father stood in the driveway and considered the condition of the car and the length of the boy’s hair, and not being able to decide which made him angrier, raised his hands in exasperation and retreated to his house.

The boy returned to college the following fall in another car, a bigger, much safer one, and the little Karmann Ghia was relegated to the garage, later to be sold to a friend of the family, and never seen again.

The boy was happy with the new car and its power, and the fact that it had a radio. He forgot about the Ghia. Years later, he would wake in the middle of the night, full of regret. In his sleep he had heard the whine of its little air-cooled engine, felt its vibration through the shifter, and suddenly he realized that he had ignored, and then lost, his first love.

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