Three weeks. Twenty-one days. Five-hundred and four hours, each one more agonizingly slow than the next. Yes, that’s how long it’d been since I’ve driven a car. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and now I know what they mean.
Rome. Studying abroad, with public transportation readily available for every sightseeing excursion. Absolutely no need to drive when there was so much to see and do even within walking distance.
“Look,” I’d say to my girlfriend, as we walked to the train to our next destination, “that’s a Ferrari 348! It’s just like my Toyota MR2 but has twice the cylinders, as well as much higher power output and maintenance bills!”
“Is it stick shift,” she asked, “or not? Either way, get out the camera and get some pictures!!”
We almost missed the train, but I did get a few rushed pictures of the car. It was great to see the Italian contemporary of my MR2, but I suddenly felt a sinking feeling. My car was thousands of miles away. We were only a week into the trip, and I was already missing the experience of driving. But I was in Rome! I had to stay in the moment.
Time passed. I kept gaining further appreciation for the beauty and ambition present at every step of the journey. Also Rome was pretty cool, too.
A few days after seeing the Ferrari, another revelation hit me. Riding the bus to the Pantheon, I realized that, rather than paying attention to all the beautiful scenery going by, I was listening to the turbodiesel engine and the shifting of the gears. No, I thought. I can wait another week and a half to drive. But could I?
As the class on Roman history moved along, I started reviewing my notes. But what was this??
Julius Caesar is to Rome as James Hunt is to F1, because they both burned out in their careers pretty early, and neither lived as long as they could have. Augustus Caesar is much more like Niki Lauda in terms of both his measured approach to progress, and also that he outlived his contemporaries. (Niki Lauda is still alive and active in F1, working with the Mercedes team).
Okay, comparing Roman emperors to F1 drivers might not be that far-fetched. But it got worse:
What the world can learn from ancient Rome is that bread and circuses can save us. Especially if we build a new Colosseum and Circus Maximus, but exclusively to host autocross and rallycross events for the public. It’ll create jobs for many different parts of society, from industry to entertainment to sports. Those who feel left out by society’s progress can have a new chance at glory! A new class of citizen, the driving class, will be revered like the gladiators of old. Just without all the needless carnage, because the only casualties of this new sport will be the cones that denote the course. That is how to make the world a better place.
Seriously? I was entirely off-topic now.
All the manual hatchbacks driving on the streets of Rome weren’t helping. The fact that the Alfa Romeos really did drive with passion (maybe they were just in a hurry) and that the French cars really were funky and cool, just made me want to go for a drive.
Eventually I found an art supply store and began to make rough sketches of cars, with the hope I could distract myself from the need to drive.
That backfired. Now I was thinking about driving constantly.
After a certain point, I became resigned to the reality of the matter. Between class and finding good food, there simply wasn’t time to go find a karting center or racetrack. The hectic driving environment of Rome meant that renting a car was entirely out of the question. So I recognized that I’d have to wait a while longer. So absence did make the heart grow fonder.
A week later, I was on the plane back home. This morning, I woke up and drove my car.
I had high hopes for getting to drive again. To be in control of the throttle and the gears and the brakes and the steering and event the manual-crank windows. I was expecting it to be a revelation.
It was so much more than that.
I started experiencing muscle soreness in my face, because I’d been grinning ear to ear for the first 15 minutes of driving. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the sound of the 5S-FE engine. Yes, even the base, non-turbo Camry engine sounds good when it’s a foot behind your ears.
I thought I’d be rusty in my driving skills. Actuating the clutch, turning the un-assisted steering wheel at a stop. But that wasn’t the case. All of that understanding of the machine came rushing back as soon as it started up.
There’s a lesson to be learned from all this. Such passion deserves to be shared.
When my girlfriend rides with me in the MR2, she insists on driving. It’s apparently that fun of a car. I feel like the luckiest enthusiast alive on both automotive and personal levels.
Time away from my car has led me to appreciate how passionate I really am about everything automotive. I’ve revamped my efforts to be an automotive journalist, as well as my efforts to bring this level of enthusiasm to the rest of the world.
So make your voices heard. Share your passion for cars with anyone willing to hear it. You never know who you’ll inspire. It’s worth it. Because everyone deserves the chance to feel this awesome.