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Life in Cars: Part 7: “Dreams They Complicate/Complement My Life”

Illustration for article titled Life in Cars: Part 7: “Dreams They Complicate/Complement My Life”

(This is part 7 of a multi-part series. If you wish to start at the beginning, click here)

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It’s easy for adults to forget the burning restlessness in youth of not being able to grow up fast enough. In elementary, I couldn’t wait to be a sixth grader and rule the school. In junior high, the high schoolers seemed to have the life I wanted. As a freshman, I only wanted to be a senior. In college, Paradise City awaited those who were 21. After 21, well…there’s that car insurance discount at 25….

Sitting at 14, I yearned for the liberty of a license and a car. Shedding the shackles of constant dependence on others to go anywhere. Escape the house, get in your car, and just drive. Go to a store? Check. School? Friend’s houses? Check, check.

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I possessed 14 years and a Learner’s Permit, and I could envision yes, someday independently driving. Within that visualization, I started daydreaming myself into certain cars. The car I fell in love with was the Ford Mustang. There was no finer mustang I knew of than the later Fox body style (though nobody I knew called them “foxbody” at the time). Like any American kid, I knew about the original amazing mustangs of the 60’s, the Pintostangs of the 70’s, but an ‘87-‘93 Stang sets my heart aflutter (’79-’86 being a couple notches below).

Of course, the only mustangs in possession at the time were 1/64 scale and I was too old for toys. They didn’t exactly posterize Fox mustangs back then like they did Countaches, Testarossas, and 911s. Around that age, on a whim I bought a new car preview issue of Car and Driver at a mall bookstore. As the mustang was relatively unchanged that year, there was no feature article, but there was a nice half page picture of a white LX 5.0 convertible.

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I tore it out to tack on the wall of my room. Nice to look at. Maybe some magical wish-upon-a-star thinking that the parents, seeing how strongly I felt about mustangs, would surprise on the 16th birthday with a brand new 5.0 convertible showing up in the driveway and a big bow on it. The folks would hand me the keys, beaming, “As the greatest kid of all time, we wanted to give you this small token of appreciation for the privilege of being your parents!”

Given the realities of the world I inhabited, I harbored little hope that I would even have “a” car to drive. Dad’s financial fortunes had been receding in the 80’s. The energy venture had nearly bankrupted him, and he gravitated toward real estate developing on a small scale. His second marriage was falling apart. The country club membership was quietly dropped and money “discussions” were not uncommon. Dad had come from little, was self-made, and always generous with what he had, so I think it really only bothered him that he couldn’t give more to the people around him. I also quietly observed my brother had not been given a car when he hit full license and could read the tea leaves. There was a third car for bro to drive (with restrictions) at Mom and Stepdad’s. No spares at Dad’s. I was at the end of the queue and there was college tuition to consider.

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That isn’t to say people around me at my high school weren’t living the dream. I knew every mustang in the parking lot (and still do decades later): two ’86 GT 5.0 convertibles, one 86 LX 6 cylinder convertible, one ’88 Black GT convertible, and some parent that drove an ’84 White Anniversary GT seen occasionally at drop off. Oh yeah, someone had a red ’67 Fastback, but I only had eyes for that 5.0 emblem.

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One of the 86 GT verts was owned by a senior girl when I was a freshman. Let’s call her Sasha. Sasha was nice and in my Spanish class, but I don’t think we ever passed two words until the end of this story.

Not being much of an athlete, one activity that kept me from total social isolation freshman year was an outdoor activities club. I partook in many opportunities: Rappelling from local bluffs; backpacking in Big Bend National Park over Spring Break. A group went spelunking in Missouri, that being my first and only time caving; learned that you can make sparks in your mouth while chewing Wintergreen Life Savers in the dark; rode in the back of a junior’s 3G Prelude while thumping Eazy-E from the rear 6x9’s cuz the Boyz n the Hood are always hard; rest stop at a small town Sonic and exchanging suspicious glances with the local kids out cruising (city mice and country mice).

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The teacher that sponsored this club held a bonfire campout at her rural property in the fall. Now why she did this is as much beyond comprehension then as it would be today. It was like a school-sanctioned party. Some seniors stashed a keg in the woods, cigarettes flowed freely and who knows what else (I was only a freshman). By the next year, stories of the excess had gotten out and the campout was permanently shut down (the t-shirts made afterward detailing the debauchery surely contributing to its demise). But before all that I was just a wide-eyed freshman among a throng of high school kids looking to cut loose. It’s highly likely this was the first HS party I even went to. Caught a ride from Mom in the Wagoneer to get there. Everyone congregated in a lower field where a bonfire had been set up surrounded by various stumps and blankets. The teacher chaperone checked on things periodically until the sun went down, but it was pretty easy for the drinkers to spot her walking down from the farmhouse and stash their cups. She then left us around the bonfire. I took a couple of cigarettes purely trying to fit in but felt hypocritical (we had successfully lobbied my dad for years to quit his decades long habit and watched him struggle with withdrawal). Years of D.A.R.E. right out the window in seconds. I didn’t inhale.

The night wore on and most of the revelers weren’t planning to camp out overnight, though some were. Clusters started leaving and it was time to look for a ride. Word was passed that Sasha was giving an acquaintance a ride home and I asked for one as well. Call it boyhood innocence, but I was living the high point of freshman year that fall night: finished first party, crawled in the back for a first ride in the dream GT vert, driven by a leggy blond for a 45 minute drive home. She had R.E.M.-Green in the cassette deck and I was in bliss: “Hello, I saw you. I know you, I knew you. I think I can remember your name, name.” The engine sounded good. While driving down those country roads, I told her enviously how she had my dream car. In the rearview mirror, I saw her flash a mischievous smile then step impressively on the gas pedal, letting the ponies loose. In the fantasy of youth, I dreamt of getting the girl and the car.

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We pulled up to my house and I moved to get out. Sasha turned to me and said, “As the greatest freshman of all time, I want to give you a kiss as a token of my appreciation for the privilege of driving you home tonight!”

...Or something like that

Coming soon, part 8.

Soundtrack: R.E.M. - Get Up (honorable mention to “Pop Song ’89” for that excellent GT ride)

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