I’ve never driven a car in all of the long spells I’ve spent overseas.
Due to my not having an International Driving Permit, as well as a general lack of opportunities in the countries I’ve visited and lived, I’ve only gotten the rare opportunity to ride in someone else’s vehicle.
So whenever I return to the US from abroad, one of my initiations back into home life is the first opportunity I get to actually drive again, usually one of my parents’ cars to go on some simple errand.
This most recent time was to go to Vinckier Foods in Almont to pick up a few items.
In this situation it’s hard to describe the power, the agency that tickles your veins just by feeling again the smooth steering wheel caressing the inside of your palms. And when you slip the transmission into “Drive” and place your foot onto the gas petal… well, something akin to a sense of purpose fills your heart as the outside begins to slip past you.
(I assume all this talk sounds crazy to fellow Americans whose driving lives have never been interrupted, but a fresh perspective truly unveils the magic that lies behind such simple acts.)
I’ve realized over the years that I like driving automobiles. I’ve taken road trips to different parts of the country on multiple occasions, many times solo. I’m quite good at it, I’ve found, being alone in a car for long periods of time. I fondly remember when I once owned my own car.
While living in Vietnam, I puttered around on a motorbike, which serves as the transportation of choice for the masses. Only the upper classes there can afford imported, heavily taxed Asian brands like Toyota, Hyundai or any of the various Chinese names. I’ll admit that there is some thrill in the agility and exposure that a motorbike offers, veering amongst the traffic and whizzing out into the countryside.
Sitting in the driver’s seat of an automobile, however, is completely different. One feels the incredible faculty that lies at their fingertips, how a car is just bigger and sturdier and able to endure more of whatever one finds on the road.
In fact, I think going so long without driving an automobile has awakened in me a larger appreciation for them in general. I gaze longer now at all species of vehicle that cross my path: the muscle cars, classics, vans, SUVs, even large semi-trailers. American cars overall are large because we like them large. The bigger the better, it seems. The street is really where people can be loud and proud. Driving one’s own car with its smooth paint job and polished chrome is one of those things which is somehow inherently American.
I find myself staring particularly at the big pickup trucks. These would be considered road monsters in most other countries, but here of course, they’re commonplace. They do project an undeniable image of strength. The old ones are particularly attractive to me for some reason. I think back to by brother’s big orange ’75 Chevrolet truck that he proudly drove around during high school.
The thing about this is that I’ve long been something of an anomaly in my family when it comes to cars. All my family members except me are engineers, and all of them have worked within the automotive industry at some point or another. My father and brother are especially fond of delving into old cars and fixing them up, engaging in countless father-son projects over the years that have taken up our garage floor.
Of course, I grew up to be a journalist/teacher/writer, merely looking on all the while with mild interest as they worked to bring their mechanical beasts to life. Equations and grease just never struck a spark in my head.
The latest car that my brother brought home for enhancement is an old Chevrolet Corvette, in which he soon hopes to sail beneath the summer sun when cruising season is in full swing. I stare into its exposed guts as he and my father tinker with it, and I’m slowly starting to appreciate the complex logic that goes into such a sleek machine.
By mere exposure over time, all that exotic vocabulary of the Language of Auto has built up on my tongue: limited slip differential, camshaft, alternator, transmission, catalytic converter, heat shield, gasket, all-wheel drive.
This doesn’t mean I’m fluent in this language, however. I seem to have missed out on that trait. However, there’s some long-lost dash of family blood that must have quickened within me, however small.
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