October 01, 2012

Life Is a Highway

"I don't think I'd like to drive this car," I said, pointing at some unremarkable 1970s compact model at the Petersen Automotive Museum.

"It's cute..." Edith said.

"Oh, who am I kidding? I'd drive any of these cars. Honestly, I'd like to drive any car."

For as long as I can remember, I've been obsessed with the highway.

My earliest favorite TV shows were CHiPs and Emergency!, featuring racing rescue vehicles, multiple car freeway pileups, and motorcycled patrolmen in hot pursuit of their suspect of-the-week. I wore a red and yellow plastic fireman's hat as my Hot Wheels zoomed around the track and across any non-carpeted surface I could find. I was more interested in my Barbie's Corvette than in her Dream House. The car was my dream.

I got my license in the Summer of 1992 just before turning 17, despite knowing that my parents wouldn't neither teach me, nor let me use their car(s), ever. My desire to drive forced me into our public school's Driver's Ed program, whose vehicles were retired cop cars with no power steering and the widest turning radius you've ever seen. I was good at handling them but I needed to be better, and I needed an actual car to drive in the road test. Desperate to drive, I used my own money for private driving lessons from a local guy who let me use his car in the pouring rain.

And then I didn't really drive again until college, when my foolish classmates let me drive their vans and Jeeps and sedans. I managed to hit only one deer. It traumatized me for life. But I wanted to keep driving.

The first time I drove a truck was to move five hours away to New York City. I've driven many since.

The first time I (really) operated a stick shift was in a Formula1 racer. The second time was in a stock car. It won't be the last. I just have to learn.

Show me a car, and I want to drive it. Put me behind the wheel, and I'll go.

Although I did miss my car while it was in the shop for seven weeks, I was happy to cheat on it with some other rentals. Even if I didn't like driving them, I liked feeling them out, seeing what they could do, how they responded to my foot on the pedal, my grip on the wheel. Even in cases in which my Honda is far superior in performance, I liked knowing what the others were like.

Even today, I would drive a fire truck if I could. Unfortunately those aren't available at Enterprise.

For the timebeing, now that I've gotten my Honda back, I'll have to satisfy myself through a few minor dalliances: the occasional racing experienceridealongs and a birthday spent gawking at museum-restored models....

1953 Nash-Healey

2008 Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione

1955 Ghia Streamline X "Gilda"

1937 Airomobile

Besides the cars themselves (and wagons, bikes, motorcycles, trucks, racers and any other vehicle you can think of), the Petersen Museum also has a fascinating interpretive exhibit about the proliferation of the automobile in California, and the resulting roads, parkways, and freeways, drive-in markets (otherwise known as early strip malls), and service stations. It explains a lot as to why LA is the way it is.

It also reminded me of my interest in desert drag-racing out on dry lakes, something on my bucket list I have yet to do (even just as a spectator).

Even for those that aren't as obsessed with driving as I am, these things are works of art, things of beauty, and gorgeous to observe.

But then again, I'm never very happy just observing.

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