My daughter is working at an out-of-state internship for the summer. Because I wanted her to have a newer car for her time away, we swapped wheels. I am therefore spending the summer driving my daughter’s car – a twenty year old Honda Civic. And I am trying to decide how it makes me feel.
I should explain that it is not your typical twenty-year-old Honda. For one thing, it only has about 75,000 miles on it. It had belonged to an elderly relative, then a younger relative and now my daughter. It is in tip-top shape and is perfectly functional for driving anywhere I need to go. But I cannot decide how I feel when I drive it.
I have an active imagination and have also been a lifelong car nut. Whenever I drive a different car I get a mental picture of myself – a picture of someone different from the “normal me”. Those with a more neutral outlook would describe these mental images as something more in the way of delusions, but I digress.
Early in my life I drove a twenty year old car too. It was a 1959 Plymouth Fury that I bought in 1979. The car was cool because it was delivered to its original owner on the day I was born, at least according to a sticker in the glovebox. When I drove that car I felt like Peter Gunn, the television private eye from the late ’50s who drove a Plymouth just like mine. Well, almost like mine. The fact that my car was a boring sedan instead of his glamorous convertible mattered not one bit. Except that this was probably why I did not have the TV private eye’s luck with girls.
My first car was a 1967 Ford Galaxie 500 convertible. When driving that car I pictured myself as a little stylish. I know, I was never particularly stylish, but when conjuring mental self-portraits, shouldn’t we allow some leeway? I kind of felt like a younger version of my father – he was a Ford man and part of my youth had been spent in the back of his ’66 Ford station wagon which featured the same assortment of sounds and smells.
I once had a 1968 Mustang. In that car I pictured myself as Martin Milner. Most people associate Martin Milner with the Corvette he drove on Route 66, but I remember him as Officer Pete Malloy in Adam-12. A Mustang of that vintage was his off-duty car. Mine was only a 6 cylinder version though, which was probably good since I lacked the ability to fix my own speeding tickets.
More recently I had a 1989 Cadillac sedan. My picture of myself was as a successful upper-middle-age adult. Sort of like Leslie Nielsen from the years before he switched to playing comedy roles. Yup, in my big Cadillac I was a titan of industry and someone not to be trifled with. But my hair was not white and my car was thirteen years old when I bought it from its elderly original owner. But that regal Cadillac crest way out at the end of the hood could make me forget all of that.
I have always been able to find a perfectly satisfactory alter-ego no matter what I drove. Except for the single time I drove the car of a friend from law school. She had a 1976 AMC Pacer. It was bright blue with a white vinyl roof and the indian-style interior fabric. It was also not in the best shape. Behind the wheel of that one I felt like an alcoholic out-of-work clown and slunk down into the seat hoping nobody would recognize me. “Hey buddy, could you spare a couple of swigs from that bottle you have in the paper bag?”
I have always liked big cars. I have owned a couple of big Chryslers, which made me feel like a rugged individualist like John Wayne. Where I grew up big Chryslers were driven by rock-ribbed Republicans like him. Perhaps if I had grown up elsewhere I might have felt more like a union pipefitter who resembled John Goodman.
I am quite comfortable with the characters that come to mind in my normal cars. In my white Honda Fit I feel like a young, pleasant, intelligent guy with a practical streak, like maybe Jim from The Office.
I also have a Kia Sedona minivan – When I drive that one I imagine myself like Mike Brady, the dad in The Brady Bunch. OK, I do not have a second wife, six kids, a housekeeper or a dog, but work with me here. The alternative is Chevy Chase in The Family Truckster, so I think I am good sticking with Mr. Brady.
But back to this silver Honda Civic. I really can’t decide how I feel when I am in it. It makes me a complete blank slate and somehow it doesn’t scratch anywhere I itch. It is not really sporty- so Joe Mannix the tough ’70s private eye is out. The car is thrifty and durable, so my practical side gets some love. I wonder if this is what Mister Rogers drove? Perhaps it would help to try driving in a cardigan sweater.
So as you can see, my summer of driving is a bit of a muddle because I am having trouble getting the right picture of myself when I drive the daughter’s Honda. Perhaps I will have to work harder on just being me.
Lead photo: 1959 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible from Peter Gunn television series. Source: Internet Movie Cars Database
Peter Gunn – undated publicity photo circa 1958 of Craig Stevens and Susan Cummings, in the public domain per Wiki Commons due to the original’s lack of a copyright notice.
1968 Mustang convertible from Adam-12: Internet Movie Cars Database
The Brady Bunch photo source: Curbsideclassic.com