Cars, Nostalgia, and Freud

There’s something about the bond you make with your car. I’m not sure if that’s a universal statement, really. I suppose for some people transportation is just transportation. That’s where it begins and ends. A car is just a car.

But to me it’s something more.

The older writers – the ones that lived through the 60s and 70s – they usually use words like “freedom” and “individuality” to describe what the car means. It’s travel, controlled by you. It’s the ultimate tool for wanderlust. The perfect thing to highlight American values. I don’t think that’s because of an advertising campaign, either. I think the attitude predates the marketing. Chevy, Ford, and Dodge aren’t big because they’ve been crammed down our throats, they’re big because we’ve lovingly woven the car into our national fabric, more so maybe than any other nation. It’s just coincidence that they were the three along for the nationalistic ride.

But I digress.

A car is sort of like a summary of a person. Picking one out is like going to the shelter with the intention of bringing home a dog. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense. You just see one and it grabs you. You just want it. You feel a pull. You grab it, you take it home. It looks like you. It takes on bits of you. If you’re aggressive, you’re probably not going to pick out a poodle. Likewise, if the aesthetic is important to you, your dog likely won’t be drooling on your knee.

But sometimes it will. Sometimes the pull is too great. It defies logic. You might have a small house, but you’ve picked up a big dog. You don’t care. It makes you smile. It makes him smile. The bark is all that matters.

So say the car lovers with engines greater than their wallets. Or the tinkerer who picks up a car that’s, well, German. I mean, we can beat around the bush, but no rational individual seeks out mid-90s BMWs and Audis unless they’ve got that thing, you know?

But still, I digress some more.

It doesn’t matter what you drive. You start to bond with it. I had a Pontiac G5. I still miss that car.

Now, that doesn’t really make sense. The last few months weren’t exactly honeymoon. The roof leaked. Never get a sunroof – especially not one with GM stickers on it. The whole trunk carpet had to be replaced, as well as a bit of padding in the seats. And the roof itself? Well, it only worked half the time, when you could rig up the button on the headliner to do what you wanted it to do. And then there was the O2 sensor issue that made zero sense. And, of course, there was the fact that it just wasn’t a great car. I mean, really. Not the best looking – not the worst, either, but you can do better. And the engine? It was no faster than the 2.2l Ecotec, but it sucked twice the gas.

And the seats. Ugh. They were not made for my miniature ass.

But I loved it. It was something else to me, something comfortable. I loved how it sounded. That shitty four-banger was wonderful. Sure, I might’ve thought someone was stealing my car when the mailman drove by a few times – but that isn’t important.

That thing got me where I needed to go, if nothing else. It lived with me for my first few years in college, and my last few years of high school. It carried my junk without complaint. It had no qualms about being stuck in Rt. 38 traffic. God, it was nice having a real trunk. That’s for sure.

But it wasn’t the utilitarian in me that made me love it – it was something else. I distinctly remember one day before I went to class. It was raining, I was parked outside in my driveway. I stuck my key in the ignition and just sat there, idling. I remember my eyes drifting across the tachometer, the needle fairly steady, slowly calming down from idle. The green LED on the dash read 10,000 or so – still a baby.

Maybe it was the way the light was shining into the cabin – you know, that nostalgic glow that you sometimes get for whatever reason. But I just felt comfortable. It wasn’t the best car. I’d scraped up one of the rims on the curb. There were a few scratches in the paint. But it was home, a traveling little safe space. The steering wheel (a running joke between my dad and I) was a joke, but that shitty fake leatherette felt good beneath my fingers. The cloth seats had a smell to them. Ozone, new car, and rubber.

I stumbled across pictures of it the other day. It sent me for something of a flashback. It was a good car.

I shouldn’t miss it. I drive a car now with a pedigree. You know, one that isn’t badge-engineered. One from a company that is still kicking. One that wasn’t swallowed up despite so much promise (G8, never forget).

300hp to the rear wheels. Styling that makes Porsche owners jealous. All that attention. Face-ripping mechanical grip. Cockpit interior. One of my all-time favorite engine exhaust noises. (Let’s be real — the VQ exhaust note is exhilarating. But muffle it and the engine sounds like its gargling rocks.)

Yet, here I am, 15,000 miles in, and I don’t feel it.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love the car. I adore it. It’s great. I haven’t been able to find anything better since I bought it. Or at least anything I’d be willing to spend my money on. It just touches on way too many bases.

But I still don’t feel it. On paper I get it, sure, but this isn’t a matter for facts and figures. It’s a matter for the soul. For that thing that makes car people… car people. This car makes my G5 look like an utter disgrace in every way imaginable – and you know what? The G5 was poor, as far as driver-cars go. It was bad. Let’s just leave that there. We’re essentially talking about going from a commuter car to a respectable sports car. There should be no comparison. Not for a car guy.

But damn it, if I don’t miss it sometimes.

If I’m realistic, though, it wasn’t the car. It was everything it stood for – or stood in. When you go through events in your life, you often impose those memories onto things around you. That’s nostalgia. Even if those objects are completely irrelevant to the struggles at hand, you have this tendency to mesh them together. The G5 was there when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s. It was there when I had my broken arm from the Cobalt (ask me about getting hit head-on by a driver who doesn’t know how cell phones, headlights, or speed limits in residential areas work). It drove me from GI test to GI test. It was, in many ways, a big comforting tub of metal that I could curl up in when I just wanted to get home as fast as I could.

Now – holy shit, knock on all the fuckin’ wood – I don’t want some tragedy to befall me in my Nissan. God no. And you know, I’ve been through some shit in the Z.

But perhaps that’s just the thing. It is nostalgia. I didn’t realize it then, when I was sitting in the G5, that I’d remember that one moment – or any of the these moments. I had no clue. At the time, it was just a car. Now it’s so much more, but then?

Maybe in one, two, five, whatever years, I’ll be sitting in my new car and looking back. Remembering getting my academic shit together. Going through relationship things. Graduating college. Finding Natalie. Driving to grad school and tallying up the miles. Maybe then I’ll look back and appreciate it, sewing all of those major moments into the Z’s soul. Maybe at that point the 370 will morph from just being a great car into being a part of me in the way the G5 was.

Maybe the bond you make with your car doesn’t really happen when you’re driving. Maybe it’s Freudian, manifesting in your dreams, entering your subconscious only to be revealed at a later date, when the light hits your eyes in just that right way.

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