Not having a car can in some ways be liberating, providing you with an opportunity to experience the Great Outdoors, and breathe in real fresh air. It’s a chance to stop and smell the proverbial roses. The Great Outdoors can suck, however, on cold, rainy or snowy days.
So it was the mid-1980s and I was a teenager, with a job at a supermarket on Route 5 in Derby, NY. A technical challenge was the fact that the distance from home door to work door spanned five miles — and I had no car. So I hoofed it, five days a week, to and fro. (That meant I was a skinny lad, an irrelevant but emotionally satisfying fact I feel the need to point out.)
Hitchhiking is illegal in New York State so I never stuck my thumb out, but on a few occasions kind souls took pity and stopped to offer a ride. That was a brave deed on their part because I’ll admit I wasn’t the most clean-cut teenager, looking rather scruffy. I was utterly harmless and very grateful to those who did stop, but I probably looked like a Manson Family devotee bumping along the roadside.
Well, one sunny summer morning I was doing my usual death march to work, when a car pulled up. Now, this wasn’t a 1982 Chevy Chevette; it was 1969 Dodge Charger, primer-color, obviously in the early stages of being remade into something awesome. I’m only moderately a “car guy,” but my testosterone glands went off like sprinklers. (Maybe that’s why I’m bald now.) The driver didn’t say a word. He just looked at me, and and motioned slightly with his head. I immediately jumped in the passenger side.
I wouldn’t have heard him even if he had said anything. He had installed mega speakers into his already awesome car, with an upper-end cassette deck bolted beneath the dash. (Hey — it was the 80s.) Heart’s “Barracuda” was blaring from the surround-sound speakers. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa. It was glorious. When he accelerated, the G-forces shoved me back into the bucket seats, and the one single sound I could hear above the music was the roar of the 383 cubic inch Chrysler monster engine just barely contained under the hood. We didn’t say a word the entire ride. We couldn’t. Who cared?
Since I was wearing my work smock and hat, it was kind of obvious where I was headed. He pulled into the parking lot, and stopped. I nodded my thanks, he nodded back, and I got out. He roared off.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Nowadays I love my little Subaru. It’s practical in a lot of ways. It still amazes my father when it starts right up on a -20 degree day. (He has tons of stories of the many tricks people in Buffalo, NY had to employ to get cars started in sub-zero temperatures back in The Day, including putting electric blankets over engines.) But there’s just something so deeply satisfying to the soul when one of those older muscle cars is allowed to roar again. Here I am, thirty-some years later, still talking about that great ride.