When I started driving I realized something — I was too small to be comfortable in most cars. People would comment that they thought they saw me driving down the street, but they weren’t sure; my head wasn’t visible over the seat back. I would have to adjust the seat to its farthest front position just to reach the pedals, and after air bags were invented I wondered what would happen if one deployed. But, I adapted and moved on. Years later I came home from work and told my husband about a car that had been mocked up to show a six foot tall man the experience of a short woman. I shared how funny it had been been that my male colleagues had been shocked to be unable to see the front of the car, a daily experience for me.
“Wait,” he said, “You can’t see the front of the car?”
Maybe that’s why I fell in love with the first Mazda MX-5 Miata when it was released. Sixteen years old and desperate for the freedom that comes with a set of car keys, the two door roadster immediately caused my heart to go pitter patter. I started telling my parents that it was the only car designed to fit me and ribbing my dad that if he truly loved me he would buy me one. It became a repeating gimmick — me making demands that were so outrageous that I knew they would never be met and my parents handing me keys to their practical sedans and hand-me-downs.
By the time I returned from a study abroad experience in Australia and saracastically asked my then boyfriend (now husband) if my dad had finally gotten around to buying me a Miata it was a well-practiced schtick. He laughed. “Why do you keep saying that? Who would possibility do that?”
Turns out, my parents.
It’s been nearly 24 years but I still remember the feeling of pulling into the driveway. I had been traveling for 36 hours straight and all thoughts of exhaustion were sucked away by the sight of that shiny red convertible with its top down on a sunny June day. The pictures show me bedraggled with a 1,000 watt smile, my bemused husband looking on stunned. My parents hadn’t told him of my plan — somehow they knew enough about the two of us that they thought I might ask and they knew he wouldn’t be able to keep the secret.
And guess what, I loved being behind the wheel of that car every bit as much as I thought I would.
I drove that car the day I got engaged, getting a horrible sunburn on every spot not covered by clothes or the seat belt. I drove it throughout my senior year in college, including a trip down the highway with an 8′ rug rolled up and sticking out the open top. I drove it with a 3′ tall stuffed Buster Bunny that I won at Cedar Point strapped into the passenger seat. That silly car could only fit one pathetic milk crate in the trunk, but I didn’t care — I was in love and everything else was just details.
We carried on that way, blissfully in love, until I ran into a freak snowstorm in upstate New York hit on my drive back to college over Thanksgiving break. I drove white-knuckled for the better part of seven hours and then spun out on a off ramp. With my headlights pointed toward oncoming traffic I got turned around by sliding back and forth into guardrails. I finally made it back to my dorm, parked illegally and collapsed on my bed. I don’t know whether I was more distraught by the accident or the fact that I realized that my car wasn’t perfect. All I know is that I started to wonder whether a 20-something who lived in the midwest could really own a Miata. Maybe our relationship couldn’t survive winter. Maybe the honeymoon was over. I agonized and then finally confessed to my parents.
Always pragmatic, they offered a solution. Mom had a practical, front-wheeled drive hatchback. We could swap cars and titles; I could have her car and she could take over the Miata. She didn’t have to drive when the weather was bad, and if she did, she could borrow any one of a number of other cars available to her. I felt the sadness of a break-up, but squared my shoulders and went to the Secretary of State office to process the paperwork. I had given up my perfect car for practicality, choosing dependable and reliable over fun. And for fifteen years I played the dutiful adult driving that car and then a series of sedans and sport utility vehicles, one right after another.
And then, I got a call. My mom had kept the Miata all those years eventually buying a second winter car. Now they had decided to upgrade and they wondered if I wanted to buy my car. I hemmed and hawed. By this time I had been married for fifteen years; I had two children and my driving life was designed for carpools and car seats, not convertibles. And yet my parents knew me, knew what I had given up those many years ago in a necessary moment of adulthood. They listened to my many practical reasons to say no and then paused a moment. “Ok, well what if we just gave it to you?”
Thankfully, I said yes.
No, it is not practical to own a 23-year old car. No, it is not practical to take up garage space for a car that only comes out six months a year. No, it is not practical to invest in a new top or tires or speakers. No, it is not practical to drive a car without modern safety features at 70 miles per hour down the freeway singing like a freak to 80’s rock and modern dance hits. But, I haven’t faced a moment yet that is so hard or so demoralizing that it can’t be made better by dropping the top, climbing behind the wheel and driving my little red convertible for 30 minutes. When I drive my Miata I feel like the sexiest woman in the world even though I passed into middle-aged frumpy years ago. No, it’s not practical, but I’ll tell you what — I plan to hold onto that steering wheel so hard that someone will have to pull it out of my cold dead fingers.
It may be impractical, but that’s love.