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Kathy Bradley

All that comes with a sporty vehicle

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Posted: September 28, 2007 3:34 p.m.
Updated: October 13, 2007 5:00 a.m.
The Escape is going to be six years old next month. Together we’ve traveled over 90,000 miles. Last week I took her in for a check-up. I’d called ahead and reserved a rental car so that I wouldn’t have to sit in the customer service lounge reading out-of-date magazines and listening to other customers either talk loudly on their cell phones or snore for the several hours I’d been told the check-up would take.
    When I got there, however, there had been a mistake in the scheduling and it appeared for a moment that I would, in fact, be consigned to wait. I must have sounded pretty pitiful when I asked, “Do you have anything at all available?” because the older of the two gentlemen at the rental desk looked at the other and said, “Well, we could let her have the little red car.”
    The first image that came to mind was a loaner Mama got once when her van was in the shop after hitting or having been hit by (depending on one’s interpretation of events) a deer. It was a Dodge Colt and sounded like a sewing machine mounted on a wheel barrow. Beggars, of course, can’t be choosers, so I just smiled and walked outside to await the arrival of my transportation.
    As anyone who has ever read a fairy tale or a John Grisham novel knows, life is full of surprises and I couldn’t help laughing out loud when the rental desk man came wheeling around the corner in a candy-apple red Mazda RX-3. (I know the make and model only because I read it on the flashing digital dashboard display as I was trying to figure out how to turn on the radio. Before that moment I would have simply called it a sports car.)
    The rental desk man smilingly explained to me that I did not need a key to crank this beautiful piece of machinery — only a very thin computer card which had only to be somewhere inside the vehicle when I turned the knob that looked for all the world like an ordinary ignition switch into which someone on the assembly line had forgotten to cut the keyhole.
    Correctly identifying the bewildered expression on my face as that of a person who suspects that she has just been given far too much power, he went on to say, “You’re going to be fine.” This man had clearly not been present during my first driving lesson some 35 years ago when I nearly hit a fire hydrant, burst into tears and promised Daddy that I would never get behind the wheel of a car again.
    Taking a deep breath, I adjusted the seat by pressing three separate levers, turned on the windshield wipers (the only thing in the entire car that looked like and was located in the same place as the corresponding item on the Escape) and eased slowly into traffic. I must say that I felt a bit conspicuous — almost as though I was wearing a skirt that was a little too short — but by the time I got back to the interstate and accelerated down the ramp, that feeling was long gone.
    It had been replaced by a feeling I couldn’t have identified even if I’d tried, but I wasn’t trying. I flashed down that highway, moving from lane to lane with a unnaturally languid grace. I settled into a pulsing rhythm that was at the same time comfortable and exhilarating. I watched light glint off the glossy-like-nail-polish paint job and heard myself singing along with the radio so loudly that, had the sun roof been open, the Mack truck in the other lane could have heard me.
    And at that moment I understood.
    There is something about a car that is fast and flirty and shiny and more engine than anything else that turns a utilitarian object, a means of getting from one place to another, into a symbol and that makes the driver of that object an archetype — man or, in this case, woman searching for freedom.
    People drive expensive sports cars for lots of reasons, but I know now that for at least some of them, it has nothing to do with showing off or gaining attention (though I did find that attention can be thusly gained). For those people, it has nothing to do with the response of others, but the response of oneself.
    In that little red sports car I did not think about the files on my desk, the numbers in my checkbook, the to-do list on my calendar. For a short while, I was totally, absolutely, decisively unencumbered.
    And it was fun.
    The Escape and I are still together. As far as I’m concerned, we’ll be together for another 90,000 miles. But, to be honest, I’m hoping that the next time we go in for a check-up and I need temporary transportation, I’ll be lucky enough to get that little red car. And next time, I’ll be ready.
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