Sometimes people ask me what my favorite movie is, expecting me to say anything that stars Meryl Streep. And while it's true, I love Meryl Streep with all my heart, the movies that I love all have one thing in common. Two words: muscle cars. Especially the 1970 Chevelle, but I'll get to that in a minute.
The Fast & The Furious. Bullitt. Cars, Cars 2, Cars 3. (You get the picture).
I wish I could pretend that it was the heartwarming stories, the special effects or the amazing chemistry of the actors. It's none of those things. Show me a racing car, and I'll sit happily for two hours, covered in popcorn and not notice anything else going on around me.
The Girl who Loves Cars
I was raised on NASCAR. As a kid, I remember my dad racing his 1970 Chevelle, and even winning a few times. For my dad, it was all about the rush of the crowds, of people cheering him on, and I'd stand by the side with my handmade sides and jump up and down. For me though?
My favorite part was working on the cars with my old man afterwards.
It's not what a girl does, people used to tell me.
Oh yeah? It's what this girl does.
About the time I passed my drivers license, my dad had swapped out his Chevrolet Chevelle for something a little more fitting for a bank manager. He wasn't expecting the tantrum I threw at the thought of somebody else getting the car, and pushed to his wits ends, he offered it to me.
Score one for me, sorry dad.
It was dark blue with a double stripe on the hood and an interior that had seen better days. In fact, all of it had seen better days, but I loved every single ding and scratch that I saw in its rusty paintwork. The 1970 Chevelle is a classic for a reason, so even underneath the damage, it was gold.
As far as I could see there was only one major problem - it didn't have a tape deck, and I needed tunes.
Music To Drive To
Some people call driving "poor man's therapy", because it gives you the chance to be just you and the road, without focusing on the other things that are bothering your life. I don't know if that occurred to me then, but for the first few months, while I saved to buy that tape deck, I drove and found myself just a little bit calmer and more centered.
But that 1970 Chevelle didn't have a tape deck, and I needed tunes.
So I worked and I saved, and finally, I got the tape deck that's responsible for most of my musical tastes today. We'd put in a mixtape and turn it up to 11, making sure to soundtrack wherever it was we were going.
Bruce Springsteen. Aerosmith. Led Zeppelin.
I'd pump out the classics and find myself in my own world. This was the car you heard when I pulled into my school parking lot, or for my Saturday job.
I was the girl with the muscle car, and I loved it.
The Broken Gauge
But when you get a car for nothing, you have to anticipate there are going to be broken parts. The worst thing about the 1970 Chevelle was that by the time I got it, the gas gauge was totally broken. Whether the tank was full or empty, the needle stayed stubbornly in the middle, which meant that I was never totally sure how long I could go before I ran out.
So my dad taught me to record my miles in a notebook that lived on the dash. Every time I filled the tank, I'd write the date and mileage, and then I'd know how far I could go before I ran out. Simple, right?
Well sure, but simple for a teenager isn't the same as it is for me now.
More than once I ran out of gas and found myself stranded on the side of the road, cursing myself for not having been more careful with it all. Luckily, every time I called home, my dad would turn up with the gas tank that he kept on reserve for just such an occasion.
If he minded, he never said anything, and to his credit, he never once said I told you so, even if his eyes would sometimes linger on the ignored notebook.
The Best First
For a first car, that 1970 Chevelle couldn't have been more perfect. It was cool enough that people wanted to ride around with me, but my sister never tried to drive it because she was too afraid of the size. Having a muscle car for a first car everything about how I looked at cars after that.
I didn't want one that just got me where I needed to be, I wanted something that I could drive and feel free in.Having a hand-me-down also meant that I wasn't afraid to drive. Not that I was reckless, but if a ding or a scratch happened on a car that was already full of dings and scratches?
Then I wasn't going to get into trouble for it, because who'd notice?
After I left to go to college, I passed the keys of the Chevelle to my little brother. He'd just passed his test and just like I'd grown up watching my dad tinker with the Chevelle, he'd grown up watching me tinker with it. By this point, the muscle car was more of a muscle grandparent, but he didn't care. He had the keys to his own wheels, and it was his turn to live the dream.
The car went into retirement a few years ago, after serving the family for thirty years. By that point, it was a wish held together with will-power, but it was still more than sad to see it go.
Today I live in a city where parking is more expensive than a mid-size apartment, and I've traded in my wheels for a subway card. I get my kicks at the movies though, and whenever I catch sight of Vin Diesel hot rodding it up, I remember when I was the girl with the 1970 Chevelle.