Thursday night was date night. A rare occurrence these days, what with my mom having her own date nights and not volunteering to have the kid spend the night as often. So we cherish them when we get them and try to go somewhere where we can be a hip, young couple for just one evening.
We were at our favorite date night haunt, a great little restaurant with ample outdoor seating and an extensive list of microbrews, when Jason pointed at a car parked on the street close to our table.
"That should be your next car," he said. "That car just looks like you."
I wasn't exactly flattered. It was a Honda Element, which isn't what you can call sexy. It's a nice car, don't get me wrong, but it doesn't inspire lust.
I opened my mouth to contradict him, but the more I looked at that car the more I thought that the words you would use to describe it really do describe me. Boxy and neat with clean lines, yet inelegant. Practical and roomy. Good for hauling around kids, gym bags, and groceries. A little preppy, maybe, but not snooty.
Okay, so I do look like a Honda Element.
It just so happened that earlier in the week I had come out of the grocery store not immediately remembering where I had parked, but discovered that it's really easy to find my car. It jumps out at me in a lot because it reminds me of me. It's small-ish but with a bottom that's wider than its top. It tries really hard to look young and sporty but can't hide the fact that it's a station wagon in an SUV's clothing. It's compact, dense, and neat. But, like the Element, not sexy.
I so wish Jason weren't right about what car I look like, but he is. That's a hard pill to swallow from a guy who drives a sleek dark-gray Prius that I find, as I find the man who drives it, to be very attractive. He makes that car look gooood.
I've always heard that people choose cars that look like them. Most of my family and friends have chosen vehicles that at the very least reflect some aspect of their life and personality. The practical people pick practical cars, the tall people pick tall cars, and the stylish pick stylish cars. Every car my dad ever drove, from his first brand new car (a navy blue Ford Fairmont that I swear had his "eyes") to the burgundy Chevy S-10 pickup he said was his favorite until it caused him to fishtail on an icy highway one night, looked like so much like him that my mom didn't like to drive them. She said it just didn't feel right. So she eventually lobbied for a car that fit her in the early 90s: a bright red Geo Prizm. Like my mom at that time, the car was petite, feisty, a little tempermental, and absolutely adorable. As she grew older, she graduated to a golden Cadillac (it matched her hair) and now to a maroon Buick LeSabre, the perfect little old(ish) lady car.
And at this stage in my life, I apparently am somewhere between a Pontiac Vibe and a Honda Element.
This is not the car I thought I'd be. When I was much younger, I dreamed of someday having a Corvette. I think the 1980s Corvette embodied that woman I thought I wanted to be back when I was a teen: lean, but curvy; adventurous; classy and expensive and high-maintenance while still being a little white-trashy.
As I got older and became a mom, I quit dreaming about dream cars. I mostly just want something reliable that gets me from A to B. Until we visited some friends in Louisville this winter and were introduced to a classic sports car they have bought and are fixing up.
I began to dream of taking long rides in this hot little car with a scarf tied around my hair, big Hollywood sunglasses on, and the top rolled down. I thought of how fun it would be to leave my family car in their driveway and go on a Thelma-and-Louise road trip with my girlfriend. (Without the Thelma and Louise ending, of course.) Of how cool it would be to be a sexy girl in a sexy car getting envious looks from the soccer moms at red lights. And maybe, just maybe, get a whistle or two.
I understood at that moment why folks buy sports cars during mid-life crises. A car is one way to say to the world, "Here's who I am." No matter how open-minded you think you are, you make a different assumption about a guy who pulls up next to you in a BMW Roadster than the guy who pulls up next to you in a Taurus. A guy (or gal) who feels pigeon-holed and stuck in a rut by either job or family or both can get a loan and get a vehicle that shows who they would like to be rather than who they really are. And while they're in that car, it can be easy to be the adventuresome, fun-loving person they were at 18. Just in a little older package that's easily camouflaged by shapely metal.
Will I ever take the plunge and get an outrageous, impractical car? Probably not. When the Vibe dies years from now (that Corolla engine will keep going and going and going) and I am in the throes of middle age, I will probably talk myself into another practical and gas-saving vehicle. It will probably look exactly like me. The little red crossover will win over the little red Corvette. Because that's just who I am.
But maybe, just maybe, you'll find me some weekend in a sexy borrowed or rented sports car, trying on a new identity. I'll be the brunette in the scarf and sunglasses; be sure to whistle.