Asphalt Therapy in Jake Ryan’s Car
Stress…we all have it, we all hate it. It saps the life right out of us and turns us into people we normally aren’t…people we probably don’t even like. Consequently, everyone has a way of dealing with it. Some people go to therapy. Some yell or hit things or work out until they collapse. Whatever it is, everyone has some sort of release valve that let’s them decompress. Me? I’ve had lots in my life…I’ve used athletics, playing guitar, drinking…all kinds of things. But it wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I found the one that really, truly, let me unwind.
When I was in my mid 20’s, I was working for a startup and doing pretty damned well for myself. My rent was cheap, my salary was higher than most people that were my age, and I travelled constantly for work and expensed everything. All of this added up to a significant amount of disposable income…
Throw in the fact that I wanted to get up to Maine (from Boston) to see my kid brother as often as possible, and the bus was just…well…sucking. I mean, it took over 9 hours, and that is with someone picking me up at the nearest bus station and being driven back to the small Northern Town he lived in…
And, as a last piece of the puzzle, when I had first moved back to Boston a few years earlier, my car had died and I decided to just get rid of it. I don’t care much for driving as a necessity, anyhow, so I really didn’t need it. I used the “T”, and that was that. Well, it was until I realized how much I hated taking a bus up to visit my family…
So, all of this added up to one thing; I wanted a car. Not for my work commute, but for my trips to Maine and weekends. Because of this interesting little caveat, I wanted something unique…a little out of the box…a little fun.
This is what I wound up with…meet Gunther.
I bought myself a smokin’, damn near perfect 1987 944S. It had 60K miles on it, ran like a top, and was an absolute BLAST! Seriously, on my test drive I thought to myself, “THIS is my car!”…and that was within 10 minutes.
Now, I knew this was not for daily use…but the 944 was the perfect blend of fun and practical. They last forever, are remarkably simple to fix (even if parts are expensive) and truly are 10 pounds of fun in an 8 pound bag. 944’s handle beautifully and are quick enough to get in trouble…but really, it’s just fun to drive. The top pops out…you drop the windows…and you just GO.
And go I did. The first time I roadtripped, I had taken a Friday off and left early in the morning. It took just under 7 hours…7 hours of wind whipping and music blasting and complete and total relaxation. I didn’t realize it at first, but the whole way up North I was letting go.
City streets gave way to highways which gave way to major routes which gave way to country roads…and it was glorious. I took in the scenery…I sang along with the radio…and yes, I talked to myself. I talked out every issue that was stressing me out. In short, I decompressed.
Of course, when I got to Maine I saw a friend of my brother’s walking up the street and asked if he knew where Kid Brother was…he told me, but apparently they wound up meeting first and his friend reported to him that I was in town and was driving “the nicest Mazda RX-7 I have ever seen”…
To this day, Kid Brother still refers to that car as an RX-7.
NOT a 944.
For several years, whenever I was stressed out, I’d hop behind the wheel and just flee the scene. I’ve driven all night just to work out issues in my head, crash in a rest stop, and head home the next day. I’d drive places most people would fly…so long as it wasn’t more than a 2 day drive, I’d go for it. It wasn’t about speed, although I can tell you that when tuned up that car would purr at speeds you just would not expect from a four banger. And it wasn’t always about solitude, because there were a few road trips that I had someone in the passenger seat.
I think it was about getting somewhere and seeing every inch I was travelling. Not looking down on it like it wasn’t even real from 50,000 feet…but being right there in it…on it.
It was about a destination, defined or otherwise, and the road.
I kept a few paperback books, a Chilton’s Manual, a Map of New England, and cigarettes in the glove box. A guitar case and a duffel bag with clothes in the back, and a CD collection on the passenger seat. I would drive to everything from Fleetwood Mac (Rumors just might be the perfect road trip album, btw) to Tool. I would smoke and drink coffee (iced or hot, depending on the season) and drive. Shifting the gears as I shifted whatever I was holding from one hand to the other, driving with knees and elbows at times…
I would stop when I had to, or when I wanted to. Many times I would see something that would catch my eye, whip around in a mostly-legal-move and just sit on the hood for awhile. On that hood I’d read everything from Vonnegut to old love letters while parked at scenic overlooks and shady bar parking lots. Sometimes I’d just stop, turn off the motor, and stare out the front window for no particular reason at all and wonder what it was about being far from home in the driver’s seat that made me feel so…right.
Whatever it was, I can still hear the way those Pirellis sounded humming along the cheap pavement of Northern Maine and how soothing I found it to be. Or how I could tip the seat back, put it in 5th, pop on the Cruise Control, pop up the headlights, and tool along at 70 or so on the open highways heading North on 95, one hand on the steering wheel, one hand holding a smoke when I’d decide on a whim that wanted Haddock for dinner tomorrow night…or how deathly quiet the middle of nowhere is when you roll in to town with hot tires and nothing but fumes in your gas tank at 2:00 am. Or the few times a nightstick would get tapped on my window at the break of day in a road side rest area and I’d open my eyes to see an officer of the law looking at me and asking “are you OK?” with that look that wondered what I was up to…
I loved going to towns that had nothing to offer except that you could stretch your legs in them on the way to nowhere…I’d blow passed the “Portlands” to get to the towns that you hadn’t ever and never would again hear of…just to say that I met so and so at this fork in the road restaurant, had a smoke with him and learned he’d been there for over 20 years.
By the way? I loved those places. You don’t see them unless you aren’t looking for them. At least, I don’t think you see them if you’re looking for them the way you’re supposed to see them…as they really are. You have to come up on them and read the signs that say “You are Here” and decide on a whim to downshift, letting the motor roar as it slows and you pull in to a parking space. That’s how you see a town like I’m describing.
You stumble on to it by chance.
The point to all of this is that I’ve started missing that car and those road trips. I sold Gunther when I got to DC and realized that I didn’t have the time or energy to put in to the upkeep…for the tune ups and the repairs…and for some reason, I didn’t think that I would miss the road trips. I rented cars when I wanted to go somewhere and took the metro to work. And that tided me over just fine…until recently.
Recently, I’ve missed having my own Batmobile. Those of you that love your cars will know exactly what I mean. The car that has quirks, and you know them all. The car that feels RIGHT when you sit in the driver’s seat because it’s molded to YOU. You can tell when it needs an oil change or when it needs a tune up well in advance of it actually being time. You learn these things by spending hours with your car…in traffic or in the country, at 2 mph or 120mph.
I’m thinking that I want another car. I’ve got a parking spot at my new apartment, and something should go in there. Not that I’ll takeit to work, because well…I won’t. But there’s a whole new world of country roads out there…West Virginia just begs for road trips, doesn’t it? (It’s those damn signs in the metro)
So what’s it going to be? I’ve got a powerful urge to find another 944, but at the same time, there was only one Gunther, and he’s gone now. My old man has been promising me my “inheritance”, as he calls it, for years. However he swears that this is the year it’s going to be finished, but I’ve got my doubts about that…and even still, it’s not quite the “road trip” Batmobile that I’m talking about, though it is a damned nice toy;
A 1976 Sportster (He restores vintage bikes as a hobby and this being what he’s had in his shop “for me” for, oh, 4 years now…)
So I am going to spend this summer figuring it out…I want something fun, something unique, and nothing too expensive. Something that isn’t a computer with four tires, as I like things a bit old school…I ain’t afraid of a little leaking oil, yo.
Whatever it is, I want to figure this out and get back out there. I’ve got a million things to think about, and the rental cars just don’t have a soul. Besides, fall is coming…and it’s a great time to road trip.