As far back as my memories take me, I always wanted a car. When I got my first restaurant job at 14-years-old, the only thing that truly motivated me to work every Friday and Saturday night was the idea that, if I saved up enough money, I’d be able to make it happen, I’d somehow have enough to buy my own set of wheels.
It wasn’t just about buying a vehicle, it was the independence that came along with it. For the first two and a half years of high school, I was stuck riding the bus. I felt pathetic, standing at this random street corner in my Catholic school business casual dress code, waiting around in the cold with a bunch of upperclassmen from my town that were too cool to be caught interacting with me.
When I was a freshman, the juniors and seniors that rode the bus to school in the morning were anything but cool. A bunch of wannabe bullies, they’d make us play this game called red light. Basically, you started at the front of the bus and you had to run to the back, touch the red light near the emergency exit, and make the return trip to your seat, all while this group of 16- and 17-year-old dweebs gave you dead arms and noogies.
I wanted nothing to do with any of that nonsense. And so I did it, I put enough money away that well before my 17th birthday came around, I had enough to buy my own car. There was this house a few blocks down with a red sports car parked in front marked with a “For Sale” sign. I needed it.
My dad came with me to do the negotiating. I found out that it was a 1991 Dodge Stealth, not that I’d ever heard of that model before going to check out this particular car. The seller and his wife gave us their pitch, there was some back-and-forth between the adults about prices and taxes and … to be honest, I have no idea what they were saying. I was just staring into the front seat, imagining myself shifting gears and outrunning cops on the highway. I knew it, that I was going to buy this car. I would have paid everything that I had.
This was all a few months before I was legally licensed to drive, so for a while I had to be content just to look at this thing in my parents’ driveway. I’d sit in the driver’s seat and listen to the radio. I bought a pair of black fuzzy dice for the rearview mirror. It was everything I’d ever wanted in life, right there.
And then I turned 17 and I started driving to school, to work, to get McDonald’s, to buy CDs. But with great power comes great responsibility. Like the responsibility to start paying for repairs and stuff. After a month or so, one of the power windows died. So that was like two hundred bucks. And then the exhaust system needed to be replaced.
Then there was a little fender bender, and something about a radiator. I think I’ve forced myself to forget the specifics, because it started quickly eating away at my cash reserves. But it was just like at those initial negotiations. You could have quoted me whatever estimate you wanted for a job, I didn’t care, OK, all I cared about was that car, and I would have given anything.
Finally after a year or so of use, the transmission started to fade. When I shifted into third gear, it would make this really loud sound, and after a while I had to skip from second to fourth. Eventually the problem got worse and I had to take it in to a transmission shop. They quoted me over a thousand to replace the whole thing. That kind of hurt. I mean, I think I could have made it work. It would have taken maybe a little loan from my folks, but I’d just work extra shifts that summer, pay them back in no time.
But I never even got the chance, because that week I wound up rear-ending some guy, smashing up the front of the Stealth. I would have sold a kidney to pay for the repairs, but nobody was willing to bankroll both the accident and the transmission. There weren’t any options. I had to junk it. They gave me something like three hundred bucks. I tried not to cry like a little baby as they hitched it to the back of the truck and towed it away.
And man, it took me a long time to get over that car. For the better part of the next decade, it was a very real goal of mine to re-save up all of that money and buy another Stealth, the same model, the same year, I didn’t care what else life threw at me, I needed my Dodge Stealth. But yeah, saving up all of that money isn’t as easy when you’re not in high school. I didn’t feel like working every Friday or Saturday night anymore. And in college I had other stuff to pay for.
I don’t even have a car now, and there aren’t any plans to buy one in the immediate future. If and when I do have the opportunity to buy something, I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be a 20-year-old two-door coupe. So yeah, for better or worse, I’m slightly more realistic now. And thankfully my soul doesn’t pine for the Stealth with the intensity that it used to.
Still, I’d be lying if I said that I never get those dreams every now and then, the ones where I’m back at my parents’ house and I remember that I didn’t junk my Stealth, that it’s been in the garage the whole time. I spend a frustrating five or ten minutes clearing boxes and other garage junk out of the way. I find the keys and squeeze into the front seat. And as soon as I turn the ignition, I wake up in my bed, the hairs on my arms are standing on end as my euphoria melts into the crushing disappointment that my Stealth is long gone, that I’ll probably never feel as cool as I did that year when I turned 17.