Friday, March 27, 2009

Of Food and Ferraris

I have always had a deep appreciation for cars. I don't know where I got it. It's been said that boys sometimes get the "truck gene," meaning that when a large piece of machinery of any type - road work equipment, building cranes, anything with giant tires and loud engines comes around, the boy's eyes get as large as saucers and they dance and point at the big, dirty, noisy thing. These are the boys who love the chunky Tonka dump trucks or Hess gas station trucks as gifts. Some even graduate to Matchbox cars later on. It's unfortunate, but I believe there is a bit of reverse sexism in toys. Sure, it's been frowned on for boys to take up playing with dolls, but you also rarely see girls being encouraged to play with Hot Wheels, erector sets or for that matter, anything mechanical.

While I was not blessed with the "truck gene," I did have a trigger to my love of cars. I was a very girly girl - patent leather mary janes, pretty little dresses with crinolines and lace, but I also on occasion liked to catch frogs or make mud pies (more on that later). Being a girly girl, I was given Barbies and all the fashion accessories that went along with her with two major exceptions - the house and the car. The house I could do without as long as I had shoe boxes with which I could build my own. But the Car...the car was a Corvette! It was low and sleek and had amazing swoopy fenders and fat tires and SHE drove Ken around doing what SHE wanted. The concept was intoxicating to my wee little brain.

Barbie's Corvette allowed her freedom of a level I had not seen exhibited on TV or in my real life. As I grew to driving age, I looked around at the cars most folks drove and they did nothing for me. They were utilitarian, boring, and often more trouble and expense than helpful. Every once in awhile, I'd see something strange and beautiful with swoopy lines or low and crouchy about to pounce, or sleek and statuesque and I began looking at labels. Porsche, Ferrari, Lotus - exotic names that conjured mystic lands of curvy mountain roads dropping off to cliffs overhanging deep blue oceans. I was smitten. But, being a girl, I had no resources for tracking down these exotic beauties. And the guys in high school who were motor-heads were more inclined to the heavy, inelegant, clunky American muscle cars. Sure, I learned a lot about how an engine works from them - even getting my hands dirty from time to time handing them the torque wrench or holding the butterfly clip still while they cleaned the carburetor. I quickly learned that I'd prefer to be a patron of the fine art of exotic cars rather than a mechanic of any car.

When I turned 16, I was determined to learn how to drive a stick shift because all the exotic supercars had manual transmissions and I wanted to be ready for that rare opportunity to drive one. So, I went to my neighborhood BMW dealership and convinced the salesman to teach me - on a brand new BMW. I ended up having to go to several BMW dealerships before I got the knack of it down - besides, I just loved driving BMWs. Soon, I began visiting all the luxury car dealerships just so I could sit in one of these fine, handcrafted vehicles (well, they were back then). The smell of the leather seats, the feel of the gear shift, the way the driver's seat hugged my sides...all heaven. Then, I'd get back into my mother's Ford Granada with the vinyl seats that were cracked and splitting at the seams, the paint that was delaminating and rusting, and the cheap wheel covers and drive away wondering why American car companies can't make cars like the Europeans. This was right at the beginning of the oil crisis of the 1970's and the Japanese small tin can cars were just starting to come on the market, so Honda and Toyota had not quite yet established their ability to be solid, safe, and reliable cars yet. You either bought an American road cruiser or something from Europe at at least double the cost.

Meanwhile, I dreamed wistfully of a land where a reasonably priced car can be reliable, fun to drive, and still have panache and style - there just has to be a middle ground. My current car is a 1998 Nissan Altima with over 165,000 miles. The car is still in darn good shape. My mechanic tells me I can easily get 200,000 miles out of her. However, lately I've been putting a bit more into repairs than I've been accustomed to so it's got me thinking about what my next car should be. And it's that journey to my new car that I'd like to share.

I realize I didn't do much with food in this post, but I promise I'll get to the food part of this blog in later ones.