Tuesday morning I stood in a used car lot with two men named Chuck: one a car salesman and the other my grandfather. Since “Chuck” also happens to have been my college nickname, and since our gathering marked a momentous occasion, we posed for a three-Chuck photograph beside my very first car: a PT Cruiser in butter yellow.
The PT Cruiser first came out in 2000. At about that time my grandfather and I developed a simultaneous car-crush. He, aged nearly 70, and myself, nearly 10, pored over Chrysler’s pamphlets together, dreaming of our ideal PT Cruiser feature-and-color combinations.
“You could fit anything in the back of a PT Cruiser,” my grandfather said.
“It comes in so many colors,” I said.
My grandmother said only, “That thing looks like a hearse.”
I had evaded making the transition to car ownership all the way through college—because, I admit, driving terrifies me. Even though I’ve been driving for years, my timidity and fierce directional ineptitude make me a candidate for unending housebound spinsterhood.
My nagging conscience calls responsible driving a key ingredient in adulthood. And yet, most of the time I wish I could transport back a few centuries to a place where ladies rode in carriages. No one expected them to navigate highways at 75 miles per hour in pod of metal.
But this kind of hesitance is a pattern with me. I ruefully recall having my hair washed as a child. The passage from baldness to hair proved a colossal difficulty for my small self. The soap dribbled into my eyes, and I wailed. Growing up was a cruel betrayal. First, grownups tell you to wash your hair, which fills your eyes with burning soap. Fast-forward a few years, and they make you learn how to drive, which not only puts you in danger of arrest by policemen but also could kill you.
With a certain amount of nonchalance and delegation, perhaps for the rest of my life I could hide the fear that prevents me from driving. Just like I could have kept avoided soap in the eyes by consistently shaving my head to its original baldness.
My mother solved my hair-washing problem with one simple strategy. She appealed to my aesthetic sense. Suddenly, two bottles appeared in the bathroom, shampoo and conditioner, both green, smelling like apples. I have never resisted a hair wash since. She persuaded my vision and sense of smell, and banished the unreasonable fear. Aesthetics motivated me strongly.
That hasn’t changed. I had forgotten all about PT Cruisers and how much I had loved them as a kid, until this one appeared, in my favorite color. My decision came firm and instantaneous: If I must drive, I wanted to drive that.
I don’t want to stay afraid forever, and I’m terrible at being an at-home spinster. And even my grandmother cannot claim that hearses come in butter yellow.
Of course, the car cost a lot more than shampoo. I hope it lasts long enough for my children to be ashamed of it.