Sunday, June 16, 2013

Car Guys

My dad and I have done a lot of stuff together. We've eaten deep-dish pizza in Chicago, seen Simon & Garfunkel in concert, and watched the Jazz battle Michael Jordan a few times, too. But when I think of signature activities for my dad and I, more often than not I think of driving cars. My dad loves cars, and so do I.

Over the years, one of our favorite father-son activities has been to go on test drives. It's actually one of the first things I remember doing with my dad. My mom and sister were out in Cleveland visiting my aunt one year, and while they were away I talked my dad into test-driving a Pontiac Trans Am. I was way too young to drive myself, but I do remember being underwhelmed by the experience. I guess I've always been more of a handling guy over a straight power guy.

I don't think the Trans Am was really his style, either. My dad has always been a bit more forward-thinking than the rest of the car buying public. He was one of the first people in Utah to have a BMW (long before driving a BMW was any kind of status symbol). When I was really little, we had a blue Saab, and later, were one of the first families to get a Honda Accord. There was also that stint with the Chevy Citation, but no one's perfect, I guess.

In the years since that first drive, we've taken out everything from a 1958 VW Bug to a '91 Lotus Elan. He was with me the first time I ever drove a BMW (a red '88 325 convertible), and when I finally drove a '93 Mazda RX-7 after lusting over them for six years ("Free Bird" was even playing on the radio when I took it on the freeway). He was with me when I stalled a Miata a half-dozen times in front of a bunch of amused car salesmen, and he was with me when I zipped a Honda S-2000 in and out of traffic on I-15 at 90mph a couple summers back.

The crazy thing is, ever since that ride in the Trans Am, I've always been the one behind the wheel. Type 1 Diabetes left my dad legally blind back in the mid-'80s, and he hasn't driven since. One afternoon after a dangerous close call, he came home, tossed my mom the keys to his brand-new Honda CRX, and told her he was done.

Ever since, I've tried to capitalize on the opportunities he lost. Never was this more apparent than when I bought a '64 1/2 Mustang while I was still in college. We'd been out looking at VW Bugs, and came across an intriguing ad from a guy up near campus. After taking it out and mulling it over, I decided to pull the trigger, and I think my dad was more excited than I was.

The Mustang was a deep maroon color, a hardtop with an early model 260 V8. To be honest, it didn't have a lot of power, but it sounded great (especially in parking garages). I bought it early in the summer, and spent the next few months cruising around Davis County with the windows down while I listened to one of the two AM radio stations that worked on the stereo.

One night late the next January, my dad and I took the Mustang into downtown Salt Lake to see Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young perform at the Delta Center*. The aging hippies put on a three-hour show that pulled out all the stops, especially Neil Young, who hopped around on stage with his black Gibson slung like an assault rifle. This stood out to me because Neil is roughly the same age as my dad.  But while a Les Paul and a Marshall stack might be the best way to make Neil feel young, nothing has ever quite brought back that youthful gleam in the eye for my dad like a quick run through a manual transmission.

The night turned out to be the last triumphant ride of the Mustang, since two nights later I totaled it when I hit a patch of black ice on the freeway and hit the center median at 70mph. In the aftermath of the crash, I felt like I had let down a whole community of classic car enthusiasts, but I never got that vibe from my dad. He and I have always shared a healthy appreciation for material things, but he always taught me that material is all they were.

I keep telling myself that one of these times I'm just going to drive him out onto the salt flats, hand him the car keys, and tell him to go crazy. I almost did it one time, but when we pulled off the main road, the flats were too muddy and we almost got stuck. Maybe some other time, though. I know it would make for a better Father's Day gift than that tie I picked up this year.

Happy Father's Day, Dad...


*Lifelong regret #217: Deciding not to buy the $4 "Teach Your Children" condom from the souvenir booth at the CSN&Y concert.