Thursday, January 20, 2011

Kim Harmeling: Cool Redux

I love cars, old cars, new cars, trucks, SUVs, anything, as long as it’s got some personality and a bit of style. My husband just views them as transportation, a way to get from one place to another faster than walking or taking the bus. If it was up to me, I’d buy them like shoes, coordinating them with my outfits and that day’s mood, storing them in a big garage where I could go and ponder which of my collection to drive today, what do I feel like today… let’s see the Caddy or maybe the SUV? In a bad mood? Let’s take the black Dodge Charger. Whenever we buy a car the husband has to steer me away from the great cars on the lot toward the practical cars with admonishments about bad gas mileage and impracticality. I go along with him even though the car lover in me doesn’t really care about those things.

I’m particularly fond of old cars and muscle cars; big, old, American made gas guzzlers with steering wheels as big around as a large pizza, fins you could hang a laundry line from and that require a parking space large enough for semi; loud fast, muscle cars, the beefy originals of the re-imagined versions now put out by Ford, Dodge, and Chevy. Those cars are just cool – they look cool, they sound cool, I felt cool when driving one.

The very first car I ever owned, the one that was mine, paid for with my own money earned at my first real job, was a 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302. It was white with black racing stripes and chrome wheels. I had trouble getting insurance for it since I was still using my parents insurance company and the place wouldn’t touch it because it was a “race car”. I didn’t really mind the hassles about insurance after that, I was driving a cool car so the cost of insurance wasn’t important. A car like that, it gives a girl confidence, particularly when she – I – was out in the world for the first time and not really sure I knew what I was doing. I could go out, get in the car, tool around for awhile listening to music, eyeing the guys eyeing my car, and get an instant attitude adjustment. I loved that car, drove it for years during college and after, did all the work on it myself, even changed the radiator and heater core out which was a bitch to do, even following the Chilton’s instructions.

Eventually it started to leak and squeak, water would leak into the interior causing it smell like a swamp and the windows to fog up on the inside when the heater and A/C couldn’t keep up with it any more; the suspension squeaked so badly that going over rough road sounded like a great Saturday night on a cheap bed. Practicality and lack of funds to fix the major problems led to the agonizing decision to sell it in order to buy something more dependable. More boring. More adult. Less Cool.

I miss the time when just driving a car was all it took to make things better. All I had to do was put the Mustang on like a suit of armor and be a bit more invincible, more desirable, more confident than I was without it. The Honda just doesn’t do it that for me. It gets me from place to place, dependably, quietly, boringly but with no particular style or panache, no aura of cool confidence that I got from my first car. Maybe I don’t need that any more, practical considerations being more important, but I still miss it.

When I see an old, well cared for classic car on the street I have to walk over and take a look. It’s all I can do not to caress a fender or put nose prints on the windows looking at the upholstery inside. If I’m lucky the owner, usually a guy older than I am, will come out and I can openly admire his ride, envious that I don’t have one of my own. He’ll stand a little straighter, get a gleam in his eyes talking about it and you can see the Cool Guy he was when he drove that model for the first time. Maybe that’s why old guys have all the cool old cars, they remember how great it was to drive one and want to catch just little chill before it’s too late. Someday I’m going to be old enough to toss practicality out the window, maybe leave it open, get me another cool car and catch a little chill.


  1. Loved this piece, Kim! Your writing is really getting great! Keep them coming! The last line of this one made me smile. I'm kind of a dork, I know, BUT STILL.

  2. You should come down to the track when racing starts up again - there's a lot of classic cars that have been used and converted to race cars, and I think there might just be a mustang or two in there. :D... just bring ear plugs.