My mother's car is all of my mother's cars, all the cars of my childhood, and when I drive it I feel free, and young. It is sturdy and fuel efficient. It's always a station wagon and about ten years old, and a foreign make. It drives well: handles nice and tight. This one has AC and leather seats, as close to true luxury as she's likely to allow.
I roll down the window, adjust the mirror and the seat, turn the radio on. It's a ritual. The air is cool and sweet, a stew of redwoods and eucalyptus, plum and madrone make it that way. It's the smell of home, and the rush of escape all at once. Somehow the waft of air through my car window is different than a breath taken walking up the road.
Smells, like songs, always narrow me to a tiny, shiny point of reference. Nostalgia in a bottle, even while it's happening.
I'm on my way to pick up my husband, thinking about cars.
The only one I ever owned all by myself was a Volvo: black sedan, with a grey velveteen interior. Cheeky license plate. I loved it.
But we are a VW family, as it turns out. Not really by conscious design, but they seem to suit us wherever we're falling along the timeline.
Our first was sweet Tina, a baby blue bug. A car to canoodle in, picnic at the beach with, flirt in. H. drove her to LA after multiple break-ins here were breaking our hearts (those cute triangle vent windows that pivot open? They're a bummer to replace). He traded her for a white Rabbit. Convertible. Beachy keen.
Then there was a big gap. Big city. No place we wanted to go that the bus or the train or the plane couldn't take us.
We're a family, with car seats, and relatives. Our Jetta, which fell into our laps, is black, sporty, smart, efficient, chill.
I crashed the Jetta. The only accident I've ever had. Sleepless, stressed, with a screaming baby late at night. We were fine. But I still see it, and other outcomes. It rends me if I let it.
And now, bigger family. Passat. Station wagon. Midnight. We're grown up, but not old. H. says it's his favorite car ever and he means it; he embraces parenthood. He talked minivan before he fell for the Passat, and I am snobbishly relieved by our outcome.
The first time I saw an Audi TT I was on the Jersey Turnpike, ferrying my grandfather home from Atlantic City in his tank-like Cadillac. I loved chauffeuring him. It was much better than watching him play the slots or enjoying the all-you-can-eat shrimp buffet. I caught a glimpse and tailed her for miles. My speed concerned grandpa, but also thrilled him. His eyes are shining, his eyebrows raised, but he's still splayed in the backseat, all nonchalant, his shirt rumpled, mis-buttoned, and bearing signs of his earlier shrimp enthusiasms. Opening up the Cadi was fun for both of us.
"It looks like if a VW Bug and a Porsche had a baby!" I squealed, accelerating.
I like the round shapes in the original generation more than the sharper, angular qualities of the new one.
Audi is a subsidiary of VW, I note with pleasure.
Tracy Bonham has this song, In My Other Life. (She's great, btw.)
The TT is Lizzie's car, but it's related to mine.