By Roger Garbow
I remember every detail of the day I received my driver’s license. My 16th birthday fell on a dreary Tuesday with temperatures hovering near freezing and the skies filled with dark, threatening clouds. There was a periodic bone-chilling drizzle. That night, I took my first solo drive in my dad’s 455 c.i. Pontiac Grand Prix…and was pulled over by a police officer within an hour. It was a crappy day by most people’s standards. Yet, I was elated.
For those of us over a certain age, the car was more than transportation. It was freedom. And independence. In those days before technology ruled—or some might say ruined—our lives, the car was a conduit to the bigger world. Exploration happened behind the wheel and in the back seat. From discovering a new town or a new song to the furtive fumblings of young love, cars feature in so many memories. And it’s not just those teenage experiences. I recall obsessively strapping, and re-strapping, the baby seat into our first family car for my newborn son’s ride home from the hospital.
In the pre-internet days, every drive was an experience. Even for those who aren’t auto enthusiasts, riding together in a car was a chance to talk, laugh, see new sights, or jointly experience whatever was playing on the stereo. When I hear certain songs today, vivid memories spring back to specific times, places and most often, specific cars.
When it comes to us car people, the connection is infinitely deeper. Vehicles are so much a part of who we are and the lens through which we see the world. Before the global pandemic, I think most of us took our cars and car experiences for granted. Many of us were looking forward to the first track day of the year in 2020. Like opening day at Yankee Stadium, turning those first few laps after a long winter’s hibernation signals the start of spring.
In our current reality, with everything still uncertain, just taking a drive with no destination feels like therapy. After the lockdown began and looking to keep my family and elderly mother safe, I was hesitant to go anywhere beyond the grocery store and back. But one day, when a curbside pickup at a local shop was necessary (wine and cheese is an essential), I pulled the cover off my 20-year old S2000 instead of jumping into the daily driver. The store was only five minutes away, yet I was gone for nearly an hour.
In my part of northern Fairfield County, there are few straight roads. The S2000 was designed for these twisty two-lanes and I enthusiastically flicked through the gears, pushing the digital tach higher with each passing mile. The wind blowing through my near-Fabio length hair felt like the perfect cocktail of forbidden fruit and essential life force.
With no other traffic on the road, the turns were a bit quicker than normal, the g-forces feeling like a welcome hug from a friend. There was a distinct awareness of the anxiety and stress melting away as my grin, so rare these days, grew bigger with shift. I can’t remember the last time I was so focused on just driving. Every one of my senses was alive and soaking up every delicious detail, no matter how small.
Like all good things, and with my bounty secured, the drive came to an end. Pulling the cover back on the little red convertible, I reflected on my drive and the driving future in the weeks ahead. With the lockdowns easing up, our roads will again be frustratingly packed with distracted drivers. Yet, that also means we’ll be turning laps at Monticello Motor Club and other tracks around the country.
The pandemic has taken so much from some. Personally, I lost my mother in the midst of it. Yet, hopefully most of us will be able to get back to a somewhat normal life, including pursuing those non-essential pursuits that simply bring us joy. For enthusiasts, that first track day is going to feel somewhat different. Those first few laps will seem sweeter, even if our technique is rusty. We’ll savor the experience a bit more, and be more present for the driving and the conversations with friends that follow.
For motorheads, piloting an automobile has always been more than getting from point A to point B. This year though, I expect most of us have realized how much we take for granted and how lucky we are to share the simple pleasure of the drive.