I love cars; my first was a little White T-bird convertible with red interior – I drove it everywhere until its plastic wheels fell off. I graduated to a blue, pedal-powered model and my world expanded to the whole street. I hit my first -and only- curb in Mom’s Cutlass after Driver’s Ed class. Time with Dad was filled with long hours every weekend washing and waxing the family livery. The neighbor kept telling me I was going to polish the paint right off my Pinto. Never happened – it gleamed and purred well into its second decade completely original except for a few tasteful additions of later models’ upgrades. I came to truly admire the design and engineering that makes each curve flow from the last and every piece fit precisely with the next.
But I’ve also been accused of idolatry with my cars. The jury is still out on that question. Hmm. What is idolatry? It is worshiping or putting something made by hands before or in the place of God. Secondarily, according to Webster, it is “excessive attachment or veneration for any thing, or that which borders on adoration.” I guess I’m going to have to define ‘excessive’ to wiggle out of that definition. It probably boils down to priorities. Is my happiness based in cars, or can I be content without them? Or am I merely recognizing and appreciating the beauty inherent in not only the lines but the owner’s diligent care? Because there is a difference: a beat-up police Charger doesn’t hold a candle to that sweet black-on-smoke Hemi. Like I’ve said before, it’s the love invested that makes beauty apparent. And a vintage, all-original creampuff is way more exciting than some glistening beauty still on the dealer’s floor. Well, then again, there was the week-old Jag I smelled last month… nothing like brand new leather and gleaming gauges to transport me instantly into utter bliss….
But I’ll probably never drive a Jag. The closest I’ve ever come was a trip up the Pacific Coast Highway in an Alfa Romeo convertible. Sweet ride, but then again, so was the Formula 400 Firebird I had for a summer. And then I got married, had babies and began driving a short list of family trucksters that I was increasingly unable to keep clean. Neighbors again harassed me, only this time it was for putting Junior and Princess in the playpen while I raced around in an attempt to achieve gleaming perfection before one blew a gasket. As the little ones became able to walk, each got handed a wheel brush or running board rag and instructed on proper usage. Pretty soon, the orchestration of too many children around one car became a bigger fiasco than I was willing to do weekly. The stress I experienced when I saw a rag dropped on the driveway and reapplied to the fender sent me into orbit. The cars got dirtier and I learned to use the washer function of the windshield wipers. It was a decade before it occurred to me I’d lost something fundamental to who I am.
Could I be content without nice cars? If we have the right to pursue happiness in this country, what is happiness? Is it pursuing what makes me happy at this present moment, or is “happiness” a greater joy in something more, something deeper? My brother, Barry, owner of Gilmore Custom Services, specializes in taking rusty field ornaments and turning them into collector’s trophies, either custom or correct. And then there’s my good friend Randy at Oldbug.com, who restores vintage VWs to absolute perfection. Both of them inspire me immensely. They not only do what they’d do anyway for a living, but they do something for the rest of us that is untouchable.
I daresay that contrary to the modern ideal of “what makes me happy now”, I think true happiness is found in the pursuit of a job well done in the midst of a life well lived. If keeping your car gleaming is your main pursuit, idolatry is probably a factor. But if every bit of chrome in your garage flashes because that’s how you take care of what you have, you bring glory to God in your careful stewardship. The smiles of appreciation you bring to others’ faces extend their lives as well. You are not only accomplishing something you love to do, but blessing someone else in the process. Major satisfaction; happiness. Possibly even the essence of life itself.
I don’t have time right now to spend a lot of time on a car. I will probably never restore one. (I’m just not that into metal work.) But I’ve taught my children to never drop the sponge, wring the chamois often, and use Westley’s for whitewalls (or raised white letters). You will no longer catch one writing “Also Available in Silver” on the dusty tailgate of my pewter Suburban. Maybe this is the pursuit of happiness after all – I am delaying the gratification of a slick sedan of my own to train the next generation to respect and admire the art of the automobile. And maybe once they’re all fledged from the nest, I may just reward myself with a sexy little roadster with only space enough for a pack of M&Ms and a bottle of water for the road….