Living the true American dream

Published 7:59 pm Saturday, May 14, 2011

Aside from my parents and grandmother, the longest-running continuous relationship I’ve had as an adult has been not with my wife or my dog, but with a car.

Some of my very closest personal friends — people I’ve known for more than a decade (like my wife, for instance) — have never known me in anything but a little red Toyota Celica convertible.

In fact, I’ve driven that car for more than 16 years, racking up more than 280,000 miles on it, after having bought it used, a 1992 model with about 30,000 miles from the original owner.

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It was a case of love at first sight, though I was sure not to let the dealer know that at the time. I bought it at a great price, dropped the top on the way home from the car lot and proceeded to spend more time during the next 16 years with it down than up.

During that time, you might well have seen me driving with my wife in the passenger seat, or my now-deceased dog, Inky, standing in the backseat with her head resting on the windowsill — or even both. But you’re almost guaranteed to have seen me in that car.

Until this weekend, when we finally decided it was time to move on. With a top that was desperately in need of repair, seats that needed to be replaced and a variety of other things that needed to be fixed, keeping my old friend on the road had finally become too expensive a proposition to pursue.

I had not expected my wife’s reaction. (And what man hasn’t uttered those words at some point in his life, eh?)

As we discussed the plan to buy a new used car, her eyes began tearing up.

“I’ve only ever known you in that car,” she said.

“Well, I’m the same guy, no matter what I’m driving,” I replied, ever the voice of reason.

It’s true that we’ve got many wonderful memories (and even some bad ones) connected to that old red car. But, I assured her, we’ll make some wonderful new memories in a new convertible.

Someone asked me recently, in the course of an interview I was conducting for the upcoming edition of Suffolk Living magazine, whether I love cars.

I quickly responded that I do, as I can clearly remember the feeling of connection that I got with that Celica, not to mention the new connection I’ve made with my new car.

But I also realize now that the feeling I have about my cars has been deepened by the experiences I’ve enjoyed with them — trips all over the country, friends they’ve taken me to see, family members they’ve carried back to our home.

Sure, I love a good-looking car that drives like a dream just as much as the next guy. But never as much as when my wife and I are using that car to make wonderful new memories.

And in a nation for so many years obsessed with things automotive, that could be the true American dream.