Somebody at DaimlerChrysler's ad agency came up with "Drive = Love", an equation which, if you ask me, has too many variables; this is the sort of calculus that makes for double, triple, even quadruple entendres without ever reaching a solution. Still, on a very basic level, it works: the open road has always had a siren song to sing, and very few automakers go more than a few months without at least one TV spot showing one of their newly-hatched wonders doing the sort of speed on an empty Western two-lane that you or I would simply never dare to do on the Garden State Parkway.

Or maybe you would. I'm still a little bit unsure of myself. The combination of too many years tethered to a desk for long hours and too many dollars spent trying to revive a series of high-mileage crapmobiles drained much of the drive out of me. And there was a lot to drain: owing to various peculiarities of my upbringing, I never got my driver's license until I was twenty-one, and all that lost time had to be made up somehow. Over the next few years, I drove on superslabs and on paths suitable for mountain goats, on the hottest asphalt and on the coldest packed snow, wrapped up for blizzard conditions and completely naked. In 1988, perhaps emboldened by having bought two new tires, I left Albuquerque at nine in the morning and pulled into Redondo Beach at ten-thirty that night.

Then somewhere in the Nineties, I quit driving. Oh, I still did the daily commute and the getting of groceries and such, but the day trips to Nowhere In Particular became fewer and fewer and finally disappeared. I blamed it on advancing age, and not just mine: Dymphna, my vintage-1975 Celica, had become increasingly arthritic and cranky (a characteristic I now see in myself), and I sought out a replacement, which turned out to be a weirdly-configured mid-Eighties Mercury. The big cat had moves that were good enough and actual creature comforts, but Ford's doofus 3.8 V6 ate head gaskets the way teenagers eat Doritos, and after three years and a mere 8,900 miles (horizontal, anyway — the odometer didn't record miles on the repair shop's vertical lift), I turned back to the Japanese.

Well, sort of. The Mazda 626 was assembled in Flat Rock, Michigan starting in 1993, and I snagged a first-year example in 1998. It had all the comforts of the Mercury, all the zippiness (given the limitations of a teensy four-cylinder engine) of the Toyota, and when it wasn't confounding me with mysterious transient glitches, it was great fun to drive. The leash started to pick up some slack. In 2000, I bought another 626, this time (and for me, the first time ever) brand-new, and finally, in the summer of 2001, I put together the day trip to end all day trips: 4400 miles of mostly-unfamiliar roads, some Interstates, some two-lanes, even a few miles underwater. Some of you possibly may have read about it. And while the journey was just jam-packed with memories of the most indelible kind, the one I absolutely must mention is the very last one, as I shut off the engine, took enough deep breaths to set off a spate of yawning, and said something to the effect of "Jesus, I'm tired. I've got to do this again."

And I shall. There's something about the road that demands I answer its call. I'm not sure if it's really a siren song or simply eagerness to escape the routine frustrations of workaday life, but at some point this summer, assuming no objections from Jesus, I'm going to load up the trunk and spend a couple of weeks looking at the world through a windshield. If you see me, wave. I'm the guy with the bad hair and the Oklahoma plates and a grin I've been saving up for a year.

The Vent

#285
16 March 2002

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