Memoir of an Auto Aficionado

For the last year and a half, I have had the good fortune of having your eyes twice a month to share with you my love of cars. The positive response I’ve gotten from readers of The Maroon-News has propelled my passion and pushed me to explore new automotive angles. I have appreciated the feedback, enjoyed the conversations and been motivated by the suggestions that you all have provided. I have often been asked where my passion for automobiles comes from: how and why a young girl, growing up in New York City, could have developed this affinity. My last article will seek to tell the story of how my enthusiasm for cars came to be.

My love affair with cars began when I was three. Though I could barely walk, I had no trouble getting around. My favorite childhood activity was to ram my Little Tikes Flintstone mobile into the walls of my family’s two-bedroom apartment on the sixteenth floor on East 77th Street in Manhattan. The narrow spaces of a New York apartment were hardly conducive to touring, and because the white paint became increasingly marked up from my deliberate automobile accidents, it’s no wonder that my parents began to question whether having me was a good idea or not.

My Little Tikes Flintstone mobile lasted me two years and then it was time to trade it in. I acquired my next vehicle when I was half a decade old. I was homesick from school one day with a very high fever, and my dad called from work to see if there was anything he could bring to cheer me up. While most little girls with big eyes might have asked for a pony, I, being the tomboy that I was, told him that I really wanted a remote control car. My father, the benevolent (and sometimes excessive) dad that he is, decided to pick up a Power Wheels Bigfoot truck for me instead. You can imagine my surprise and delight (not to mention my mother’s horror) when he rang the doorbell and I opened the door to discover a drivable mini-monster truck. The marks on the walls quickly worsened and it became necessary for my driving adventures to be relocated to the Park downstairs.

A young girl growing up in New York City was hardly an ideal person for an infatuation with cars. Driving in New York is no easy task. There are cabs to contend with, aggressive bus drivers, potholes everywhere, double-parked cars which make narrow streets even narrower, kamikaze bicyclists delivering Chinese food who weave in and out of lanes and brazen pedestrians that appear out of nowhere and have little regard for traffic rules. Not to mention that drivers in New York are aggressive, obnoxious, foolish and incredibly hostile at times. Stress levels run high and middle fingers are flung higher. Really, a little girl growing up in New York City has no business developing an interest in cars. It is simply a recipe for disaster. You can imagine my parents’ dismay when one day I began honking the horn of my Power Wheels Bigfoot truck and shouting “Move it ucking dasshole!” To make matters worse, when my mom told me to stop saying that, I defiantly replied,” But that’s what Daddy says when he drives!” Ah, my father’s embarrassment.

The Power Wheels vehicle provided unparalleled amusement for about four years. When I was nine, I had outgrown my mini-monster truck and it became time to move on. This is when I discovered go-carts at the small amusement park we often went to in Pennsylvania. The exhilaration that came with driving on an actual road was more than I could handle and I would extend the allotted 10-lap runs into 30- and 40-lap runs.

The motors just continued to get bigger and when I was 11, my parents surprised me at sleep-away camp one summer with a new car. In 1994, the teal green Camaro Z28 convertible they showed up to camp with was about the coolest thing ever. The time spent riding around the Maine countryside, in the backseat, that visiting weekend were truly moments of glory.

When it came time to take driver’s education at school, I was the only sophomore in a classroom full of juniors and seniors. My time had finally arrived, and it couldn’t have come soon enough. Though I got my license in September of my junior year of high school, my parents would not let me make the 30-minute drive to Riverdale, where I went to school, until second semester. When the time came, I inherited our family’s fire-engine red GMC Yukon XL. Since my early years were spent maneuvering a mini-Bigfoot truck around a New York City apartment, it was only fitting that my newly licensed skills were put to the test maneuvering a 19-foot tank through the streets of Manhattan and the Bronx.

As the Little Tikes Flintstone mobile and the Power Wheels Bigfoot truck had been, “Big Red,” as my friends had dubbed it, became my prized possession and I spent most of my free time tooling around in it. The conspicuous vehicle became my sanctuary, my conference room, a veritable extension of my self and my personality. It was in Big Red that I shuttled my entire tennis team into the city after practice each evening. It was in Big Red that I sat in traffic for three hours on September 12, 2001, venturing home to Manhattan after being trapped in Riverdale following the attack of the Twin Towers. It was in Big Red that I learned that I’d gotten into Colgate.

My license turned out to be the lynchpin that solidified my love of cars. Virtually building cars online became a favorite pastime and picking up Motor Trend or Car and Driver became commonplace. When it was time to give up Big Red I researched the next car thoroughly. Since the red Yukon XL had become an extension of me, it was very necessary that my next ride have all of the right accoutrements. Despite the fact that nearly 15 years had passed since the time that I had requested the remote control car, I still had big eyes. I wanted speed, luxury and xenon headlights. I wanted a Mercedes SLR McLaren. Since that car wouldn’t have been good in the snow, I decided on a Volkswagen 4-Motion W8 Passat.

If you know me, then you’ve either ridden in my VW or seen me driving around in it. While I no longer purposefully crash into walls, I now spend an exorbitant amount of time exploring the Hamilton area. With a 0-60mph time of 6.4 seconds and 270 horsepower, it was in the Passat that I got my first speeding ticket.

Next year, when I move back to New York, I will have to give up my car. Without a car and without my Maroon-News column, I don’t know what shape my passion for automobiles will take. Only time will tell. In the meantime, thanks for reading!