by Daniel Bayer
It sits in the driveway, behind the Volvo station wagon that served as my main transportation for so many years. The 2005 Honda Civic is gloss black, with tinted windows and sunroof, alloy rims, five-speed manual transmission with cruise control, six-disk CD player and working A/C. It’s probably the nicest car I’ll ever own, and it cost me $6,500, more than the last three cars I bought put together.
“You’re selling insurance and you bought a new car,” says my housemate Kristal. “You’re growing up.”
Maybe. I can’t remember if I’ve ever told her that I once owned a house, long before the series of “life transitions” that eventually saw me arrive eight years ago in this tiny bedroom in Greensboro’s Whiskey District. A journalism career, photography school, a couple of small businesses, several bands and romantic relationships; whatever benchmarks people use to define “adulthood,” they’ve passed through my life with seemingly little long-term effect on my sense of what adulthood is, or how I should approach it. The Sex Pistols poster I bought at Commander Salamander the summer I graduated from high school still hangs over my bed; the electric guitar I built as a teen just a few feet away.
“That car could help you pick up college chicks,” jokes Tyler, another housemate. I wonder why I’ve never owned a nice car before. Most of mine have been beaters — sometimes purchased, sometimes handed down from relatives. A couple of Toyotas, the Volvo, a Ford Festiva… it always seemed like there was something I wanted more, a guitar maybe. If the car started when I turned the ignition, if there was room enough in it for my amp, then that was fine with me. For years I never took very good care of my cars, forgetting to change the oil, covering them in bumper stickers or, in one case, letting my friends and random strangers scribble all over the car with a Sharpie. Even now the floor of my van is covered with candy wrappers and scraps of paper. I can’t even be bothered to tie a plastic bag to the door handle for my trash.
A journalism career, photography school, a couple of small businesses, several bands and romantic relationships; whatever benchmarks people use to define “adulthood,” they’ve passed through my life with seemingly little long-term effect on my sense of what adulthood is, or how I should approach it.
I open the door to the Civic and slide behind the wheel. I can’t drive it on the street, thanks to the previous owner’s attempt to avoid paying road tax by leaving the title in the dealer’s name. By the time he gets that straightened out, I’ve misplaced my license and have to wait for a duplicate before the DMV will issue me plates. “Vroom, vroom,” I mutter as I shift the gears. It certainly is sharp inside, a black interior with gray trim. It seems almost like a crime to deliver prescriptions in it, tearing it up on the poorly maintained roads where many of the patients live. At least with the beaters it didn’t matter if I tore the muffler off backing out of someone’s rutted driveway. Just toss it in the trunk and carry on.
Even in high school, at that age when most young men are obsessed with cars, I really didn’t care about how they looked. My first vehicle was a Mustang II, handed down from my father when he bought a pickup truck (he was going to use it to go out a get firewood for our fireplace; needless to say, this “back to the land” movement didn’t last long in our household. The wood eventually arrived in someone else’s truck). The car was a clunker, poorly maintained, and left me stranded on the roadside without warning on several occasions. It finally became stuck in second gear — on a trip back from church of all places, another reason I soured on organized religion — and was replaced with a Toyota Tercel. That’s the one that became a rolling wall of graffiti. In fact, the owner of the chicken-processing plant I worked at demanded that it be parked on the road instead of in the parking lot, lest it hurt the company’s image. Imagine a car so ugly that it would give a slaughterhouse a bad name.
I wonder if the music will feel the same in the new car. The stereo sounds far better, but I can’t see the Band’s “The Weight” having the same gravitas that it would have in the Volvo, with its dented doors and malfunctioning power steering. When that opening acoustic guitar lick kicked off as I was beginning a delivery run, I felt like the car and I were characters in a movie, battered survivors cruising a post-industrial landscape of trailer parks and housing projects, a cross between Max Rockatansky and Travis Bickle.
I get out of the car and check the mailbox… still no duplicate license. I guess growing up will have to wait just a couple of days.
Daniel Bayer is a writer, photographer, musician and perpetual adolescent living in Greensboro.