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I received my first car, a silver Saab 9-3 during the summer before my senior year of high school. Like me, that car was not created in the sweltering heat of the Coachella Valley in California, yet by some work of chance, found its way there, Also like me, that car was bordering on 17 years of age, although it was much worse for wear. It stayed with me wherever it was appropriate to have a car, To others it must have looked like a barely mobile hunk of metal let loose from a nearby junkyard, but to me, it was a beacon of independence, disguised under a faded paintjob.
With its plastic bumpers, its felt convertible top, and it’s fogged up, yellowing headlights, it possessed a certain charm that newer cars couldn‘t match The interior had cracking leather seats, and lacked any trace of newer technology like an auxiliary outlet, but at least it had lots of cupholders, I spent months saving up money for it with the promise of getting matched dollar for dollar by my parents, I wasn’t saving up for any car specifically, but once a family friend decided he needed a newer car, my opportunity had arrived.
My friend came with me to pick it up and take it for a spin, and after figuring out how to put its convertible top down, we experienced what flying must have felt like. It may not have looked like much, but as one of the youngest people in my circle of friends to get a license and a car, most of my friends had an opportunity to realize what that car meant It meant 2 AM Taco Bell runs, and being able to hang out with friends on a moment’s notice.
It even meant spontaneous trips to the beach, a rare vacation from our town’s 100 degree temperatures, Most of all, that car meant freedom, not just to me, but to any who had the chance to ride in iL It wasn’tjust a car, it was the Saab, and it was all mine. That isn‘t to say it was perfecti Though there was nothing visibly wrong with it aside from it beginning to show its age, its 17 years had begun to take a toll, Every few weeks a different part fell off or stopped working.
However, instead of making it worse, itjust stood to further distance it from other cars. Any car could have an easily opened glove compartment or all its backseat lights, but the Saab wasn’t just any car. I’ll never forget the day the hydraulics in the roof gave out, forcing it to become permanently opened, On any of the other 364 days of the desert’s perpetual sunlight, this would have been nothing to take note of, but on this specific day, there was over 8 inches of rain. Rather than become a miserable experience, I experienced the viewpoint of a plane barreling through a storm cloud, freezing and drenched, but exhilarated. The Saab, with its broken top, overly powerful acceleration, and over 170,000 miles of experience, knew much more than I did in its 17 years, and now, it was trying to catch me up. With a backseat barely spacious enough to fit one person, it could take me anywhere, granted I was up for the journey.
It wasn’tjust an object or a vehicle, but a personality as well, it was even a place, any place, provided it was at the center of it all. Coachella Valley was always sweltering during the day, but the setting of the sun always brought about a comfortable, tepid air. It was the kind of weather suited to a light jacket, but could easily be forgone. The freeway that ran through the center of town were empty in the late hours of the night, were peacefully, if not eerily, silent without the constant hum of the engines of daily commuters, The freeway stretches infinitely into the inky blackness, as the desert roads rarely had street lights. All of this made for perfect conditions for a relaxing drive at night Now, the only sound would be the cacophonous roar of the Saab’s aging engine, desperately trying to keep up with the foot‘s demands on its stiff petalsl I knew those conditions were ideal for testing the Saab’s speed, and with the fading headlights splitting the ocean of night ahead, 1 charged forward.
My grin quickly spread from ear to ear, in part from barrelling forward, the wind pulling back my face, but also from the sheer anticipation of the speeds I was about to reach. Every increase in speed caused a desire for a subsequent increase, until the car was at its limits. I continued to accelerate, disregarding the speedometer in an effort to catch up to the illuminated area ahead, like a dog chasing a bone tied to a stick on its back. However, as I felt my ability to navigate curves at such a high speed deteriorate, and the slightest movement of the steering wheel lurch me to the side, I knew it was not worth continuing. In a bittersweet mix of accomplishment and defeat, I accepted that 180 miles per hour, almost 50 above the speedometer’s supposed maximum, would remain the Saab’s, as well as my own limit. I’m a little ashamed to admit that it took me a little while to actually get over the initial high of being a new driver to see the car as more than transportation, but after a while,I knew the Saab’s quirks inside and out.
I learned that nothing sounded better coming out of those speakers than the sound of used Rock CD’s, and that the handle to adjust the seats needed to be held at a specific angle in order to work. I learned every trick and tip for using the Saab to the point that I was the only one who could properly drive it. One of the only things I never quite got used to was one of its most frequent habits. Around 2-3 times per day, whenever the Saab came to a stop, the engine would just shut off. Not noticing it resulted in more than a few angry drivers, ignorant of the Saab’s condition. However, with enough occurrences, my muscles remembered the motion of putting it in park, turning it back on and putting it back in drive to the point where most drivers behind me at a red light wouldn‘t notice. While the Saab could take me anywhere I eventually realized that it was only a method, and not a reason. Just having freedom didn’t automatically mean I could or should use it, as the destination and the reason had to come from me, As much personality as the Saab had, it was not a person, just a tool, Ultimately this was the same with everything, a tool means nothing without a reason to use it When I was 18 and barely heading off to college, freshmen were not allowed to keep a car on campus.
The Saab had been through everything with me for the past years and yet, it couldn’t come with me on my biggest journey yet. At the same time, my mom’s car had quit working and she didn‘t have the immediate means to replace it. With much grief, I realized that she had a reason. She needed the Saab more than I did and at least it was staying in the family, Even so, I had to say goodbye to the car that took me everywhere, the car that made commuting 2 hours between my parents’ houses possible, the car that gave me more than 1 could have hoped, the Saab It continued to break down in my mother’s hands, as expected of a then 19 year old car, Of course, I only got to hear about it over the phone, as if receiving news about a sick family member. First went the power steering, then the transmission, and finally the engine, The news of it finally giving out was sad but expected. The Saab had been living on borrowed time and now likely solely in my memories, But even though the Saab is no more, its lessons and experiences are still with me, along with the memory of the wind through my hair and it’s insensitive pedals below my feet.
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