It appears that somehow my piece on Petrolicious is climbing its way back into the ranks of the ‘most popular’ stories this week, which is a huge encouragement in a somewhat grim time and certainly motivation to write something relevant for all the visitors to this site expecting to see lots more (car-related) content.
Above all, it’s been a treat to meet, talk to, and hear from people who share some slice or another of this crazy journey. Last week, I sat down for coffee with Ty and Brock, filmmakers from Portland who were in Austin for a commercial shoot and wanted to catch up with any aircooled Porsche people they could find in town. What followed was several hours’ conversation on life and the experiential side of cars, with precious little attention to technical details or highbrow esoterica. It was a conversation of finding common ground and bringing new stories and perspectives to the table.
I think often of the true parable my grandfather tells about his father. I was once reading some typewritten notes in a binder at his house and came across a sheet of paper with a header proclaiming a business I had no idea the family had ever been in. I asked him when and how long Carl had run an auto body shop, or perhaps it was a vacuum cleaner showroom.
“Oh, hell, he never did. But any time he felt he needed a new lease on life, he either bought a new car or new business cards and stationary.”
This speaks to the primal nature of man’s relationship to the automobile, and his idea of self. There’s nothing like a fresh haircut, a new pair of shoes, or perhaps an old car to restore some spring to your step. And, even though we’re told time and again that happiness can’t be bought and material things are all dust to dust, we can only construct our experiences out of the tangible tools at-hand and the memories they help us make.
In light the largely gloomy time lately, it’s been a surprise and delight to find my piece on seeking new life after the bike crash directing more people my way to share their stories or offer encouragement. It makes me feel the best type of inadequate—that perhaps some portion of my story is worth sharing and that I’ve done a terrible job of staying persistent and continuing the updates. I let a foggy brain and a soul-sucking job prevent me from chronicling the trip well or in real-time, and still I receive comments like this one which was posted here this morning:
Almost the exact set of circumstances led to my purchase of almost the exact same car sight unseen as well. An ’84 Carrera Coupe. Was driving my previous life diversion (an ’84 BMW 633 CSI). Fell asleep at the wheel on a beautiful summer’s day in August of 2015. Went off the road at 60 mph (so they say) and into a stand of oak trees. Killed the car and did not walk away from the wreck. Back broken in 2 places, face cut up from going through glass, numerous other broken bones, concussion, etc. Could hardly even walk when one month out of the hospital I purchased my 911. Had never really driven one but always loved them. Still recovering physically. Doubt if I’ll ever walk the same or stand for longer than 15 minutes a shot. But 911 sits waiting for me in my garage. Any time I get the blues I go out there, peel off the cover, and drive. Drive, drive, drive. The car has a tremendous ability to restore my spirits and make me smile. So glad I bought it.
What cars represent for some of us, something represents for all of us. A decision or an expression of the final reality that if we are going to live our best lives, we are going to have to make some painful or risky decisions along the way. Somehow, it is easier to settle for a lifetime of nagging discomfort than it is to dig out the splinter or pull the tooth. And so, many of us elect the abscessed status quo.
Nothing breaks through the surreal and subdued sensation that seems to haunt me these days quite like finding common ground with new people or seeing the stories I fight so hard to share impacting somebody in some way. The simple act of delivering joy through word or deed is a better medicine than even laughter. It makes perfect sense why the legacy of those lost to depression most often seems to be one of extraordinary kindness and humor. Sadness breeds also a preternatural empathy and a nihilistic vulnerability. When you know pain, you want others to avoid it at all costs. And when you have ceased to regard your life with the level of ham-fisted control and pride that virtually all of us do, it becomes somewhat easier to speak openly and encourage in terms beyond veiled platitudes.
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Sometimes we need to hear more than just “It will be ok.” That may be the truest phrase in the world, and oftentimes it is enough. But sometimes when you don’t feel ok, believing that will change is extraordinarily difficult. We may want to sleep in and never wake up. Or move to a different country. Or drive off a very high cliff into a very deep lake. Agonizing pain cries out for quick fixes. None are available. The process of working through things, of living with thoughts and feelings, of identifying sources of joy is what gives richness to life and purpose to art.
We are drawn to voluntary challenges because they fill us with a singular purpose that has metaphorical value and serves a literal need. Whether that’s knitting a scarf or rebuilding a carburetor or a going for a transcontinental bike ride, seeing a task through to completion is worthwhile. Especially when nothing depends on it.
When I rode my bike across the country, it sounded better than the alternatives—staying in school at a place I didn’t love and getting drunk with people I didn’t have much in common with because the cycle of complacency and numbing was easier than making a tough but needed change or further segmenting my true soul from my external surroundings until I reached an actual breaking point because the numbing wasn’t working.
That experience was unglamorous and arduous but peppered with the type of unforgettable moments that our stories are made of. It was a new car and new stationary and a new (lack of a) haircut all wrapped into one. It drew a line in the sand between apathy and action and forced me to choose which side I was on.
I still look back on the stories and statistics from that time with an awestruck wonder, that the same fragile shell that I’m wrapped in was able to cover that ground and weather those storms and sleep in those unmarked woods and police station side lots. But that is a priceless lesson so long as we have the prescience and honesty to recognize it. I am often the first to tell the daunted and the skeptical that I don’t particularly love sleeping in a tent or that no matter how accustomed we may become to oil changes or tube changes or hitchhiking into the nearest town, such experiences never lose their exhilarating uncertainty.
It is astounding how quickly our own achievements become distant memories and how easily we slip into the comfort of the known and the despair of the inescapable. I think often of Flannery O’Connor’s wise epithet in A Good Man is Hard to Find: “She would’ve been a good woman,” The Misfit said, “if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
As I read the Comments sections of my writing with renewed interest, I am stricken by the collective urgency of those who have seen how easily life might’ve passed them by. Just this morning, as I struggled to devise a conclusion for this rambling, I was notified of another new comment on Petrolicious, this from a writer based in Australia:
After some awesome range roads I crossed the QLD border that arvo and drove on until Roos started appearing at the roadside… time for a beer, a feed and bed in another small town. Up again with the breaking sun, I was so excited to get back behind the wheel…
His breathless enchantment (and the prospect of wringing out a Porsche surrounded by wild kangaroos) gave me a certain energy that I find myself grasping for more and more often. I so admire those who find daily inspiration in the car in their garage or the watch on their wrist or the coworkers in their office. Whether by new car or new stationary, new haircut or voluntary discomfort, we must relentlessly seek the things that make life feel the best kind of hard and the right kind of easy.
Yesterday, I sat and broke bread with a friend who is soon to embark on a six week bicycle trek across Mexico’s Baja Peninsula and scrambled for something powerful and true to say by way of encouragement. Little came to mind, but I told her of the way that waking up soggy and dirty on the desert floor surrounded by scorpions beats the hell out of waking up in your bed at home wishing you hadn’t. Lately I’ve lost much of my incessant itch to pedal toward the horizon or willingly embark on a harebrained endeavor towards a finished novel or an unclimbed mountain. And the times we don’t want such things are precisely the times we need them the most.