My parents sold my 2004 Dodge Neon SXT on Tuesday morning. The car that I've had since I was 17 now belongs to a girl somewhere around my age who's soon going to beauty school. It was passed on to her with some 92,000 miles, a small dent in the rear right passenger door, chipped paint underneath my "DET" sticker, and a massive piece of my history. I last drove this tiny silver car with surprisingly excellent pick-up earlier this month, when I was home in Michigan for a weekend wedding.
Click the images to see my car.
I took Driver's Ed at the same time everyone else is able to, in Michigan - 15 years and nine months of age, I think it is. Once you take the initial classes, you're then given your learner's permit and are required to log a certain amount of driving hours before you can take your driver's test at 16, and subsequently receive your license. I, at this point, was petrified of driving on the freeway, something that's both absurd and hysterical to me now. I took my time logging my hours because of this fear and because the only car available for me to drive was my Mom's mini van, which I was also petrified of driving. (That fear - driving large automobiles - still holds true today. Oops.)
This silver roller skate, as my Dad called it, came to my parents' house in 2006 when my Dad was suffering, unemployed, underneath the weight of the Detroit auto industry collapsing. They bought it from a cop, used, at 36,000 miles and with no damage. When my Dad got back into work and got a new car, the Neon was given to me, my first and only car. I finally got my license when I was 17 or 18 (you would think I'd remember this, but for some reason I don't) and drove the Neon to school for my senior year, after spending the three years prior carpooling with neighbors and bumming rides in my friend Hannah's pale blue, ancient Oldsmobile Cutlass Classic.
While I don't remember the exact day I got that license, I do remember the first time I drove in the Neon alone. I took it to work at the salon (my first job, where I stayed for three and a half years) in Canton, a mere mile and a half away from the house. I listened to Oh My God's "Torture" before anything else; I had that one planned out for months prior. (I can't find a studio cut of this song anywhere online, but feel free to check out this live video, actually taken by my sister. The song is also on Spotify.)
I got over the fear of the freeway by somehow - one day, out of the blue - deciding to simply do that: get over it. While driving home from seeing a friend in Ann Arbor, I bypassed the Broadway to Plymouth Road route I was accustomed to, put on my big girl pants, and got on 23, instead. Slowly curving around to 14, I realized that this was not only easy, but indescribably natural. I had no idea why I had been avoiding the freeway aside from feeling like it was an unknown. In truth, driving was a part of me as a person. All I had to do was uncover that part.
This car - this tiny silver, wannabe rally car, with its laughable clown horn and under-loved rear spoiler - held my hand into my 20s. It carried me in and out of Detroit, Royal Oak, Plymouth-Canton, Livonia, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Howell, Brighton, Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Holland. I took this car to the beaches of Lake Michigan, parked it without concern on Woodward Avenue, and nestled it on someone's lawn during Michigan football games. It wasn't glamorous or remotely fancy - the rear windows were hand-crank - but it was my pride and joy. When I had it home in Plymouth, I would spend hours hand-washing and waxing every inch, even the dents I couldn't afford to repair. When the transmission dropped some cool summer evening while driving south on Beck towards North Territorial, I nearly cried when the tow came to take it away. I hid clothes in the trunk, occasional cigarettes in the center console, and an odd collection of burned CDs in the side pockets. I screamed in this car, fell in love in this car, cried uncontrollably in this car; I sang too loudly and laughed even more so. I made up with my best friend in the entire world in this car, in a park in Livonia under a giant full moon after a year of hardly speaking. We split her American Spirits and realized we had no idea why we ever argued in the first place. I sped her home when it was 1:00 AM, and smiled so hard my teeth hurt on the way back to Plymouth.
Above all else, I, a Detroiter through and through (as suburbian as you may consider my upbringing), utilized this car as my most cardinal, most important form of stress-relief. I actually didn't even realize this until just a few weeks ago when I drove it for the last time ever, for the first time in over six months. My life in Boston, while entirely wonderful, is marked by a constant feeling of stress and entrapment. For months and months, especially during my job search, I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to quell my stress. No amount of massages and no amount of vices would release the tension in my neck and my heart. I had no idea what to do about it, and came to accept that as I'm slowly aging, I'm just more stressed out. That was wrong. My stress-relieving activity is driving. As soon as I got into my Neon, turned it on, and roared onto M-14, I relaxed. Every bit of tension in my body went away, my right hand on the wheel and my left hand out the window.
I'm going to use the money from selling my car to pay for a new Dodge to have in Boston. Not immediately, but sometime soon, as I've accepted a position at The MIT Press and plan to stick around for a while. I have to budget it out, but I've finally come to the point where I can't keep living here without driving, or at the very least, having the option. It's like not living at all.
When I parked it in my parents' drive for what I knew was the last time, I sat with the engine running and my forehead pressed to the wheel for what could've been 30 minutes. I listened to every sound it made, saying some kind of goodbye, some kind of thank you. It felt almost like an epiphany: when I moved to Boston and everyone told me I wouldn't even miss my car, that I wouldn't even need it, they were lying. They had no idea.
This girl who's going to beauty school has no idea what a gift I've given her, no matter how dented the sides and no matter dirty the floor mats. She has no idea how much that Neon means to me and to who I am today. I hope she loves it as much as I did.