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Of Mustangs and postponed gratification  

On the last day of 2016, I traded a battered Ford Taurus with high mileage for a 2003 Mustang GT with racing stripes, a hood scoop, a spoiler, and—most importantly—a V-8 engine and manual transmission.

People have asked my wife if I’m having some sort of middle-aged crisis, but she has told them, “It’s more like postponed gratification.” Very postponed, I should add.

During the summer of 1971, I bought a Car Craft magazine and became enthralled with drag racing, especially funny cars, supercharged tubular-framed racers with stretched and lowered fiberglass bodies that resembled some of the sportier street vehicles of that era. My favorite was the Blue Max funny car, and when a 1971 Mustang Mach One passed while I was walking down the street, I stared, my mouth agape, thinking it looked a lot like that famous hot rod. I wanted one in the worst kind of way, but was only a kid in junior high and way too young to drive.

In high school, I never had the money for one of those Mustangs, and in the wake of the Arab Oil embargo and subsequent oil crisis, muscle cars more or less went away. Mustangs became anemic Mustang IIs before mutating into boxy abominations that were just plain ugly.

Still, whenever one of those hot rod Mustangs appeared in traffic, an old longing returned, but practical concerns guided my financial decisions. I owned one dull car after another, and at one point, both vehicles my wife and I drove could be found on an Internet list titled “The Ten Best Cars You Can Buy for Under $5,000.”

When a new model Mustang debuted in 1999, I was captivated. Something about that version reminded me of those early 70s Mustangs. My prudent inclinations reigned, so I didn’t buy one, but I wished I could. Just about everyone knew that about me, which in retrospect, is a bit embarrassing. One of my kids even posted her college graduation pictures on Facebook with the declaration, “Dad is closer to his Mustang!”

In 2016, my wife and I downsized our home and lives. Debt free, we even had a bit of money in the bank, and I started saying that we should buy a Mustang. My friends and family agreed. By that time, one of those turn of the century Mustangs was actually quite affordable, so I started looking around on the Internet. Actually, I had been perusing used car sites all along, wistfully viewing pictures of Mustang GTs, which seems slightly pathetic to me now.

Finally, my wife and I drove the old Taurus over one-hundred miles to test drive a Mustang with all my requirements—it was even blue and had racing stripes like the venerable Blue Max. The car handled wonderfully and was in great shape for its age. My wife and I had a price in mind, but the salesman gave us a number $700 dollars higher and explained, “Well, the Kelly Blue Book on your trade is…”

“Don’t take this personally,” I said, “but I always buy used cars and am tired of salesmen telling me what my trade is worth using the Kelly figure. You see, the Bible says ‘differing weights and differing measures are an abomination to God.’ Now, you’re selling a Mustang and saying it’s $500 below NADA, which it is. But you want to only give me the Kelly price for my Taurus. Do you know what your car is worth according to Kelly?”

“No.”

“Do you know what mine is worth according to NADA?”

“No.”

“Well, go tell your manager to drop the price by $700, or I’m driving my Taurus back home, and I’m never going to think about a Mustang again.”

When he left, I felt peculiarly free, like I really would leave and cease obsessing about Mustangs.

Then he came back to congratulate me. The car was mine for the price I had offered.

On the way home, everything felt out of sorts and unreal, like, what am I doing with this car, anyway? I have to admit, though, when we took that Mustang out on the interstate, it was cool looking from behind a hood scoop at the road rushing towards us and then noticing how quickly cars became small in the rearview mirror when we passed them.

Since that day, I have listened to less music than usual, because I enjoy hearing the V-8 roar when accelerating from a stoplight, and the robust exhaust burble when downshifting is sweet to my ears as well. Simply looking at my car is a pleasure, but it still seems like that Mustang should really be in someone else’s driveway.

Quite a few people have told me how good it looks, and one day a kid stood on his bike pedals, nearly motionless as I rolled past him. My wife was riding with me and said he tracked us as we went by, turning his head and staring while he appeared to be mouthing the word “wow.”

I told her that was me, way back when I was barely thirteen.

If I ever see that kid again, I’d like to stop and show him my car, then tell him not to think about wanting one too much. After all, it’s just a thing, and while I’m grateful for my car, it hasn’t really made me happier. Sure, it’s fun to drive, but traffic often forces me to maneuver it much like the old Taurus, and when the opportunity arises to drive that Mustang like I stole it, which one should do with such a car, I have to admit that what I’m doing may be technically illegal, possibly immoral, or simply stupid. At times, it’s all three.

It probably won’t be too long before I replace the Mustang with another ride, a practical vehicle much like my former cars, which I will drive with a sense of contentment, rather than a persistent and perhaps even childish yearning for something more.

But then again, maybe I won’t.

 

 

 

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The hot rod Mustang

(A poem about sex and God and marriage)

 

Not even old enough to drive

When it rounded a corner and rolled by

Beautiful, loud, and full of promise,

I stood there gape mouthed and moon eyed,

Starting at the rumbling fury that was a Hot Rod Mustang

And that which would become my obsession.

 

I told my friends and they told me,

For they too had glimpsed those hopped up and fanciful cars.

We speculated what it would be like to drive such splendid machines,

All of us projecting unveiled assumptions with feigned expertise.

Ricky, the kid down the street, even claimed to have even driven one,

When he was away on vacation the past summer,

But we all called him liar, liar

Despite him saying, I swear to God,

Honest I did, really.

 

Ricky did have magazines, though, lots of them

With full-color photographs of incredibly hot rides

That we perused feverously, lavishing our attentions

On those glossy fantastic images.

Those cars were not like the ones our parents drove, mind you,

Though we knew they actually did drive,

For that is what mothers and fathers do.

Those muscle cars were truly of another kind,

Leaping from the page,

Full of heat, speed, thunder, and rancid tire smoke.

 

One time I snuck into a movie theatre,

Dark with vile sticky floors,

Where a hot rod Mustang flashed across the screen.

Fishtailing with tires squealing,

That car flat out hauled ass down the road

Launching airborne over hills, banging back down on the shocks,

Lurching and swerving and rocking before sliding sideways

To a sudden desperate stop.

 

I now know what I saw simply was not real.

Multiple cars wrecked in the filming

Stunt drivers suffered horrific injuries

Strategic camera angles accentuated every lunge and turn.

But something about that movie and all those magazines

Gave me expectations about the automotive experience

No amount of public school drivers’ education could correct.

 

Then I discovered a hot rod Mustang in my father’s garage.

We were estranged at the time, so I would sneak over to his place

And peer through the window at the car parked in shadows.

Eventually I jimmied open the door, slinked inside

And actually touched the hot rod Mustang.

The door was unlocked, so I got behind the wheel, grabbed the shifter

And imagined nighttime cruises with a girl beside me,

Her long hair blowing in the wind.

I took a real girl to the garage not long after

And we did just about everything in that car except actually drive.

I found the keys in the glove box,

Started the engine,

And we got all hot and bothered in the garage,

Nearly poisoning ourselves on exhaust.

We were still too young to be legal,

When our excitement mounted to a frenzy,

And I pushed open the garage door,

Rolled the car out on the street

Banging and grinding the gears.

We almost wrecked before we got the thing back inside.

It was such a fiasco,

You would have thought we’d have given up on the Mustang.

In a way, we did, because after that bleak anti-climactic day,

We never got in the Mustang again, though she did ride in cars with other boys.

 

I found another with whom to ride.

We put serious mileage on the car,

Did all kinds of things my father wouldn’t have approved of

While courting both exhilaration and disaster alike,

But we convinced ourselves otherwise.

Other girls followed

And the Mustang was driven far too hard

Until my father barged in.

He knew all along what I was doing.

Why didn’t you say anything? I asked

He said I already knew I wasn’t supposed to be driving that car

And I wouldn’t have listened anyway.

He made it plain I was his son,

That he loved me

And even though I had used that word so much,

I had no idea what it even meant.

You ready to listen, now? He asked.

Yes, I replied.

Stay away from that car, until I say otherwise.

 

For the most part I did stay away,

But others drove hot rods like they stole them

Busting up everything and leaving others to pay.

Occasional women tried to coerce me into taking them for a ride,

Sometimes laughing as they spoke.

Maybe they saw me as a challenge,

Or even worse, a charity case.

 

I have to admit, I kept thinking about that Mustang,

Even while shunning the movies and magazines.

Memory was my own dank theatre I kept finding myself in

Before walking out and squinting in the light.

 

When I finally got married,

My father awarded me the keys to the hot rod Mustang.

My wife and I drove a lot, especially during our first year together.

Mostly it was quite wonderful,

Except I would remember the way this one girlfriend

Used to throw her head back when I shifted gears:

My wife didn’t do that;

I wondered if the guys she used to ride with had bigger engines.

We worked through it all, one piece at a time,

Because the Mustang requires maintenance,

But I’d have to say it’s been a good ride.

 

Now, the hot rod Mustang is parked a lot of the time.

It’s not what you’d call a daily driver,

But we still relish our rides together.

Sometimes, just a quick jaunt to the corner, sometimes a nice long cruise,

We’ve made the car our own and no one else’s.

There was this kid, though, just the other day,

Who gawked as we rolled by,

Standing nearly motionless on the pedals of his bike,

Transfixed by the hot rod Mustang.

I wanted to tell him,

Yeah, the ride is pretty darn cool,

Just don’t get too worked up about it

Because there’s a whole lot about life

And especially love

That doesn’t have anything

To do with a hot rod Mustang.

 

4/05/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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