The Cars that Have Owned Me

I started my latest project with a vague idea of reminiscing about the cars in my life after reading a Christian Science Monitor article on the cost of driving various cars. The article got me wondering why I bought particular cars when I did.

Before I started pushing images around in my head, I thought I bought my ’65 Mustang in reaction to having to drive a ’50 Studebaker throughout college. If advertising was to be believed, I instantly went from “loser” to “cool.” And it wasn’t just advertisers who seemed to believe that, either. Though I like to think I’m less subject to social pressure now than when I was younger, I’m sure it still plays a part in everything I buy. I doubt I’ll ever totally escape its influence and even if I want to escape it entirely.

It’s not all about status, though. I’ve also always enjoyed quality machines, whether computers, power tools or cars. The Apple G5 I’m writing on is a clear indication I haven’t shaken that tendency, nor do I want to. I still think the Mustang was a great buy for its time. Though it didn’t compare to the ’65 Corvette, it was more sports car for the money than I could buy anywhere else. It was my favorite car until I bought a Honda CRX, which was an even sportier car for less money and got better mileage, to boot.

While working on my photo collage, though, I realized that the ’65 Mustang holds some complex, powerful memories for me, memories I didn’t completely realize were there. Looking back, I’m not sure whether those feelings influenced me in buying the car or whether they’re simply the result of experiences I had while I owned it.

I ordered the Mustang while training at Fort Knox and it was waiting for me when I returned Kentucky. I drove it to my first Army post, Fort Irwin, in the Mohave Desert less than a week later. It was my faithful companion for the eighteen months I was stationed there, a pleasant escape from the inescapable boredom of being stationed hundreds of miles away from civilization and from single girls. It instantly, or at least at speeds up to a hundred miles an hour, whisked me away to Vegas, Los Angeles, and, even, when truly desperate, Bakersfield. It was, quite simply, a joy to drive on the open highway, especially with the windows down and the radio playing wide open.

Apparently my memories of that Mustang are forever linked to my years in the Army, just as my memories of those years seem somehow tied to my childhood love of John Wayne movies, particularly She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. A movie that, in turn, probably influenced my choice of the Armor branch. While everyone in R.O.T.C. thought that as an English major I would choose the Adjutant General Branch, it never crossed my mind to choose anything but Armor. The question, of course, is whether those same unconscious feelings influenced my buying a mustang, particularly a yellow Mustang. Strangely enough, I’m no longer particularly fond of John Wayne movies, and I’ve never considered buying a yellow car since that time.

No wonder advertisers are able to manipulate us into buying things we neither need nor want when we don’t understand why we want them ourselves. Why do we turn to books written by others before examining the things we own and the things that own us to discover who we are and who we want to be?