I’m in mourning. Our MR2 Spyder is not even sold yet and already I’m missing the wind slipping over its windshield, its gearshift pressing against my hand. The car fit like a well-worn pair of jeans, not the mommy kind but the $100 low-rise jeans my daughter made me buy, and even its poorly repaired side panel upholstery was endearing, a flaw in its perfection that reminded me of college days. I replaced the battery on the car myself and couldn’t get it bolted to the terminal quite tightly enough, so starting the car was iffy and more than once I’ve had to lift the trunk lid and wiggle the cable until the connection caught. Even that was exhilarating. I’m middle-aged and I get my oil changed when I should and pay my bills and I do what I’m supposed to do but for that moment, standing next my little red convertible with my pliers in my hand, I was the reckless kid with the bad boy car, the one you can never depend on but keep trying to fix anyway because it just makes you feel so good.
Even buying the Spyder was an adventure. It wasn’t supposed to be this one; we’d found another Spyder in Oklahoma City and pulled our money from the bank, ready to hand $8000 cash over to a guy with a funny name in exchange for our new baby. And a beautiful baby it was—bright red with a red and cream interior. And the price was right. If we were nervous when we pulled up to the address and found furniture in the garage (a sure sign the family was either coming or going), our nerves were all better after a test drive. The car was smooth. The car was fast. The car was perfect and out came our cash. Where’s the title, we asked? That’s when the shell game began. The title wasn’t here, it was at his boss’s office, which just happened to be a car dealership, and if we’d just come with him we’d have the papers signed within the hour. So there we went, but there we sat and sat. Something was wrong with the title, a revelation that surprised no one more than it did the seller, but it was no problem and, if we’d just leave the money, we could take the car now and the dealer would clear up everything later. No? Then leave the money and they’d drive the car to us when the title was clear. No?
No. But there was another red Spyder with sequential manual transmission in Tucson, and despite the fact the seller chewed me out after my voicemail, thinking my call was from one of those scams that buy cars cheap, we struck a deal. This car had fewer miles so we pulled more cash from the bank and I stuffed a total of $11,500 into our money belt, then shoved that belt under my clothes. We were bumped up to first class on our flight to Tucson, one of the last benefits of my husband’s previous life flying overseas, and I was the chubby gal with my money belt padding my belly as we scarfed down our first class cookies, as many as we wanted, and drank our first class wine with our first class steak. I stayed chubby when we landed, my wad of hundreds dangling inside my jeans as we grabbed our rental, headed north on the 120 degree highway, and drove to the Grand Canyon, a hole in the ground so big that even I could not miss finding it. Somewhere on that journey we stopped at a roadside park with a vault toilet, another big hole in the ground. I knew I was living dangerously risking a loose money belt over a vault full of what that vault was full of. How much money do you have to drop into a toilet before it’s worth the yuckiness to go in after it? If you actually know the answer, I’m not sure that’s a story I want to hear.
The purchase of the car isn’t a particularly excellent story either. There was heat, lots of Tucson heat. The Arizona DMV, where we had to go to get the up-to-date version of the title, was amazingly tedious, with hundreds of people sitting in plastic chairs and gazing upward for hours on end, waiting not for salvation but for their number to show on one of the DMV’s video screens. And those last moments of the Tucson day, when the sun had set but its light still lingered in the pink of the western sky, were love messages from God that the day had been as it should be and people are good and all is well in this world. Or at least that’s the message I got. I’ve always been awfully fond of the early evening hour.
We took days driving the car home but only one scene from that leg of our journey is burned into my memory. We’d left Santé Fe in the morning and climbed a winding highway north, into the higher, wilder land of Colorado. As nature would have it, again we needed to stop at a roadside park. This time it wasn’t the hole in the ground I remember but the icy blue lake a few hundred feet behind the toilets, with the coarse yellow grass of the open range spreading out for miles and miles around it and the bright, crisp breeze stirring everything to a vibrant grace. Two anglers stood at the lake’s rocky banks, spinning their lines above the water, and we patiently watched them patiently cast. It’s that view before me I remember, not the red convertible parked behind me by the highway’s edge.
So maybe it’s not the car that’s the adventure, but the wildness it takes you to. Maybe surrendering my Spyder isn’t a sacrifice after all, not as long there’s gas in whatever set of wheels my keys fit and my husband is at my side. Welcome to the adventure, our new behemoth of a van. I have a little red convertible for sale.