- Written by webmin
I never had heroes growing up. In this business, it’s served me in good stead: I’ve watched as my coworkers, my friends, who did hold people they read about in magazine in a certain esteem over years of distant keeping tabs and hero worship, have slowly come to the realization that a lot of the people in the business are not what they seem. It’s heartbreaking: learning that what you believed was a lie. Calling some of the “heroes” outright crooks wouldn’t be out of the question; at the least many are duplicitous, double-dealing, and self-serving. I might admire someone for their past exploits, but I don’t judge them by these; rather, I judge them by how they act when I have to deal with them, or how they deal with my friends. In my time, I’ve seen some skunky crap go down – hell, I’ve been part of it, in some cases.
But I will confess to having fetishized the occasional automobile. I’m writing a story even now, about a car like one that I grew up in. I won’t name it, because then I’ll be calling out the car and you’ll see it in one of the magazines and I’ll embarrass the owner, and that’s not right. But my dad drove one near enough like it for nearly a decade and a half. I grew up in that car. It was high mileage, but clean, reliable, and cheap to run. It was beautiful. I was supposed to get it when I turned 15, only to have the ‘rents change their mind out of the blue, then sell it to some crazy old woman across town who didn’t know how to drive stick. This car could have been one of those neat father-son family legacy stories you see so often on the pages of the Hemmings titles, a fantastic bonding agent, and it was just taken away on the gossamer wings of poor excuse after poor excuse. As car-crazy as I was/am, and as close to getting my license as I was, and as poor as I was from working the broiler/steamer station at Burger King and (later) making Fudgie the Whales at Carvel, I was apoplectic. It was more than “waah, Jeffy didn’t get his car”: It was as if a chunk of my childhood had been discarded as unimportant enough to keep, and it burned. The years of promises that were spurred on a whim could never be replaced or repaid. Alas, I never did have the excess cash to pursue one of my own, but having one just like it was never the point: I wanted THAT one. And my hope was dashed.
For years after, I collected models and brochures and books on the subject. I had a hubcap on my wall. My memories, rose-tinted as they were, could only play out the epic drives I never took in it.
And so a while back I had the opportunity to photograph and drive a car that was near enough like the one that I’d been cheated out of owning some two decades earlier. I anticipated it with sleepless fervor. Torn from my grasp more than half my lifetime ago, I’ve downplayed it in recent years although the mental scars still remain, the anger quick to rekindle at its mention. So I was psyched to make my reacquaintance, perhaps rediscover a love lost. I walked into it with something I would ordinarily never have when test-driving a car for one of the Hemmings titles: expectations.
It was the single most disappointing driving experience I’ve had in my nearly seven years of doing this for Hemmings.
Expectations were trounced, foibles were magnified, dreams were crushed. It performed terribly, on just about every count that I can think of: it was awkward, uncomfortable, and not at all the fun bit of business I thought I’d be signing myself up for. It was miserable, and I was miserable in it. Even now, I barely remember the details – only that it was awful and I wanted it to end as soon as I could manage it.
I walked away deflated by the experience, and angry with myself for having wasted my time pining away for such a beast for so long. I built the potential of the experience up into something it wasn’t, something that it could never be. The car is what it is, nothing more; what could have bettered half a lifetime of expectations? I would have been better off living in my bubble, thinking the best and not knowing the truth. And I did it to myself. Turns out maybe I did have a hero after all, an automotive one, and it ended up breaking my heart as badly as any human hero ever did to my friends. For the first time, I was able to understand what they’d lost.