Henry Ford's Highway to Heaven

(Originally ran on January 17th, 2003)

Last week I glanced at my dashboard and realized I'm about a tank of gas away from crossing the 100,000-mile barrier.

I thought about it some more and realized in June I'll have owned my car for three years -- longer than any previous car I've had. I thought beyond that and surmised that at the end of this month, it will have been three years since my last ticket, and my driving record will finally be clear. Then I continued to think, and realized that my head was aching from all of this excessive thinking. So I pulled off to the side of the road to rest.

As a college student, I realize a car in any form is a great blessing. I've enjoyed a number of fine cars over the years, and the memories I've made behind their wheels may one day provide a legacy for my children more valued than the ancient treasures of Egypt, the knowledge of the Greeks or the collected films of Bill Murray. Yes, mine has been another chapter in America's love affair with the automobile, a chapter born when my father took me on a vigorous test drive of a Pontiac Trans Am through the streets of downtown Salt Lake City in 1983.

The first vehicle I ever owned (translation: borrowed from parents) was a 1983 Honda Accord, a maroon demon of the highways that, when finely tuned, boasted nearly 100 horsepower. Lovingly dubbed "The Bluesmobile," the car was christened in the harsh winter of 92-93 through a series of high adventure treks into the Viewmont High parking lot while listening to Led Zeppelin IV. The Bluesmobile accompanied me on my first unsuccessful dates and my first two Yellowstone road trips before my parents finally sold it. The cardboard cut-out of Mikhail Gorbachev's head that once graced its back window now adorns the wall of my Ray B. West office.

Two years later I made the financial leap of securing a loan to purchase a 1988 Honda Prelude that drove like a gem for at least 20 minutes of the nine months I owned it. I've often felt quite lucky to have only lost $2,000 on the car. I just as easily could have been trampled by howler monkeys or been employed as Donald Trump's hairdresser. Always look at the bright side.

My next acquisition (translation: borrowed from parents) was a 1963 Dodge Dart. Painted a striking off-white and endowed with an in-line six-cylinder engine to augment the efforts of the small Tibetan Monk pedaling feverishly beneath the hood, the Dart nearly made up in style what it lacked in power. Or gas mileage. Or reliability. Or handling. Or seat belts.

Then one grand day early in the summer of 1999, while shopping for Volkswagen Bugs, I came upon a beautifully restored 1964 _ Ford Mustang. The small-block 260V8 engine hid its lack of power beneath an angry rumble that echoed particularly well in downtown parking garages. The girl at the Crown Burger drive-thru said it was her dream car. My friends said I was a chick magnet. The radio only picked up an AM station that constantly played Sinatra and Tony Bennett. My only regret is that I took it on a mere four dates before driving it into a cement freeway median at 70 miles per hour.

The culprit of my now infamous wreck was a patch of black ice that had set up shop on I-15 one Monday evening. When trying to explain the accident to an insurance representative on the phone some time later, my explanation that I had "just hit some black ice" was met with a horrified silence on the other end of the line. I realized that she'd thought I said I "just hit some black guy" and quickly assured her that I was morally opposed to running over people of any race, creed or color.

Later in the year I experienced that hallowed of all academic events: graduation. With a degree in hand and no new employment in the foreseeable future, I rushed out as quickly as possible to celebrate and obtained a $15,000 loan. In no time I was behind the wheel of a beautiful Nissan Maxima, a harmonious fusion of power and practicality that still gets me about town today, whether swinging downtown to return unwanted BMG music club shipments or navigating the twisting highway up Logan Canyon. Sometimes, if the mood is right, I even play a little Led Zeppelin IV.