With a hollow cough, the four inline cylinders turn over. The cabin fills with the halfheartedly dampened sound of 126 anemic horses humming. I release the lumpy plastic key fob and settle into the drab cloth seats. I'm searching for comfort, but deep down I know that no amount of fiddling will bring the seat to a comfortable position. Dull gray plastic glares back at me from every angle. From the headliner to the carpet, nothing but gray. This is the first time 50 shades of gray would be appealing, because at least they would release me from this monotonous one. As I slip the idiotic gearbox with a clunk into "drive," it lurches on its way, and wallows towards the driveway's end. Here am I, a car guy sitting in the blandest of cars, like a disappointed promotion-seeker confined to a cubicle. And I love it. It's a slow, uncomfortable pile of boring junk. But I love it.
Out on a summer's day, the air warm and pleasant for a Sunday drive, I'll pass another car enthusiast. You can usually identify them by the cars they drive. A flash of the lights to a pair of classic Minis, a thumbs up to the Tesla, a toot of the horn to the smiling old man in the C2 Corvette. But still, when they're cruising in their prides and joys, it must be hard for them to take a thumbs up seriously from a guy in a Corolla. I can practically feel the disapproval oozing out as we pass each other by, and see the thought in their mind: "I bet that kid doesn't even know what I'm driving." But I don't mind. I could shoot the shit about their cars as well as any beer-guzzling garage monkey.
Cars have always been a part of my life, and always will be. Just ask my mom and dad, who to this day have "Cars and Trucks and Things that Go" memorized from reading it to me so many times.
Yet, as you well know, the car culture is very elitist. Let's be real, ladies and gentlemen, we are. The community aggressively includes those who seem to know their facts, and aggressively dismisses those who don't. I've found myself thinking it at car shows, somehow believing that I have more knowledge than everyone else around me. That guy behind me talking about his Impreza? I bet his parents bought it for him and he doesn't even know what a turbo is. We all do it. We often forget that it's easy to love cars without knowing anything about them. But when you see a Tesla on the road, you smile, even if you don't recognize it. The Model S is a beautiful, sleek car, and even if I didn't know what it was or anything about its battery packs or its dealer woes or its quarterly profits, I could still recognize its beauty as it rolled down the street. But it's difficult to foster your love of cars, and to have others take that love seriously, without a wealth of knowledge. Enthusiasts will even test how "real" a car person you are: "Isn't it a shame what they're doing with Lancia?" If you don't know the answer, you aren't a real enthusiast.
Bullshit. What's a shame is when we think we need to ask the question.
I have knowledge about cars. I know you have knowledge about cars. You're here. But what are we doing with all that knowledge? Sometimes it feels like we're hoarding it, desperately burying it in the ground so that the unwashed masses can't get their hands on it. I'm not saying we all do this, but I see it a lot: ignorance is treated like stupidity. We must aspire to share our car-nal knowledge (anybody?). Share it without condescension, without judgment, and without testing. That's what drives me to keep writing. (ha, you catch that one?) We need to stop looking down upon people who think our cars are cool just because they're driving a Corolla. Whether the kid behind that wheel knows anything or not, he is just as entitled to his excitement whether or not he knows or cares what they're doing to Lancia.
And every time I sit behind that wheel and I stamp my foot down and wait years to feel the antiquated mechanicals kick in, it reminds me what I love. I love the whiny noises when the revs get high, I love the wind rushing through, I love knowing how it all works and what had to come about before my Corolla, got here. I love feeling it kick down as my foot nears the floor, kick down again, and again, and finally surge forwards. The car is a piece of junk, and I wouldn't think twice before exchanging it. But more importantly, just because I drive a Corolla, doesn't mean I'm not a car guy. Just because I'm not driving something interesting, doesn't make me any less of an enthusiast. And we need to work on accepting newcomers who haven't learned as much as many of you. And I love my Corolla because it reminds me this every time its wheezy engine kicks to life. God bless, you beige son of a bitch.
James Gallagher is a struggling college student who hit it big as a writer and a thinker when, moments after his birth, he scrawled several proposed endings to Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms on one of his unused diapers, surprising his parents and his doctors alike. Story and photos copyright (c) James Gallagher 2014.