A few hours from now I’ll be trading in my 1995 Miata, which was new to me in 1997. I’ve been car shopping for a few months which is an interesting process in navigating websites, trying to understand features, having my emotions played on without facts, coming to grips with desires versus issues of sustainability and ecology, not to mention class and other issues from childhood around money, not to mention silly sales exchanges (if I hear “how can we earn your business?” again I’ll scream) and upsells (Lo-Jack anyone?).
But looking backwards is what this post is about. This car was the first thing I ever acquired that was so rich in meaning, because of it what it embodied and what it looked like and what it represented in my life.
It was the first car I ever bought that was a car of choice, not a car of necessity. I spent a long time agonizing over finding something that was right for me. I remember the decision being embedded in many other uncertainties in my personal and professional life at the time, and feeling like these things were all intertwined, and I would not be able to address any of them without addressing all of them.
The Miata is a wonderfully designed object. The experience of driving was like nothing I had ever experienced, super zippy, great handling, all facets of driving that are meaningless as words, but powerful as sensory experiences. I remember parking the car after I got it and looking backwards at it as I walked away, just stunned by the form. I remember looks from other people at stoplights (or the guy that rolled down his window in my first traffic jam and said “what COLOR is THAT?” as it was a weird blue-green when washed and shiny). I remember friends taking out to learn to drive stick-shift, and I remember others who rejected the choice as I was making it, telling me that (even though I was yet to turn 30) I was probably having a mid-life crisis.
This was a bold choice at the time, I think to some I may have been taking on a new and fake identity, but for me, the permission to choose something special, exotic, fast, racey, lifestyle-y, was the change – in fact, it wasn’t a change, it was opening up to something that was already there, something I was afraid of. That personal growth alienated me from others, but was widely welcomed by most.
I was never a “Miata guy.” I never named my car, I never modded my car, and of course as the years went by it began to resemble a comfortable sneaker, with dings and warts and all.
It’s tempting to write this filled with anthropomorphic language (as Chevron and Pixar would have us do), about my companion or friend, but it’s never been that, even in fun. It’s absolutely been about what I was able to go through at that stage of adulthood. The car itself didn’t change me, but I can see my life before the car and my life after the car as somewhat different eras, characterized by how I saw myself. The car was designed in such a way that it was the right choice for me at that point, and allowed me to make a statement about myself, to others, but also to myself.
This is hopefully not too maudlin or too confessional. I blog it here because it’s about a thing and the meaning of a thing, and of course, that meaning goes far beyond the thing itself.
Okay, one more picture