I started saving for a car when I was about twelve years old. I could not wait to drive. Three months before my sixteenth birthday, I paid $1,200 cash for my first car. I could not drive it legally for three more months. So it sat in front of the house until I turned sixteen and had my permit to drive. I was so excited to get on the road in my new car. When three months finally passed, I was in a large parking lot in my car with my stepfather. I was ready to go. That is when the lecture started before I was allowed to drive.
“A car is a car!” he told me.
Trying not to get frustrated, I plastered a fake smile on my face and acted interested. I had been going crazy for this moment for years. I would finally get to drive a car. The ride to this large parking lot had been torture, and now I had to listen to a lecture? He told me the seemingly obvious; a car is something to be used to get you from one place to another. That is all. Of course, my young, eager, testosterone-filled mind and body had other ideas. I was not really listening because I just wanted to drive. I had hoped he would stop talking and let me have the keys. He continued.
A car is not a tow truck. It is not a race car. It is not a status symbol to impress people. It is not a place to live, to hide out, or even make out. It is a car.
I feigned more interest. He then spoke of my brother and some of his recent mishaps. Obviously, he was the reason I was getting this speech now. Thanks, Bro!
People often forget the basic reason we have cars and what they are for,” my stepfather droned on. “When we remember what a car is for, we drive more responsibly and are less likely to have problems. Many problems can be avoided by remembering just this one little thing—a car is just a car.
I was eventually given the keys to my car, and I began my first experiences driving. I was so excited and more nervous than I expected to be. I had to work very hard in those first lessons to drive as I was expected to drive. I probably did better than it felt, but it took a whole lot of concentration to learn all of the things required to be a good driver. It was some months before I drove comfortably, especially with an adult in the car watching my every move and commenting on it. Ultimately, I was driving alone and not really thinking about it much!
Interestingly, despite my apparent lack of interest in the “car is just a car” lecture when it was given, I have never forgotten that advice. In fact, just a few months ago, I repeated the same lecture to my daughter. A car really is just a car. Though I have not always followed that counsel, I have found it to be true, and I believe it was sound advice for driving and for life.
I learned after those early days of driving that it is quite easy to forget a car’s true purpose. It was only a year later when I sold my first car and bought a classic Mustang. I probably spent thousands of dollars restoring my prized new car, adding new wheels, new paint, and more. I had to have the best stereo. I had to have the awesome speakers to go along with the best stereo. The car became my focus. I went to great lengths to buy the manuals from the manufacturer to know everything about the car. It became an object of focus for me. It also changed my car from a car to something else. My car became all the things I was warned about in that first lesson. I began to look for status and prestige in my car.
I was older than most kids in my grade, so I was cool because I was able to drive. When I became a Mustang owner, my status was elevated to king, or something like it. Heck, I even had a sunroof. I looked and felt like royalty when I turned that smooth crank and the roof dropped down and slid into its little compartment. I can still feel and hear the smooth purr as the crank turned and the cover slid open. Beautiful! I was really living high! People flocked to me to see my car, to listen to my stereo, and to watch me open the sunroof. They begged me to open it. My car was so cool! I was so cool!
I remember racing down the freeway at crazy speeds trying to catch the drag from the giant semi-truck in front of me. I could maneuver those turns and corners with precision. I was not being reckless. That would be irresponsible! I was just helping this car do what it was meant to do. A car like that, which looked like that, had to be driven like that—or so I believed. The attention and the turned heads was the prize. I had to have the prize. Fortunately for me, I was lucky and never turned the head of a police officer or, even worse, turned the car over! I had completely forgotten those first lessons.
When the adrenaline wears off, it becomes easy to see the risky behavior and danger that can come from forgetting what a car is. Much of life is like this. It is so easy to forget what certain things’ real purposes are. We are seduced by commercials, Internet ads, and videos that lure us into a numb state of forgetting what really is true. You cannot turn on the television or see an advertisement without a promise that this or that product will give you something—satisfaction, peace, happiness, bliss, etc. It is easy to be deceived and believe that something is more than it really is. Could a car really be more than a car?
We are being deceived. Not only is a car just a car, but so many other things are just what they are. Shampoo is just shampoo. It just cleans your hair. Soda is just soda. It just quenches that thirst. Band-Aids are just Band-Aids, and so on! None of these things are friends, lovers, partners, associates, or coworkers. They are just things. None of the things of life bring us bliss, satisfaction, contentment, or any of the things we are told they will give us in subtle and not so subtle ways. They do what they are meant to do, and that is all.
To be sure, these things are a nice part of life. However, and this is the point: They have no life. They are just the things that help get us along as part of real life. Real living and life come from the people, the experiences, and good we share with others. Real joy comes from family, good friends, and how we spend our time. This is where life comes from. A car is just a car. This advice is so good to remember.