by Roger Garbow

I remember every detail of the day I received my driver’s license. My 16th birthday fell on a dreary Tuesday with temperatures hovering near freezing and the skies filled with dark, threatening clouds. There was a periodic bone-chilling drizzle. That night, I took my first solo drive in my dad’s 455 c.i. Pontiac Grand Prix…and was pulled over by a cop within an hour. It was a crappy day by most people’s standards. Yet, I was elated.

For those of us over a certain age, the car was more than transportation. It was freedom. And independence. In those days before technology ruled—or some might say ruined—our lives, the car was a conduit to the bigger world. Exploration happened behind the wheel and in the back seat. From discovering a new town or a new song to the furtive fumblings of young love, cars feature in so many of our memories. And it’s not just those teenage experiences. I recall obsessively strapping, and re-strapping, the baby seat into our new Ford Taurus wagon for my newborn son’s ride home from the hospital.

In the pre-internet days, every drive was an experience. Even for those who aren’t auto enthusiasts, riding together in a car was a chance to talk, laugh, see new sights, or jointly experience whatever was playing on the radio. When I hear certain songs today, vivid memories spring back to specific times, places and most often, specific cars.

When it comes to us car people, the connection is infinitely deeper. Vehicles are so much a part of who we are and the lens through which we see the world. Before the global pandemic, I think most of us took our cars and car experiences for granted. Many of us were looking forward to the first track day of the year in 2020. Like opening day at Yankee Stadium, turning those first few laps after a long winter’s hibernation signals the start of spring. 

During the early months of the pandemic, with everything still uncertain, just taking a drive with no destination felt like therapy. After the lockdown began and looking to keep my family and elderly mother safe, I was hesitant to go anywhere beyond the grocery store and back. But one day, when a curbside pickup at a local shop was necessary (wine and cheese is an essential), instead of jumping into the daily driver, I pulled the cover off my 20-year old S2000. The store was only five minutes away, yet I was gone for nearly an hour. 

In my part of northern Fairfield County, there are few straight roads. The S2000 was designed for these twisty two-lanes and I enthusiastically flicked through the gears, pushing the digital tach higher with each passing mile. The wind blowing through my near-Fabio length hair felt like the perfect cocktail of forbidden fruit and essential life force.

With no other traffic on the road, the turns were a bit quicker than normal, the g-forces feeling like a welcome hug from a friend. There was a distinct awareness of the anxiety and stress melting away as my grin, so rare those days, grew bigger with each shift. I can’t remember the last time I was so focused on just driving. Every one of my senses was alive and soaking up every delicious detail, no matter how small. 

Like all good things, and with my bounty secured, the drive came to an end. Pulling the cover back on the little red convertible, I reflected on my drive and the driving future in the weeks ahead. With the lockdowns easing up, our roads would again be frustratingly packed with distracted drivers. But as it turned out, that took quite a bit longer than expected.

The pandemic has taken so much from some. Personally, I lost my mother in the midst of it. Yet, hopefully most of us will be able to get back to a somewhat normal life soon, including pursuing those non-essential pursuits that simply bring us joy. For enthusiasts, getting together for a weekend gathering or group drive will be especially welcome. We’ll savor the experience a bit more, and be more present for the driving and the conversations with friends that follow. 

For motorheads, piloting an automobile has always been more than getting from point A to point B. This past year though, I expect most of us have realized how much we take for granted and how lucky we are to share the simple pleasure of the drive.