My Father’s Flying Jaguar: Reflections on the Obsession With Cars
Last updated October 20, 2018
"Art on wheels" is how my husband refers to beautiful cars. But not me. Although I've had some car adventures in my life, including one with a flying Jaguar, I much prefer a cozy space where I can sit and think. And you'll never guess what I did to my grandmother's Cadillac.
I’ve never understood the obsession with cars. In my mind, cars are nothing more than a contraption for traveling from point A to point B. And they’re a hassle—a ruse to steal your time and money. Though I know my views run counter to most.
The obsession with cars often begins at an young age
I became aware of my indifference to cars when I was six years old and the girl who lived across the street invented the Can you guess that car? game. It was just the thing to do after endless cycles of jump rope and hide-and-go-seek, played out under the oppressive heat of a muggy summer day. The object of the game was to identify the makes and models of passing cars before they rolled out of sight. I didn’t know a Ford from a Chrysler. But the other kids did. And it was telling that they could nail them and I couldn’t. When no cars appeared on the horizon, we took to smacking ravenous mosquitoes, which had come to settle on our warm, sticky skin.
But after one or two rounds of the car-guessing game, I discovered I couldn’t care less about leveling up; I couldn’t care less about makes and models of cars; I couldn’t care less about cars at all! And, in retrospect, that was a defining moment — the catalyst that severed the relationship between me and my friend, especially after she became smitten with Barbies. Thankfully, I moved across town, which was lucky because breaking up with six-year-old girlfriends over cars and Barbies is tricky. At least it was in the 60s. That was a close call.
Art on wheels—and walls, too
Yet, cars mean more to some people than others. My husband says, “Cars are art on wheels.” Whatever. “But you can’t see the art when you’re in it,” I say. I admire other people’s art on wheels—parading streams of multi-colored polygons zipping along highways and byways. But what does that have to do with me? The art — the very cool cars — pass in an instant. And then they’re gone. They don’t linger. In fact, I don’t even remember them. But my husband does.
My art on wheels is my living space, minus the wheels. It supplies a rich environment for creative projects, contemplation and memorable conversations. I revel in crafting a space that’s just right for me. I’m a woodpecker—nailing countless holes in the walls while shuffling around pictures. Eventually, though, I get it just right. And, unlike the passing cars, my space remains. It doesn’t need to go anywhere.
My grandmother's alligator Green, 1969 Cadillac DeVille
But when I was in junior high, the family car was more than a contrivance; it was a curse. In those days, my grandmother often picked me up from school in her monstrous, alligator green, 1969 Cadillac DeVille with the gold, vinyl roof and plush upholstery. The local General Motors dealership had to special order it on account of the gold accents. And to make matters worse, I was the rich kid at school. So the ostentatiousness of the whole affair was mortifying.
How could you blame me? When one of your classmates wears the same shirt to math class every day and that shirt is made of old bed sheets, riding home from school in a gilded carriage is shameful. And, on top of that, the Cadillac roared—given that my grandmother wasn’t the smoothest of drivers. Every time she hit the gas, the engine rumbled in that way that makes car enthusiasts go weak in the knees . I think she got a thrill out of doing that. My grandmother and her Cadillac were larger than life. And my classmates were mesmerized. They concocted any pretext to snag a ride home in the roaring, green monster. Though one sweltering, humid day in the summer of 1972, I threw up all over the roaring, green monster’s gold, plush upholstery. That car would never be the same again.
My Father’s flying Jaguar
There’s only been one car in my life that I’ve ever truly loved. And it was a Jaguar: my father’s beat-up, black, secondhand Jaguar that took flight when you pushed the unmarked button on the walnut dashboard. I was convinced that car could fly. And one clear winter’s day, my father casually mentioned he might fly it over my preschool during recess. So I rounded up every gullible kid I could find, lined them up by the fence, and we waited—watching for signs of winged, black elegance streaking across the cloudless sky. He never showed.
Of course, I forgave him for that. Who could be angry? Our little game created a memory the two of us would never forget. And I’ll always remember the anticipation and excitement I felt when my father’s hand would reach for the fly-mode button: “No, Daddy, please don’t push the button, not today!” I believed in the magic of the flying Jaguar. I still do.
I prefer a cozy room to a snappy car
Yet, even after experiencing the magic of the flying Jaguar, I still don’t think I’ll ever understand the obsession with cars. I prefer a cozy room to a snappy car any day. Though I know what you must be thinking: Some people value both stylish cars and welcoming spaces. That’s true. And I don’t judge.
But cars are awkward to get in and out of; tedious to park; a drain on my finances; and complicit in the nervous breakdowns I have in the drop-off loop at my kids’ school. Besides, art on wheels is meaningless when you’re driving it because you can’t see it. Though others can.
But a room filled with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, even the faux wood kind from IKEA; low-light lamps; a mishmash of art and family photos arranged just so; stacks of magazines and books on end tables gleamed from thrift stores; windows for daydreaming; and a quiet place to sit and ruminate while sipping coffee?
I’ll sign on the dotted line, even if there’s no walnut dashboard with a fly-mode button. —Laura