In the heart of every sixteen-year-old boy beats the desire for a hot rod. He wants the kind of car that will roar when he presses the gas pedal, purr when he cruises, make all his friends stare and make the girls want to take a ride in that sleek bullet. He wants a car that makes the local police raise their eyebrows. He wants a car that makes his parents worry.
He wants a car that defines his teenage years in a way nothing else ever could, so that when he attends that high school reunion twenty years later, those old friends will ask: “So, whatever happened to that fast car of yours?”
So it was with Tyler, whose dreams of a car had narrowed down to one vision: His father’s old Camaro, which was buried under piles of this and that in the garage.
Uncovering the Car
The car had been there for as long as Tyler could remember. He had a few fuzzy memories of riding in the front seat when he was very small, but now that he was older, he realized that the car probably never left the garage during those times. First, his father never would have been crazy enough to drive him around without a seatbelt. Secondly, and most importantly, his father claimed that car hadn’t run for twenty years.
But it was still there. Even when they needed more storage for a growing family and turned to the garage, the car never got taken out to the curb. When the storage became too much for the garage to handle, the old Camaro stayed. It was the family van that got moved out to weather the sun and rain. Now that Tyler was sixteen, he realized that the memories of the Camaro were obviously more important than any sort of new vehicle that might be parked in the driveway.
“Will you help me dig it out and start it up, Dad?” he asked one night as his father sat in front of the television.
The first answer was no. And so was the second. The third time he asked, his father looked at him with tired eyes. “You will kill yourself in that thing,” he protested, but he said it in such a way that Tyler realized the next time he asked, he would get a yes.
The men — one young, one not-so-young — spent a weekend clearing out the garage. They put things in storage bins and lined them up neatly along the wall. They cleared out a ton of things to take to Goodwill. And finally, they pushed the car out into the sunlight, where the red paint gleamed even through all the dust.
It took some time to get it started up again, but once they did, the car roared with a power that startled both of them.
“Holy smokes,” Tyler breathed.
“Let’s take a ride,” his father said, tossing him the keys.
Where Memories are Kept
Contrary to his father’s worry, Tyler didn’t kill himself in that thing.
Instead, he almost instantly became the subject of envy among every kid in the neighborhood. Because he wasn’t just driving a sports car. He was driving a classic hot rod, one that made every father on the block shake his head and say, “They sure don’t make ‘em like that anymore, son.”
He drove his friends around. He stayed out too late with the pretty girl from the cheerleading squad. He almost hit a deer on his way home from a game. He drove the car until it topped one hundred thousand miles. Then he celebrated longevity by taking his father out for a chocolate malt at the local diner.
Three years later, he was in college and the car was kept at home, in the garage. Tyler was sure his father took it out on more than a few occasions, though he always denied knowing where the extra miles on the odometer came from.
Two years after that, Tyler was married and on his own. The car sat in the carport of his new little house in the suburbs.
Over the years, change came. The carport became a new garage. The house grew bigger with each new addition to the family. And at one point several years later, his fifteen-year-old son pulled away the tarp that covered the sleek red bullet and looked at his father with wide eyes. “Can we start it up, Dad?” he asked.
“You’ll kill yourself in that thing,” he told his son, shaking his head.
Then he smiled and opened the kitchen drawer to dig out the keys.