Regarding The Second Most Nostalgic Car In A Bro’s Life…
There are two cars a Bro fondly remembers from his teenage years: The car he drives right after getting his license and the car he spends the most time cruising around, riding shotgun in with his best friend.
When you look back with nostalgia, your best Bro’s car feels like a second home. It’s the car your Bro picks you up in when driving is still new and a thrill. It’s the car where you just sorta easy into the front seat all-too-well and can work the stereo controls in a pinch if requested. Nothing is unfamiliar. It’s not your car and it never will be, but you still feel a strong connection to it. You just *get* that car.
When I was in high school — only around 16 at the time — three close friends and I drove to Cincinnati to see a Phish show. It was in the middle of February. Everyone’s parents were cool with it because my one friend’s college-age brother was going to be at the show. He arranged for a hotel for the group. It was about a seven-hour drive from our hometown in Central Pennsylvania. Only one of us, my buddy Corey, had the road liberty of a senior drivers license to do the entire trip. He drove, the other Bro and myself were passengers each direction. Those were the rules.
Our vehicle for the expedition — the first of many road trips together — was a forest green 1996 Toyota Camry. It had tan upholstery. The car was a hand-me-down car in Corey’s family, with over 100,000 miles on the odometer from his older siblings by the time it was his turn to drive it.
From that point on, Corey’s forest green 1996 Toyota Camry was *that* car; the one that felt like a second home that wasn’t yours.
On that first road trip, we set out early in the morning heading west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, hitting ugly winter weather in the mountains about an hour outside Pittsburgh. Despite the car’s old age and Pennsylvania’s notoriously awful road conditions, Corey drove fine. That Camry was a workhorse in the weather. After just a few hours of driving through Ohio, we were throwing UNO’s Pizza slices in our faces in downtown Cincinnati before the band took the stage for the first set. It was a great night.
This was the first of many road trips with did in that Camry over the next few years. Drives to the beach in college, a road trip to Phish’s Coventry Festival in 2004. Lots of music festivals and camp outs with friends in the woods near our hometown. It was always dependable, always comfortable. On a road trip, your car is home and Corey’s Camry always made for a damn good one. When it was my turn to drive it on these adventures, it never felt all that unfamiliar.
One time, before heading to college for our freshmen year, we loaded it up with case after case of Gatorade from Sam’s Club to sell in the camp grounds of a music festival. All free space in the backseat and trunk was full with case after case of Gatorade. The car was so weighted down from the cases and our camping gear that the rear of the car sagged, almost to the point it was comical. We looked like complete dweebs and deserved every laugh from passing motorists. We got the last laugh, though, selling hundreds of those Gatorades on Saturday and Sunday morning for $3 a pop (2 for $5!) just outside the festival grounds. We sold every bottle and the Camry had no problems going up hills on the way home.
I can’t imagine how many hundreds of thousands of miles that car had on it by the time Corey’s family decided to part ways with it when we were in college. I’m sure it was easily pushing 170,000 miles over its 10 years, if not more.
I honestly haven’t thought about that particular car since college. Until this past winter.
I had a chance to get behind the wheel of a 2015 Toyota Camry over Presidents Day weekend. It looked like this, except instead of those brilliant colors, it was the all-so-familiar shade of grey the Northeast turns during the winter months:
It drove much smoother, as a new car does. As a car-less New Yorker who only gets behind the wheel when he needs to go to a wedding upstate, it’s the first I’ve driven a Camry in years. My friends and I wanted to go somewhere. Vermont? No, getting up there was impossible that weekend. Boston? LOL.
So we opted for an easy trip down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City that Saturday. About half-way into our late dinner at Gordon Ramesy’s new restaurant, the weather turned and the Jersey shore started to take a pounding from a winter storm. After checking out the boardwalk in the snow and few spins at roulette, we headed back to the city around midnight. Final AC trip tally: One person down $150, one doubled. I broke even.
Driving in the snow sucks, much less driving in the snow in the dark. It’s nerve-wracking. All those memories of that road trip in Corey’s Camry to Cincinnati i 10 years ago came rushing back: “Are we going to make it?” “Will this ever clear up?” “If we drive 35 mph and have 100 miles to go, what time will we realistically get home?”
I’ll pat myself on the back for being a road warrior behind the wheel, but The Camry was the real MVP. The car’s Traction Control System makes the car handles like a champ, gripping the road in conditions that are far from favorable. I’ve driven Toyota trucks in similar slick road conditions; when Toyota’s TCS and stability control kicks in, the vehicle maintains its grace and control like a ballerina. It’s a moment of technological, engineering majesty in a potentially harrowing situation.
But the weather and my better judgement won. Around Toms River, we pulled over and checked into a hotel — the last room left on a busy Valentine’s Day weekend. It wasn’t for the worse: In the morning we swung by the Stone Pony to see what it Bruce’s old stomping grounds look like after a brutal coastal snow storm (above). Asbury Park was a hauntingly beautiful ghost town, reminding me of the episodes of The Sopranos where Tony strolls along the boardwalk in lucid dreams after taking a bullet in the stomach.
There are millions and millions of Camrys on the road. I don’t know how many. I only know a commonly-said statistic about Camrys being the most stolen car because it’s the most common car. I don’t even know if that’s true. But, when I think about it as a parent, there is a good reason why Corey drove the same one his brother and sister drove all those years: It’s safe, durable, damn cozy, and has all the utility one needs for getting from point A to point B.
Sometimes a car is more than just a mode of transportation. Sometimes a car is a vehicle for memories from back in the day. You’ll always have that make and model of vehicle you climb in the driver’s seat after renting at an airport and you say “Yep, been here before. This feels right.” And then it’s off you go. The roads might not be the same or as familiar as they once were, but everything feels comfortable and old hat.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.