I don't get upset when they say "it's just a car." You can't teach someone a new language in minutes. And technically it is just a car. But don't car lovers see something more? My family fled Soviet Russia in 1988 and spent a year in Vienna, waiting for a country to accept us and for someone to sponsor our VISA. I was five years old and my parents spent a stressful year trying to get us to America, literally refugees. What I remember from that year is walking at night with my father and stopping at the Ferrari dealership to press my face against the glass for a better look. I remember the Ferrari Testarossa in rosso corsa. By the end of the year I could name the make and model of every car I saw just by the headlights.
Twenty five years later I still stop and stare at a Ferrari. When you're a car lover, that doesn't change, ever. Cars aren't the sum of my life but they're an element of my identity, and a part of every milestone. I walked to work at Dunkin Donuts for two years after school to save up for a Subaru Impreza while my friends played video games. On the morning of my 16th birthday I got my driver's license and never looked back. I was on my own and doing everything that lucky teenagers get to do in America.
Through high school I had the Subaru, a Volkswagen Corrado G60 and a Toyota Celica all of which I still remember like old friends. They were with me through my moments of triumph when the girl wanted me in the same way I wanted her and my defeats when I felt humiliated the way only someone in high school could understand. They stayed parked on wooded suburban streets, patiently waiting for me in line with the cars of other kids while we partied in someone's house whose parents were gone for the weekend. They were my escape, when I could put on a CD and just drive by myself, a world of opportunity still in front of me. I wish I still had every single one of them, but friends come and go.
I don't live in a big city because I refuse to leave the open road. I want to get in and chart my own course with 3 pedals, not a MetroCard. I want to feel the possibility of something more. I want to be every guy that ever looked at his car and been grateful that such a magnificent machine ended up in his hands, in that one moment of pure bliss. I want to be back in 1977 in a Trans Am with Sally Field showing off her legs on the dashboard. I want my heart to beat faster when Daniel Craig downshifts his DBS in the opening seconds of Quantum of Solace.
But you wouldn't understand. You wouldn't understand why I'm still talking to you about your Audi. You like it and think it's cool but it's just a car and you'd rather talk about sports. You wouldn't understand why when a Gallardo passes me on the highway I turn my neck any way I can to catch a better glimpse. It's just a car. And you wouldn't understand why I'd take a pay cut and rearrange my life and switch industries just to be closer to car culture, because to you it's just a car. I can't explain it to you either and the only people who understand are other car lovers. But I can tell you that the sense of awe I got from seeing that Testarossa hasn't faded one bit in a quarter of a century, and as a 5 year old, that permission to wonder at a car wasn't for the sake of anyone else. Because it isn't just a car to some of us.