It sat there, big and red, and I could almost hear the 375 horses under the hood stamping their hooves and snorting. It was a new Dodge Challenger, and it sat in the President’s Circle section of the Hertz lot at the Burbank Airport between Nissans and Toyotas. My wife and son were some yards behind me, but I didn’t stop to ask them which car I should select.
I started the engine and it roared to life with a throaty rumble.
On Sunday we drove up to Santa Barbara along the 101, a curvy road hugging the mountains where they plunge into the ocean. From there, we went up 154 over the San Marcos Pass, the powerful eight cylinders taking the steep and winding grade as if it were a downhill straightaway. On to Solvang and Buellton, then down the 101 through the Gaviota Pass and once more along the coast to Ventura as the sun set.
I was having more fun than I have ever had in a car.
Sometime over the weekend my son suggested that this car was evidence I was having some sort of “midlife crisis.” I ignored the comment. But he repeated his quip when we turned it in at the end of the weekend. That’s when the lecture came.
No, this was no “crisis.” This is what you get when you know you earned it and are enjoying life and want everyone to know it. This is not frustration – this is freedom.
This red car was the cherry on top of a fortnight of fulfillment. I walked my daughter down the aisle of a Houston church and then performed the ceremony uniting her to the man she loves. After the kids returned from a Paris honeymoon, we flew to California for a reception at his parents’ home for the west coast family and friends.
The morning after that celebration I drove up to Santa Barbara with my wife and son to revisit where we lived twenty years before, when my daughter was in kindergarten and my son was in second grade. We wandered through the art festival on the beach, then out onto the wharf. We ate ice cream and watched a pair of sea lions cavort in the water. We drove up to the Old Mission and posed for pictures in the rose garden. We went by our apartment, and then by Hope School.
My mom had visited us a couple times when we lived there, and she loved it. We took her to all those favorite places, and we took her sailing.
Those memories came back last Sunday, which also happened to be the first anniversary of her death. The pain of loss was not present that day, but the joy of the memories was.
And I know she would have laughed as I stepped on the gas and roared past the slow cars on the mountain.
No, son, there was no crisis. This is what happiness looks like. This is how to celebrate a year that may have begun with a sad event, but which then was filled with good things.
As I drove, I cranked up the radio when an old familiar song came on …
But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year.