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#67 Riding Around With the Car Top Down and the Radio On

I’m back in Brooklyn after a month at the Jersey Shore where I slowly became the alternate universe version of myself. The one who gets a tan and wears a shark bracelet. The one who considers fudge an acceptable breakfast option. The one who has a car.

Gratuitous beach shot.

I’m sure many of you have cars, and so the idea of “becoming” a person who has a car sounds strange. I haven’t owned a car since the late 90s when I sold my Geo Prism at one of those “cars for cash” places and officially joined the ranks of the Straphangers Club. So having ready access to a car for a month was kind of mind-blowing.

I found myself just hopping in the car to drive around the island. Meandering around to its marshy edges, finding stunning bay views normally hidden to pedestrians. I discovered a tiny shopping area on the mainland that looked like a woodland village where I bought ice cream from a veteran and organic shampoo from a retired school teacher.

It’s called “Woodland Village."

I crossed the bridge to the neighboring island to gawk at the mansions* and say goodbye to the old convent that overlooks a stretch of coast that everyone just calls “the Nun’s Beach.”

Villa Maria by the Sea Convent. Not pictured: Nuns.

I tried to find the old beach bungalow** that my family rented in the late 70s, but undoubtedly it’s been replaced with a shiny new fortress.

I took Delilah for a walk on the beach. I walked. She was carried like the queen she is. She loved/hated every minute of it.

And when I took Delilah to the vet — multiple times — the car was my refuge. I’d sit there waiting for news from the doctor, listening to podcasts featuring movies, murder, and Michelle Obama.*** I follow a celebrity on IG who sometimes posts a selfie of herself in her car eating a salad or talking to her therapist. I thought it was so weird, but now I get it. The car is the escape pod. A private lounge. A retreat.

The first car I ever drove regularly was a 1977 Pontiac Grand Prix, chocolate brown with a white, T-top roof adorned with butterfly decals. It originally belonged to my mother (hence, the butterflies), then made its way down through Debi, Lynda, and Kimmie. By the time the keys made it onto my Duran Duran keychain, the car was pretty beat up. The white interiors were scuffed by 4 generations of high school girls and our saddle shoes, the floor marred by several diet coke stains and one or twelve cigarette burns. The stereo had an 8-track tape deck and our library had dwindled down to a few Billy Joels and The Carpenters: Greatest Hits.

I think this pic is when the car was new, ca. 1977. It's the size of a Carnival Cruise Ship.

But that car was freedom. Having that car meant that I could take a college course my senior year of high school because I could drive myself to campus early in the morning before heading over to my school in time for second period. After years of waiting to get picked up or having to bum rides from the beleaguered parents of my friends (my parents NEVER drove gangs of kids around), I would happily drive anyone home after cheerleading or play practice no matter how far away they lived. I rotated through those 8 tracks until I knew all the words to "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and could perfectly mimic Karen Carpenter’s tragic alto on “Yesterday Once More.”

When I left for college I left the car behind because it was unlikely to survive even one attempt up the steep mountain pass leading to Central Pennsylvania. My dad loaned the Grand Prix to Fitz, his friend and a regular at the bar. It wasn’t long before my father would tell anyone who would listen that the car had survived five, count ‘em — FIVE, women drivers and Fitz managed to total it his first night out.

We returned the rental car yesterday, but in my heart I’m still driving along peeping at millionaires.



Car selfie. Now, where's my talk show?

*Stone Harbor is also known to some as the summer vacation spot for Taylor Swift’s family. Before she hit the big time, she performed at a small coffee shop in town. I once went into a second-hand shop that was selling furniture with a sign that read: “May have been in Taylor Swift’s house.” Oprah has also spent time there because Stedman grew up a few miles away and still has family in the area.

**I prefer to remember it as the place where my mother threw an entire turkey dinner into the bay in retaliation for my father being late for dinner.

***Separately, of course.

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