Thursday, January 14, 2010

Student Auto-Biography: Amanda Merrill -- Chrysler Mini Vans, Accura MDX, Hyundai Tuscon

Hi folks -- I am beginning a series on my student's "auto-biographies," written for my HST 344 class. Thanks to Amanda for sending this to me. The automobile is at the heart of our lives, and this is one of many stories that illustrate that point.

Cars have been the more integral inanimate objects in my life so far. I have vivid memories of riding in cars, fighting over cars, and begging for cars. It seems to me, looking back on my life from this perspective, of the automobile, that the cars I had or wanted to have shaped my more vivid memories. The first car I can remember having as a child was a 1990 Chrysler Town and Country Minivan. Though I must have spent a significant amount of time in this van, I only have one specific memory of it: walking along the side with my hand trailing the wood paneling after a trip to McDonalds. I could not say at what point my parents did away with the wood paneling and bought an upgraded version of the car in green. Even my parents do not remember what year they did this. However, this car was one of the most significant cars in my life. The green van, as I call it in my head as I pull up memories from my childhood, was present at the most life altering event of my childhood. It was the green van that my mother packed to the roof, full of toys and memories from our house in Massachusetts. I remember so vividly, as a seven year old little girl, sitting in the backseat, surrounded by my life in boxes, and watching my house disappear behind us. While it was the green van that took us away from my home it was also the green van that brought us to a new one. The green van pulled into Naperville, IL after a long drive.

We began to settle in our new home in the Midwest. However, my next most clear memory concerning the green van was its death. While on the way to a petting zoo for a Girl Scout trip the green van died (and I missed the petting zoo). My parents, finding comfort in the familiarity of the Town and Country van series, bought a new one, this time gold, in 1997. It was in this van (our last van) that my family took our road trips to grandma’s house, our adventures into Chicago, and our daily trips to and from school. The gold van was extremely popular at the time. I remember my best friend had a gold van also. My brother and I loved the gold van. For one, it provided us with more mobility because it had two sliding doors to get to the back rather than the one our old green van had had. For another, there were two separate seats in the back to sit in. The first row was not a bench that we would have to share, constantly sliding and bumping into each other on. It was instead two bucket seats that we could recline and sit in without having to touch each other. This van lasted my family a long time – until the family van became upgraded beyond belief to the point where you could push a button and the doors would slide open. My mother decided she had had enough with the minivan genre. She got a 2005 Acura MDX this time. My mother loves this car. She still has it and it is that car that I made my college visits in, had more road trips and finally, learned to drive in. At this point, my parents had bought a third car, a 1998 Honda Accord, for my brother to drive. However, the time was coming for my brother to go off to college and for me to learn to drive. In denial, my brother refused to let me drive the Honda until he moved away. So, my first driving lessons were in a SUV.

When my dad finally pried the Honda away from my brother, he began to teach me how to drive. I will never forget that feeling of utter terror when I first eased my foot onto the accelerator and promptly jutted forward about a foot before slamming on the brakes. I loved the Honda. It was the first car that was ever personally mine to drive and it liberated me. I had so much more freedom with a car and a license. The Honda represented that feeling to me. So when it broke down in a left turn lane on a very busy three lane road while on the way to a lacrosse game, I felt betrayed. The Honda was not reliable. Sometimes it just would not start. Sometimes it would just stop in the middle of the road. It is because of this that I was constantly begging for a new car. Also, my brother had scrapped up the car in a fender bender and I had added a few scratches in my first day of driving and I wanted a newer, prettier car. Soon it did not matter if I wanted a car or not. I was going off to college and there was not a place for one.

My freshman year of college, while amazing in most respects, was horrible in that I had no transportation. I desperately missed that feeling of being able to get into a car and just drive. It does not matter where you are going or even if you have some where to go, you just drive. So as a freshman I often took cabs to random places just to get away. It was not until my parents, in response to my making the Dean’s List last year, bought me a car that I felt free again.

This past summer I went with my dad to negotiate with the slippery car salesman for a 2009 Hyundai Tucson. It is black and I call it ‘baby’. As I drove the Honda Accord to be traded in, I felt incredibly sad, and almost told my dad to forget about the new car, I would just walk wherever I needed to go. I got to the car dealer before I could. I parked the Honda in the parking lot and stood there looking at it. I peeled off the stickers that told the rest of the driving population of my town that yes, I went to Neuqua Valley High School, and yes I was a Red Sox fan. I peeled away my high school stickers, I felt like I was peeling the car from me. It was no longer mine to drive and it would probably not be driven anymore. I only have one sticker on my new car and it reads “UD”. This is my college car. As good to me as all the other cars were, they each had their time and their place in my life. It’s ‘baby’s’ turn and I hope I get to drive this car for a long time.

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