Too Young To Die
I recall my so called misspent youth
It seems more worthwhile
Every single day
Cruisin’ Van Nuys and acting so uncouth
All the joys of runnin’ away
There was no speed limit
On the Nevada state line
The air was red wine
On those top down nights
Just you and me
My old roller skate
And the common sense
To know our rights
Sweet old racin’ car of mine
Roarin’ down that broken line
I never been so much alive
Too fast for comfort
Too low to fly
Too young to die
David Crosby, Too Young To Die
She was already a decade past her debut and she was struggling to capture her audience’s imagination. She was an aging actress – tempermental, unpredictable and the shakes in times of stress. She was a true platinum blonde, a bantam weight whose critics maligned her for her Bavarian simplicity. She traced her parentage back to a German industrialist who in concert with Adolph Hitler had conspired to create a legion of utilitarian vehicles known as “the people’s car”. Her friends nicknamed her “Bug” presumably for her endearing hyperthyroid eyes, curved muscular frame and an evolutionary sense that she could somehow go on forever. I adored her the first time I set eyes on her.
Her gas gauge would stick and often needed to be gently tapped to avoid a humiliating walk down a lonely road with a gas can. Despite her pecadilloes, she was intelligent and resourceful, a marvel of engineering genius, deploying a clutchless manual transmission that offered all the joy of a stick shift without the hassle and wear of a manual clutch. She could go forever on a gallon of gas and would fearlessly transport me on inexpensive road trips without so much as a whimper. She was cautious on corners having been born just before her siblings were fitted with strut front suspension. She punched her weight using her tiny base and light weight to maximize a 1.6-liter, 60 horse engine. And, she was all mine. It did not matter that she was a diva and that I was ingénue arm candy. She would spend the next several years opening my eyes to a brave new world.
Her death was a sudden, surreal crash of twisted metal and burning rubber. As we left a summer tennis match with friends, we were broadsided by a Nissan that was unable to navigate a hairpin turn, crossing the yellow lines to broadside her. As I staggered from the wreck, I saw that she had yielded as much of her door as she could in an effort to save me. Her side had accordioned under the pressure of the collision and the chassis was a hopeless pretzel of scrap metal. I somehow understood that we were never going to see one another again. Her job was done. As she lay dying, it was clear she wanted me to find a younger, more contemporary companion.
The insurance adjuster wrote me a check for $ 5,800. She was callously referred to as a“total loss”. It was a profane transaction. In my mind, she could never be replaced. I was in mourning but life in the land of freeways went on. I needed a new partner.
I moved on to a copper-toned beauty from the far east– a Datsun 280Z 2+2, I found her at a used car lot which is the equivalent of saying you met your spouse at an airport cocktail lounge. I could tell she had been around the track but it was hard to gauge her true age. She seduced me with promises of high speeds and a front seat that would never be without a blonde or brunette. It was a stormy romance riddled with public outbursts that left me stranded at parties and broken down along desolate stretches of interstate. Her ancient fuel injection and manual transmission left her wild and unpredictable. She required constant maintenance and even with bills mounting, I remained with her out of a misguided loyalty. A phone call changed everything.
My father had received a Renault Alliance as part of a special promotion from one of his advertising clients. This 1986 Motor Trend Car of the Year could be mine for cost. She was French and given the French’s penchant for elegance and passion, I divined this would be the sartorial equivalent of driving a Hermes tie. Our first date was disappointing. She was seasick green with a thick ankle, square chassis. She had an unimpressive interior and instrumentation that resembled an arcade video game. As with all French, she was whimsical and preferred short work weeks. She was incontinent and often left embarrassing oil and fuel stains in the garage. California traffic overheated her delicate disposition and in the end, she just sat down and went on strike. She was the Maginot Line of automobiles. Yet, c’est la vie, we were together less tan a year and she was a cheap date.
I graduated to a rugged, patriotic stage and decided to buy an American truck. We had liberated Kuwait and oil was once again out of harm’s way. The Chevy 4X4 was the Clydesdale of sports utility vehicles. She would croon country and western ballads as we knifed deep into the mountains on ski, fishing and backpacking trips. It was constantly dirty from the mud and chaos of weekends away. Yet, as I rose in business, I felt the need to find a more dignified vehicle that would come to symbolize my success. A truck simply did not convey the image that I wanted to project to the world..
My need to reinforce the perception of my progress in life began to spiral out of control. Through a series of what seemed fortuitous events, I purchased a Jaguar XJ6. It was a car not really suited for a 30 year old American but for people who wore Burberry, spoke with a feigned Eton accent and were never seen needing to use the toilet. They were the elite of society and I wanted in the club. My veneer was shattered one day as I drove my wife and in-laws into San Francisco. A VW bus filled with long haired Dead Heads pulled up alongside the Jaguar as we waited politely at a stop light. They motioned me to roll down my window. I lowered the tinted glass expecting a request for directions or perhaps even a compliment on the car’s incredible lines and form. The red eyed, bandannaed twenty year old jutted his lower jaw and with his best country club lockjaw asked me, “pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” There was an explosion of laughter and exhaust as the VW drove off. I suddenly felt like I was driving me father’s car. I resigned myself to return to my humbler German roots and find a partner appropriate for my standing.
I am now back in the bosom of Audi and am content. I get restless at times and when I occasionally see a sleek Italian model, I feel like she is mocking me for even coveting her. She seems to be suggesting that I could never handle her power or price. When these green shadows of envy creep in, I remind myself of how happy I was in a simple yellow VW bug with a broken gas gauge, a microscopic engine and a tortoise like sense of invincibility. I knew that when the traffic died, the bling dissolved, the advertising ended, the rain stopped and the dust and gravel setlled, she’d still be there – – two of us alone on some ancient stretch of desert road.
“Too fast for comfort, too low to fly. Too young too die. “