Lately I have been driving what had been my daughter’s 2005 Mini Cooper S Convertible. I’m cognizant of the fact that middle-aged men often buy sports cars, convertibles, or big trucks, and that this is looked upon as the sad embodiment of some dream they have of youth or muscle or manhood. But not me. Oh no. I have this car by default. My daughter went to Kansas and left it here.
Driving home from work downtown yesterday, I put the top down. I rarely do that. It’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too loud, or too. . . exposed. But with a touch of Fall in the air, and it being the weekend, I went for it. I loosened my tie. I pulled it off and tossed it over my shoulder into the back seat. I think. Driving by the Krispy Kreme, I realized while stopped under the shadow of its iconic sign, as I had not before when locked in the insulated environment of my non-convertible car, that you can smell the doughnuts from some distance. I wondered what it must be like to live downwind of a confectionary. If I lived here, I mused, the path between my house and the Krispy Kreme would be, as one gentlemen once quipped, “slicker than an otter’s slide,” so traveled it would be and so rotund would I be.
In fact, the smell itself triggered memories. Like being 10 and riding bikes in the wee hours of morning to Krispy Kreme in Greensboro, eating half a dozen doughnuts, and then riding, much slower, home, as if the tires had been deflated or our feet were dragging the ground. Or walking from then Peace College to Krispy Kreme for doughnuts back in college when doughnuts consumed did not translate to larger waist size. Or being here with my then young family after plays or choral concerts. Without the top down, I may never had thought such thoughts.
A city bus passes. It’s diesel loud, and a cloud of billowing black exhaust rolls over me. I hold my breath. I must endure. I am a writer, and this is experience.
When I roll to a stop at a traffic light, I feel a new sense of shyness. If the driver next door has a window down, I feel obligated to greet them, as if we are standing side by side — and yet, I hesitate. I position myself midway between cars, so as not to be put in this awkward position. Even more awkward is pulling up beside another convertible, particularly a lone female. I avoid that as well. I rest my arm on the window sill, my wedding band exposed. That she might care is, I know, a part of my delusion.
Once, I rolled to a stop by a man waiting for a bus. I nodded. “Hey, you like your Cooper?,” he said. I acknowledged that I did, that it was my daughter’s, that it was a stiff ride and hard on me — all to mitigate against what he must be thinking: There goes a man with a dream of youth.
Today, my wife went out with me. “Are you going to put the top down?,” she said. I did. Once I looked over at her and thought, we look like two oversized kids in a toy car. The wind was blowing her hair, tamed by a hat. I said, “You’re a good sport.” But she said she liked it, as long as she had a hat. I’m not nearly as self-conscious when she is with me. She’s a good reminder that I need worry less about me.
At home, memory triggered by my windy ride home, I pull a book from my shelves. Brave New Wanda. I reviewed the book once, years ago, and remember liking it best because it featured a 60s-era blue Cadillac convertible on its cover and documented a far ranging adventure by an unlicensed teen to find her daddy. One reviewer said “clever and idiosyncratic.” I don’t think I’ll read it again. I’m having my own adventure.