Mustang Love

Reflecting on an object of desire and the thrill of going topless on an open road.

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    Kathleen Markel

A few years ago my dream car materialized in my driveway. It was sort of like those cheesy holiday Lexus commercials where the perfect mom wakes up to find a dazzling new crossover resplendent in a giant red bow parked in front of the house. 

My situation was different though. As my family can attest, I’m nowhere near perfect, and my dream car—like me—had a lot of miles on it. 

I named her Betty. She wasn’t cherried out, she didn’t have power steering or power brakes, not to mention her engine was a V6 not a V8—making her a bit of a tease. But she was finally mine.

I’m not much of a material girl, I’d rather have a great memory than own a cool object, with one exception: the 1966 Ford Mustang convertible. Ah, yes … I’d coveted that baby in a way rivaled only by Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he lusted after the official Red Ryder carbine-action, 200-shot range model air rifle with the compass in the stock. 

It had been the object of my desire since 1981, when I turned 16 and was introduced to two of the great loves of my life: driving and my husband-to-be. 

If my kids read this (which isn’t likely, since it’s not required on any school list), they’ll be shocked to learn my feelings toward a motor vehicle could be anything but loathing. That’s because I’ve proclaimed, on more than one occasion, that the CIA would have found bin Laden in seven days if they’d made those terrorists drive my four kids to all their activities for a week. 

When I say I love driving, let me clarify. I mean the open-road-wind-in-your-face-song-blasting-who–gives-a-shit-if-you-forgot-to-buy-groceries-cuz-there’s-a-Wendy’s-at-the-next-rest-stop kind of cross-country driving. I’m talking about the freedom-buzz-inducing, behind-the-wheel experience you can only get from an endlessly changing landscape with nary a PTA meeting on the beautiful horizon.

My Mustang is the heavy metal incarnation of this Kerouacian fantasy that I first embraced at the tender age of 16 when I read On the Road, roughly about the same time the Nebraska DMV erroneously granted me a license—giving me legal permission to do what I’d been sneaking out to do for years anyways. Perhaps there is a parental lesson there: When your kids come of age, hide your keys, hide your liquor, but most of all hide your road trip novels. 

I suffer today from a warped sense of self—a byproduct of a misspent youth in libraries reading about really cool, faraway places. I dreamed of being Sal Paradise but ended up being Carol Brady (minus a kid or two and, hopefully, with a better haircut). I console myself with the fact that Carol never drove a hot car. 

Kathleen Markel is CEO of Chez Markel in Toluca Lake. When not managing her household of one husband, four kids and two dogs, she enjoys freelance writing.