By Paula Ganzi Licata
It began with a bang last summer. My husband was parked, when a kid driving a Celica plowed into our Maxima. Luckily, no one was hurt, but our car was destined for the collision shop. The rental car company had one vehicle left and handed over the keys to a black Chevy Blazer and our four-wheel drive future, dividing my life into before and after.
We were initiated into a growing Long Island demographic of muscling metal…Range Rovers, Pathfinders and Land Cruisers were now our brethren.
For years we had resisted the trend of sport utility vehicles. Now we found ourselves driving around town just to test our new identity, like secret agents with fresh facelifts.
In Home Depot’s parking lot, where carts of wood lumbered by on their way to Suburbans, we finally felt at home.
On the Southern State Parkway I felt like Gulliver looking down at the Lilliputian cars. Suddenly at eye level with truck drivers, I was no longer intimidated by big rigs on the L.I.E.
And the timing was perfect. Summer is SUV season. Inspired by the easy access, we’d load the bikes in the back and head for the trails. Beach blankets and chairs had a permanent spot in the Blazer. Like a house on the shore, an SUV makes summer fun feasible. We’d head for the Hamptons on a moment’s invitation, undeterred by the traffic in our beefy set of wheels.
Lincolns and Caddies deferred to our signal blinking in their faces high above the asphalt…Saturns and Camrys cowered in our wake…Neons fled.
Driving became an adventure. During my virgin solo spin I had to parallel park in our town’s tiny Main Street. I inched back ever so slowly, simultaneously braking and accelerating with ambidextrous feet awaiting the irrevocable sound of scraping metal.
I slid that SUV into the spot — and fell in love.
Summer lovin’ happens so fast! I used to shrug off the four-wheel drive phenomenon as a ‘guy thing,’ but it isn’t gender specific. The Blazer’s ability to take me to new heights and the feel of its bulk beneath me, so strong and responsive, was exhilarating.
Our new set of wheels certainly set a new tone: tough.
I found myself hitting the horn more often and becoming increasingly impatient with drivers insistent on the suggested speed limit. And I admit to uttering the unpublishable when a dilapidated Taurus, indifferent to dents and dings, cut me off on the Meadowbrook Parkway.
After a few weeks, we had to admit we were falling out of love and into debt. Every other day a gas station attendant was relieving us of a few Andrew Jacksons. (I swear Andy was frowning at me on the last twenty dollar bill.)
Like a marathoner passing a Gatorade stand, our SUV couldn’t drive by a Shell station or a corner Mobil without downing a couple of slurps. Luckily our Maxima was repaired before personal bankruptcy was declared.
Yet the Blazer had stolen our hearts. When our lease expired a few months later, we toyed with the idea of a truck. But could the generous cargo space compensate for its voracious fuel consumption? Climbing up into Explorers and Durangos in show rooms, we felt as though we were boarding the Titanic — docked in tiny Zach’s Bay. Did we really need all this machinery? In the end, we traded in our four-wheel drive fantasy for four less thirsty cylinders.
A willing heart is no match for a reluctant purse.
Our new Altima is olive green and gets lots of notice. It has a CD player, wood grain interior panels and an Arctic air conditioner that belies its four cylinders. It’s awfully economical.
But the Blazer’s absence is always present — you never forget your first.
As the weather segues from Spring to sizzle, I think of my summer fling and all that four-wheel-drive fun. Who wants to go back to driving a car after owning the road? Let’s face it, my inner child pedals a tricycle on the sidewalk, but the real me tears around town in a truck.
It’s a perfect beach day and I notice a couple in a Navigator smiling, surf boards stowed above. I miss the excitement. At the next light I catch the satisfied look of a woman driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee. I miss the muscle. On Northern Boulevard a Mercury Mountaineer in the left lane signals right, but doesn’t wait for me to wave him over. I miss the arrogance. He’s cut me off to turn into an Exxon station. In the rearview mirror I catch a glimpse of the smug expression.