I forget the exact make and model of Lyle’s car. He was a junior hockey star, a James Dean lookalike. We went steady for a while in high school.
His car was blue, like his hooded eyes. I still remember the smell of its interior, an intoxicating combination of new jacket leather and Old Spice.
One day, we were driving back after going up Ballpark Hill and Lyle said, teasingly, “You kissed me first,” and I said, “I did not!” Was I even 15? I was insulted and smitten at the same time, but I jumped out the car and gave the door a slam. I didn’t want to walk, but I stubbornly did anyway.
Lyle drove away, slowly at first, stopping every few feet, spinning gravel, looking back, but finally he continued on, under Railway Bridge and up toward the Capitol Theatre where I worked as an usherette, alongside my girlfriend Diane. She was just getting off work and he offered her a ride home. They became boyfriend and girlfriend. I was crushed at the time, but now I thank the Universe. I needed to escape. It’s too easy to get snagged on a handsome hockey player and next thing you know you’re “settled down.”
Cars were much more than transportation and a ticket to freedom in our prairie town. They were a declaration of personality. They represented who you were or who you wished you were.
Another popular guy, Carmen, owned a classic 56 Crown Victoria Ford with a tricked-out engine and chrome accents. Our time was brief, a few dates that consisted of driving up and down Main Street, getting noticed. A year or so later, he was hastily married to another girl in my class, his free-wheeling days over.
At 16, I couldn’t wait to get my own driver’s licence. My father was a United Church minister, uptight about his new Chevrolet station wagon and who could blame him? He wasn’t keen on me practice-driving it and, seriously, it was too much car for me. I was petite, and it consumed half a block.
Although dating Catholics was not on, ironically it was a Catholic boy who generously taught me to drive in his second-hand blue and white Meteor Rideau. I got my licence in Harry’s car, in our two-stoplight town. Thank you, Harry.
In college, I don’t much remember cars, until Max, a psychology graduate, came along in a red Porsche. I projected all kinds of things onto Max because of his impressive car choice and his brilliant mind. But I was wrong; one should never do that. He dropped out of academia and materialism altogether and headed for a mountaintop.
Later, there was Bruce, a painter who drove a beat-up white VW van, quintessential symbol of the 1960s, the perfect vehicle. It was my favourite for the adventures it provided. We bombed all over B.C. to ghost towns in the Interior and moonscape beaches on Hornby Island. We occasionally slept in the van; I’m sure we tried to cook in it.
Remi’s Triumph Spitfire suited his personality: intense, with attitude. He, too, didn’t last forever but the memories of our drive through the Rockies did. I wore a ridiculous puffy orange headscarf, fashionable at the time, in an effort to protect my hair from the top-down wind, determined to ruin your look and render you unglamorous the minute you stopped for gas.
The last person I will mention wasn’t a boyfriend, just a friend, but he had the good fortune to live and work in Paris. His pride and joy was a red Alfa Romeo Spider with steel wheels, how perfect for a single guy in that fabulous city? I visited shortly after I turned 37, the age of Lucy Jordan in the hit song by Marianne Faithful. Was my timing deliberate, I wonder? Did I travel to Paris only to play a role in car-song history?
"At the age of 37, she knew she’d found forever / As she rode along through Paris with the warm wind in her hair …”
Because, true to the lyrics, we did drive, George and I, through Paris, in his sports car with the top down. I remember feeling anxious and uncertain about my future back in Canada, even as I was singing the words and feeling the thrill of wind in my hair.