The heavens have opened up, and the rain pours on this Monday morning in DC. Even the Lord himself is upset that the New England Patriots are, once again, the winners of a Super Bowl. Nonetheless, we must move on with our lives and pretend like that never happened, so let’s just focus our attention on something positive. It’s My Car Monday! and boy do I have a treat for you guys. Since I can’t contain the excitement any longer I’ll just come out with it: the Mazda 323 Hatchback
Huh, what, wait… what in the world? I’m sure that’s the default reaction from most of you. Well, it wasn’t mine when I first laid eyes on this beauty, it was the very first car I drove, it took my virginity, and at the time, I couldn’t imagine that any other car in the world could possibly be better.
Manlius, a little town east of Syracuse ought to’ve been called Bethlehem because this is where it all began, that’s where I, at my 12 years of age learned to drive a car. I planted my self securely in the gray cloth seat of the 323, while my dad who was in the passenger seat went over every detail of how this whole driving thing works and the time for me to become a man was here. The house we lived in at the time was next door to a massive furniture factory and on the weekends and evenings their parking lot was completely empty and unguarded, perfect setting. I am fully aware that kids do not start driving at 12 years old but I wasn’t an average 12 year-old, I was extremely annoying. Ever since I saw my Dad driving down our court for the first time in the little, egg white hatch I knew I had to drive it so I pleaded and begged my dad non-stop to allow me to drive and he reluctantly (and most defiantly against his better judgment) did. The reason why I was so persistent this time was because of the car – it was special – and the thing that made the 323 so special was its non threatening nature. The small headlights and high roof gave it a kind mannered appearance that wasn’t intimidating but instead rather inviting. So I knew I could tame the machine and I gladly accepted the challenge.
Letting the clutch out and matching the throttle input to get the car rolling was step one, and after a several stalled attempts, we were progressing forward. Second gear, then third and, even fourth came easy. Watching the small yellow speedometer needle climb past the top center of the gauge was a little scary but I kept at it until pops told me to let off. Getting it up to just 40 mph felt terrifyingly amazing, the world moved to a different pace within that moment. The feeling was pure euphoria. Dad went over the importance of signaling and early breaking and so on, while I agreed and acted as though I heard everything but the only thing on my mind was to row thought those gears again and make that engine sing…and sing it did, beautifully.
The weeks that followed, Dad went out-of-state for work leaving the car at home while my mom would regularly work over time. So that meant there was a two-hour window that I had to myself with the car. After turning the house upside-down searching for the key, I finally found it and it felt like I found a million dollars. I was able to get away with driving the car around our street and that empty parking lot for a whole month before I got caught by mom and was subject to swift justice, AKA whooping. How did I get caught? I was always keen to park the car back in the same spot where I found it and during one of the joyrides a neighbor commandeered my spot and the fun ended at that very moment.
The best part of the whole experience was the car itself. It was small, noisy, and underpowered, making around 75hp but none of that mattered. It was my Holy Grail that opened up a wonderful world of wonder and excitement I still cherish to this day. Through its skinny pedals and steering wheel I experienced my first glimpse at freedom, I knew what it felt like to power something more than just my bike, I was unstoppable, and the world was mine to conquer. So this Monday isn’t dedicated to the Super Bowl champs, it is however dedicated to a small, rusty hatch from Mazda. Because of it and my dad, I was able to live out my childhood dream that formed into a lifetime love affair with cars and for that I offer a wholehearted thank you to the both of them.