An Ode to the Dreamcrusher
It’s funny that I should be writing a tribute to my car. I have never cared about cars, nor found any romance in them. I didn’t even bother to learn to drive until I was 19, which sounds like sacrilege for an American teenager, but back then I went to school in New York and never intended to leave. I thought I would take the M4, and then the F, and work my way through the alphabet for the rest of my days. Now I live in the Boston suburbs with two children, and when I told my five-year-old that his Manhattan cousin takes the bus and the subway everywhere, he said, “What is he, French?” I don’t know what happened.
Now, too far from the diminutive Boston T, with its colonial-sounding stop names (like Alewife and Quincy Adams, and don’t forget Wonderland), we all ride around in another bit of alphabet soup, our Honda CR-V, and it is in praise of this car, which we call the Dreamcrusher, that I write.
Half the people in this town must drive CR-Vs. The other half drive Subaru Outbacks (one of which we also own). Though I try not to meet the gaze of a passing driver in an identical navy blue car, I don’t really mind this type of conformity. For me, car choice is not where I choose to express my individuality. I don’t want to turn any heads as I drive down the street; I don’t put on bumper stickers (COEXIST!); I don’t even fix all the dings I’ve received in the nursery school parking lot (none of which were my fault, in case any insurers or my husband is reading this).
We chose the car to get from place to place safely; to have enough trunk space to tote groceries and a stroller; and not have to worry about a temperamental engine that might require service in the middle of any given hectic week. Which is what I guess every CR-V driver wants. They are probably, like me, in their thirties, with young children, and care that the passenger door opens to 90 degrees so you can haul a car seat out more than that it only has four cylinders. I don’t even know what I’d do with two extra cylinders. Route 2 is not the Nurburgring, though people drive as though it is.
My husband and I started calling the car Dreamcrusher after watching the CR-V’s latest the ad campaign. Open any Real Simple magazine, and you’ll see a pleasing two-page spread, featuring a little vignette about some guy who’s about to get married wants to tick x, y, and z off his bucket list (in the ad they call it a “leap list” – ie, things to do before you make the leap to marriage or children). There’s also one about some nice young lady who wants to do ever so much before she has children. These hopeful types dream of backpacking in Yosemite, learning to fly, starting a garage band…the usual prosaic stuff that marks youthful accomplishment prior to settling down. The ads are meant to say: “There’s so much in life yet to do! This car will take you there!”
But anyone who is seriously contemplating buying a CR-V can read the subtext:
“It’s too late to buy that Mini, or the Jeep with no doors. It’s not practical now. I’m about to make the leap from the corner bar to my couch every night, so I might as well get it over with and get the boring family car. I can tell myself I can always throw a drum kit in the back, but I’d have to move all those reusable grocery bags I keep forgetting to reuse and the portable potty. The garage will house a Cozy Coupe now, not a band. Let’s face it; if I haven’t done it yet, it’s not going to happen in these last months of pregnancy. My dreams are officially crushed.”
Why do you think Honda chose Matthew Broderick to front their new ads? An actor who, even in squidgy middle age, is still Ferris Bueller, still embodies that young American vigor, the spirit that tells you you can do anything, and then you do. Just take the Ferrari keys and go. But look at him now. He’s not that guy anymore, and neither are you. But I see him, with salt-and-pepper hair, and his shirttails hanging out hopelessly, and I think, I’m OK with that. Where do I sign? No, I don’t need a moonroof.
I like the ads. They’re not lying to me. They are letting me down easy. They’re giving me a little wink toward my past, and a reminder that my present and future is not about me, it’s about my boys, and their dreams. The places I’ll take them. In a car with five-star crash test whatever and side airbags. So Honda, for that, danke schoen.
And now, in spite of the CR-V’s ubiquitity, the Dreamcrusher has become a microcosm for our own particular family life. There are the scrapes where the two-year-old threw a rock at the bumper (now you know, Dad), the Wiggles and the Guided by Voices discs that alternate in the CD player, and the Matchbox cars tucked into every available pocket. The sippy cup of sour milk under the seat. The Saint Anthony card from my grandmother’s funeral watching over us from the dash. Fourteen half-full wipe containers, and just as many empty sunscreen and Purell bottles. Sand from five different beaches. A Star Wars book I held out the window, threatening to chuck it if a certain someone didn’t calm down. A world of lost Lego.
Well, actually, not anymore. Somehow I felt that if I cleaned up our dirty family car, and organized it with color-coded pouches for every eventual necessity, that my whole life would feel more orderly and calm as well. So a week or so ago I took the car to be professionally cleaned. In the cool morning, with fall in the air, I pulled out the car seats. It was like when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault. Remember all that dirt that fell out of that thing? That’s how many Goldfish crumbs were under those seats. I hoped that saint card on the dash wasn’t a secret portal to my late Italian grandmother‘s soul, because if she could have seen the carpet of bright orange nightmare that was under there, any protection she might have sent me from on high would be revoked. Oh, the shame.
Now, it’s September. We’ve said goodbye to the beach, we’re getting ready for school (which we can walk to, thankfully). As I take the Dreamcrusher to the car wash to vacuum out the last bits of summer, I think back to when I was little, when my Dad drove us in his red 1966 Corvette down the causeway to the beach near where we lived in Long Island. I, the oldest, sat between the seats, with one sister on the floor, the other in my mother’s lap. He’d point out rabbits on the roadside as we sped along to the oceanfront, the salty wind whipping our hair. Those days we’ll never see again. Mainly because my parents would be arrested if they put all those kids in a car without restraints.
But thinking of those days reminded me how much romance there is in our cars after all. They don’t have to be red and screaming, but whatever they are, our cars do more than drive us from the supermarket to the playground to karate and home again. They represent the open road, the conveyance of our dreams, all the things we want for our families: vacations we’ll never forget, graduations, visits to friends and family, unexpected adventures. The Dreamcrusher will take us there. And when our kids grow up, God willing, we’ll take out the car seats and the potty and have room again for the drum kit, or the camping gear, or a Metrocard - all those silly youthful dreams that took a backseat to what would be our best dreams. But hopefully we’ll have a new car by then.