My first car was a used 1981 Plymouth Reliant K-Car. It was ugly, utilitarian and practical. But I didn’t complain, because my parents paid for 95% of the car. With me being the fourth and youngest child, my parents were well experienced in convenience and practicality and knew it was worth the cost simply so they wouldn’t have to drive the four hours each way every time I wanted or needed to come home from college.
It didn’t win any popularity contests, speed contests or beauty contests, but it was my first taste of freedom, independence and adulting. I could drive home all by myself from school, as well as to and from summer jobs, listening to the radio on my own preferred stations. From there I graduated to an equally ugly and practical dog-shit brown Subaru wagon. That thing was basically a tank, and kept going far beyond its years. Even after getting rear-ended, the only issue was I needed a block of wood to keep my seat in position.
It wasn’t until I was truly a young adult, married and with my first home and career that I started to purchase and own slightly cooler, more stylish cars, with fancy things like power windows and cassette or CD players. When my parents moved to Maine and I was living in New York State, I remember cruising along the highway on trips to see them, windows down, singing to my tunes, and as my brother used to describe it, arriving sweaty, deaf and windblown – but happy.
Our cars become our own little worlds, our signature mobile cocoons. Today, more than ever, they have become our methods for escape, change of scenery, and a comforting feeling of safety. When we are alone in our cars, we can take off our masks, crank our music (from a variety of sources, satellite radio, CD, and Bluetooth – oh, how I would have loved to have any of those options in the K-car!) or tune in to a fascinating array of Podcasts. We can make hands-free calls and catch up with others while cruising down the highway. We can drive to a destination other than our homes and just look out the window at a new view. Our vehicles get us to work, to the store, to our favorite hiking location, and soon – back to the homes of friends and on road trips. We transport groceries, children, pets and donations from our pandemic purging projects. But our vehicles are not just modes of transportation; we basically move in like they are an extension of our homes and personalities. We accessorize them with whatever makes us feel comfortable and provides convenience. As one RW in my life recently described it to me, her car is her oasis.
Granted, not all of us have a warm & fuzzy relationship with their vehicle. Men tend to be more interested in the mechanics and style of the car, rather than the organizational set up of the interior living space. My husband is a technician and his big van is cluttered with all matter of materials, parts, tools and miscellaneous items I could never identify. But his pride and joy classic Corvette is spotless. Literally, there’s nothing inside it besides a polishing cloth.
We RW’s in contrast have to have everything we need at the ready. Our consoles contain things like sunglasses, our favorite beverage container, gum and mints, hand sanitizer, and “the place” for our phones. We take advantage of pockets in the doors for various important items, and the glove compartment likely has all manner of key items like tissues, chapstick and extra masks.
One of my BFFs has a lengthy commute. The living space of her mobile cocoon is well stocked for any need. Traveling with her is a bit like the old show Let’s Make a Deal, where women could make cash by producing odd items from their purses. Need an antacid? Aspirin? Hand Cream? Bottled water? Extra charging cord? Umbrella? Oh, it’s there. Likely alphabetically categorized.
As for me, I have the same requirements in any car I own. I must have a trash receptacle on the floor behind the seat. (Really, it is a must-have or I feel anxious about where to put trash. My sister finds this oddly amusing). I have at least two kinds of gum and mints, a box of tissues, spare shopping bags, wipes, a towel for my dog, a water bottle or to-go cup, a couple of CDs as back up music in case I get weary of Sirius or my limited playlist, and more than likely my console has a collection of coupons and dry-cleaning slips.
My friend who referred to her car as her oasis has a convenient and adorable to-go tote bag. Everything she could possibly need is in that bag, so she just grabs it to bring along every time she gets in the car. I love this idea, as it means a far lesser chance of suddenly running out of something, or cluttering up valuable real estate within the arms-reach space of the car interior.
She then shared with me that since the pandemic began, she added one more item that she carries in the back of her car: a portable toilet. When she told me that, I admit I laughed, thinking she was joking – or perhaps, slightly crazy. After all, her children are grown adults on their own, so no need for a potty. But the more we talked, the more I realized how brilliant it truly was. She has not had to use it, but it is like a silent partner in gotta-go reassurance. At the height of scary germ concerns, she didn’t want to have to stop and use public toilets in case of a bio-emergency. She even told me she has it all planned as to how to position herself between open doors, and carries a towel for privacy. I told her that there have been times I worry about massive traffic jams where you could be stuck on the highway for hours – or, let’s face it ladies, the older we get, the less many of us can handle unique restaurant food without gastric distress. Hopefully, she may never need to use it. But her mobile oasis is ready if she does.
Today I used my car to take my pup to a park, and I was prepared with a sheet over the back seat for her muddy paws, and her mobile water bowl next to mine in the cup holders. Later in the day, I ran some errands. It felt great each time I got back in the car to reach into my console for my girlie-scented sanitizer, then whip off my mask, open my sunroof for spring air, take a sip of my iced tea, and turn up my music to sing loud because no one could hear me.
Just like that young 20-something me in my old K-car, my mobile world – my oasis – is all mine. It’s a lot more comfortable now, more stylish with more modern features, with more safety, and the driver has a lot more experience behind the wheel. But more than likely, the music coming out of the speakers is still the same.