Need For Speed: Most Wanted is a video game shot out of a cannon.
It starts at a sprint and never stops for breath, hurtling forward with such momentum that it feels like it may rattle apart at any moment. Most Wanted is exhilarating, disorienting, maddening, cathartic, and hilarious, all in equal measure. It’s the most purely enjoyable racing game I’ve played in ages.
Rumble, rumble, rumble. The familiar intonation of a diesel engine putt-putting. Every time I hear an old Mercedes pulling up I’m suddenly reminded of the sticky sound of the faux leather interior on a humid day. The smell of diesel. The site of an emerald green brassiere.
To drive is to be a god. Not the God. Just a god. To move freely through space and time, temporarily unrestrained by the limits of our human form. Faster than a horse. Slower than a comet. Somewhere in between.
A suburban life is one spent in cars. It’s not a choice. You don’t tell your parents where to live, they tell you where to live. It’s all Ike’s fault. Wide alleys linking us in defense from an unsure enemy created a new foe: closeness.
To get close to someone in a suburb is to have a car. When the distances get greater so does the desire to decrease them, so we beg and plead and stretch our parent’s patience until they hand over the keys.
In my case it was a 1978 Mercedes 300D in a creamy dijon fading into dijonaise. Bought cheap, because cheap was all we could afford, off an old German woman who must have known my old German grandmother but I never understood how.
"You have to use ze green gas" she said.
I soon learned she meant the green-handled diesel pumps, of which there were only a few in my wooded shelter of a city. Cheaper than regular gasoline, sometimes.
Ample room in the back. Yet I never used it. Somehow making out in the front made more sense. In the school parking lot. Easy to get caught. But the good kids never get in trouble. The higher your GPA the larger the forcefield around you. No one told the troublemakers, but passing an AP test is the best kind of get-out-of-jail-free card.
Slow. Slow is good. Especially with a RWD car in the hands of a teenager who’d played too much Gran Turismo and Hang On and Virtua Racer and Tony Stewart OFF:ROAD at the community dance center because you can’t really dance to grunge music and this flannel shirt sort of itches. Let’s get out of here.
The heater didn’t work. A cruel joke for a German car. Doesn’t it get cold in Germany? It played tapes, so you played tapes. Shuggie Otis, given to me by a friend.
"This is real music, keep it as long as you like."
And I’d take the girls to school. Two of them. One had a boyfriend. A total shit, but she liked total shits so she had no interest in me beyond the car. Adopted. One of the first generations of Asian kids to grow up with religious white parents. Rebelled as much as she could while never getting into real trouble.
Weighed next to nothing, but I still dropped her once. It was the Vietnam War. Our little suburban version of it. Running across the stage. We had to have a white actress play the African American nurse. At least we had one Asian.
Then there was the other one. Smart. Lived in an apartment. Never on time. Always had an excuse. Also had no interest in me beyond the car. I try to remember why I was the one who took her to school every day. I can’t. Does management consulting now. Good money. She probably has her own car.
Rumble, rumble, rumble. How could a car be this loud and make so little power?
One day the old girl blew up on me. My dad and I (mostly my Dad) had been working on her. No coolant. Dry as a bone. I didn’t know. Made it to school no problem. Was driving back on one of those miserable, hot Texas days.
Why did I start to remove the radiator cap? I knew what was wrong, I knew that was wrong, but I did it anyway. Nearly shot through the hood. Stumbled into the bank, sweaty. They gave me some water, I put it in the car. Drove home like nothing happened.
Built like a German tank. How’d they keep losing wars?
It went to an old Lufthansa mechanic. He loved’em. Needed the parts, I think. Sad to think of it as gone. Aren’t there other kids out there who could benefit?
I don’t remember the last time I drove it. I wish I did. It was so smooth. It was luxury and style before I could really afford the former and before I’d acquired any of the later. A first car cooler than I was.
Photo Credit: 300TD.org