As the beautiful fall colors are adorning our trees here in Western Pa., I see a lot of folks driving their luxury vehicles on leaf peeping excursions. You know the ones with the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs, whose cars are immaculately shined, tires gleaming with Armour All, drivers dressed in pressed khakis and starched Polo shirts- loafers with no shoes, sweaters draped over their shoulders sporting aviator sunglasses. These folks love their cars and love the idea of driving them to parties, work, or other locations where they can show their passion for their vehicles. My crowd is a little more earthy and the mountain bikers, hikers, and skiers that I know drive dated SUVs and 4 wheel drive pickups. I am no exception with a 5 year old Jeep which has 143,000 miles to date and is absolutely filthy- much to my wonderful wife’s dismay. ” Why do you beat our vehicles” she gasps as she sees my Jeep filled with firewood or piled to the ceiling with mulch in the spring. Some of that mulch is still working its way out of the seats this fall and the sand from the beach this summer compliments the compost like decor I have beneath my seats and on the surface of the carpets. I see vehicles as a practical mode of transportation and if there is a layer of mud from my mountain bike gear, or last years doughnut crumbs still wedged in my cup holder, I am not dismayed. As long as I can transport my gear and get there safely with 4 wheel drive, I am not concerned with the appearance of a vehicle.
This disdain for vehicle maintenance all began when I started to drive my mom’s 1964 yellow Buick convertible back in high school. I transported many of my friends to school and back and oftentimes the top was down- even in the winter. As we pelted classmates with snowballs from the moving convertible, it became a battle vehicle until the day the top would not go back up and my dad was aghast at the snow in the seats and floors. I put large snow tires on the rear wheels and loaded the trunk with sand bags for the weekend ski trips to the mountains. Whenever there was a snow day at school, you could be sure that the yellow Buick was filled with equipment and headed for ski country- no matter what the road conditions were like. My parents were very understanding.
Moving along, I graduated to four wheel drive SUVs and the original orange International Scout hauled many a friend out of a ditch with the obligatory come-a-long or tow strap that I had stashed in my trunk. I felt obligated to get anyone who was stuck, out of the snow and it was fun seeing what the Scout could do in adverse conditions. That vehicle made many New England ski trips, hiking excursions to the Mt. Washington Valley, and regular weekend trips to the Laurel Highlands here in Pa. When my dad built his house in Wexford, the Scout was our construction vehicle hauling angle iron for his greenhouse, mulch, lumber, and other required materials. My dad thought the Scout was a great vehicle and often overestimated its capacity to haul. Lots of oversized materials were transported in the Scout and as time went on, it was abused beyond function.
Next came the Blazers. Chevy warns you to break in the vehicles slowly and not drive too fast for long periods of time when you first acquire a Blazer. My friend Bob Dresher and I would take the radar detector and set land speed records to Killington and the Mt. Washington Valley. Needless to say, that vehicle woke up in a hurry. Skis, mulch, firewood, all filled the Blazers for many, many trips and as the mileage piled up, so did the warning lights on the dashboard telling me that I had abused the vehicle beyond its normal capacity and maintenance was sorely required. Honda Passports, Mitsubishi Monteros, and finally the Jeep have graced my driveway and my friends and neighbors all chuckle with the constant addition of ski related or mountain bike related bumper stickers or window decals. My friends with the luxury vehicles all look at me with confusion in their eyes as to why I am not interested in driving a comfortable, well manicured vehicle? I guess it just goes with my ragged, humorous personality and internal value systems. The things that get me up in the morning are those that are fun and adventurous. I may have wrinkled shirts and pants, and my Jeep is a mess, but my wife loves me for who I am and knows that some things are not on my radar screen. Experiences are important to me, not creature comforts. I have tried to be more considerate of Janet over the years, but that dirtbag ethos is lurking in my soul and I try to keep the lid on it as well as I can.
The Jeep is running well and as I look forward to another winter of mountain adventures, I know that American ingenuity will keep me upright on the snowy roads. I may have to hose it down from time to time and take comfort when I see a muscle car get stuck on the side-roads. But I know that my selection and treatment of vehicles over the years has provided me with many memories of classic road trips. I don’t need pressed pants or a sparkling vehicle to enjoy the good times. Just unloaded 2 Jeep-loads of firewood in my backyard over the weekend. Guess I will be finding all of that bark next summer at the beach. Thanks for reading.