The eBay listing read: 1977 Mustang II Ghia. Rebuilt V-8. Starting bid $400.
Steve tried to talk me out of it: "We can't afford it."
"Your golf clubs cost more than the car," I said.
"Why this one? Others will come along."
"That's what my mom said when I told her I was marrying you."
That got him. There's something exciting about cars. Certain ones catch my eye: muscle cars like Barracudas and GTOs, Jaguars and Corvettes. And BMWs -- the first time I made out with a boy was in a 525i. And Mustangs. Show me a vintage Mustang on the street and I can tell you the year it was made.
It comes from my dad, this interest in cars. He always had a sports car under restoration in our garage and owned a Porsche Targa when I was small. Even then I enjoyed riding in vehicles other people admired.
He never noticed my curiosity, how I wanted to lie on the gravel under the chassis and touch the greasy hoses, the warm metal. I wanted to dirty my hands. Most of all I wanted to be with my dad, who'd point out the parts, show me how to check the oil, pat me on the shoulder afterward. But working on cars was off-limits for girls. So I learned to drive. Driving was the only way for me to participate.
I was 16 when I bought my first car, an orange 1967 Mustang. It cost $525, which I paid in $25 weekly installments. The interior was faded black vinyl and smelled like an attic. The driver's door was jammed. To get out I had to climb over the center console and use the passenger door. A friend put his foot through the floor. It had parts that were so rusted they crumbled in my fingers. I washed it weekly and Armor Alled the sun-cracked dash. The little money I made as a part-time cashier I spent on books on how to restore classic Mustangs. Never mind that I couldn't afford to replace the ripped head liner. So I bought more Armor All, and a cup holder.
There were more back roads than main streets in my Florida town, where I would drive along with the volume cranked on the tape deck, stop my favorite song in the middle -- at the time, "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam Ant -- rewind, and play it again. One night the road dropped out from under me and I plowed into a cornfield.
The '67 eventually went to my brother. He'd been stealing it at night -- putting it in neutral and letting it coast down the driveway before starting the engine. My next car was a 1977 Mustang II Ghia. It was white with jaunty red vinyl seats and a 302-cubic-inch V-8. Boys would stop me in parking lots to look under the hood.
A few days after I bought it, I was driving my mother home from work when a man in a landscaping truck next to me changed lanes without looking. If I hadn't quickly avoided him he would have hit us. "That was damned good driving," my mother said. It's one of the best compliments I ever got.
There are two kinds of driving. The first kind you do to get from place to place. The next you do because you'll go out of your mind if you don't.
Once I took a lap around the Beltway. The trip took an hour, which was just enough time to get it -- whatever it was, I can't remember -- out of my system. I'd quit smoking, but I bought a pack and I smoked about half of it. I haven't driven because my life depended on it in years. These days I have destinations.
Eighteen years after trading in my '77, I called the eBay seller -- a teenager, it turns out -- to ask him about the car. "The floorboard's nearly rusted through," he admitted. "But . . . " He cheerfully described how easily a piece of sheet metal could be welded to the underside. The car was dying, disintegrating around its rebuilt engine. I felt sorry for it.
A few days later, I stopped at a light in my SUV. After years of driving low-slung coupes -- another Mustang, a Plymouth Laser, a Datsun 280ZX and a Toyota Celica GT -- I wanted more space. I wanted to sit up high. A tricked-up Honda Civic pulled alongside, its oversize tailpipe -- an illusion of muscle -- emitting a rumble. My Tahoe's massive V-8 trembled under my hands.
The impulse to get my '77 back, for now, has eased. It might have been Steve's surrender; the relief that came when I knew I could buy another one if I wanted to -- that it was out there, waiting; or my parents' whispered "Don't let your brother drive it." It might be because when the light turned green my truck surged forward and left the Honda behind.
Motoring down Lee Highway on the way to the dry cleaners, I turned up the volume on the CD player and hung my arm out the open window. Halfway through "Kings of the Wild Frontier" I stopped the music, and played it again.