Test Drive

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By Wendy Hodge

It’s a Friday night, and I find myself sitting in a conference room at a car dealership. Since my Toyota ate a Christmas tree, I have been driving a rental car and then my sweet daughter’s car.
Now it’s finally time to purchase a vehicle of my own. And the experience is proving to be just like every cliché you’ve ever heard. Shady salesmen who try to be charming but who end up making you feel like you need a good shower. The bait and switch, where the car you really want is no longer available (or in this case, the keys have been lost), but here’s one that’s just as good! (never mind that it’s 10 years older and only has three good tires)… The mystery financing where numbers magically morph into ever larger monthly payments right before your very eyes. Not the ideal way to spend a Friday night, but a necessary evil to be endured.
I admit that I know next to nothing about cars. You ask me what kind I drive, and my response is most likely to be, “It’s silver.” But I do know enough to come into this place with a plan. I know how much I can put down. I know how much I can afford to pay each month. And I know, without a doubt, I do not want a white car. I don’t like white cars. Never have.
So while I wait for the “perfect little number” to arrive from the dealership’s lot in Columbus, I am given the keys to four vehicles parked in front waiting for me to take a test drive. First there’s a Kia Rio, red and all tricked out, and with a distinct 3-pack a day cigarette odor.
Secondly, there’s a silver Scion that has rap music blaring and a violent shimmy that makes my hands vibrate on the wheel. Next up is a black Hyundai with an interior that looks like it may have served as a homeless shelter at some point and gospel music pouring from the one working speaker that is held in place with duct tape. Lastly is a Chevrolet that is as big as a boat and smells like the 70s.
I drove each of these cars, determined to give them a fair chance. As I left the lot and drove through my best friend’s neighborhood, I imagined myself driving to work in each one of these cars. Am I a Rio woman who doesn’t mind smelling like Marlboros? Or am I a Scion girl who can overlook a car with seizure-like shakes? Is this black Hyundai who I am, or am I a Chevy driver?
It’s an odd feeling, sitting in the driver’s seat that once belonged to a stranger. Did they take long Sunday drives in this car? Were they adventurers, taking unbeaten paths and hidden dirt roads? Did their kids sing along with the radio in this car? Was there some passionate rendezvous on that back seat? Were they happy?
Life is, on so many levels, a series of test drives. We try out new friends, new fashion styles, new haircuts. We work at different jobs, eat at different restaurants, read books by different authors. We fall in love and we fall out of love…. test driving each relationship to see if it will be the one that fits us best.
My daughter, Abbey, is a sophomore at Auburn University and has changed her major a handful of times over the last year and a half. I think she feels this is something of a failure on her part. I myself think it’s a sign of courage and of intelligent curiosity. She is wise enough to know that she has not found the perfect fit yet. And isn’t that better than settling into a life that just isn’t what you want?
Abbey is anxious to have her career, her relationship, her life planned and settled. And I understand that completely. For so much of my life, I rolled along with what was handed to me.
I was happy and love my children more than I can say. But I realize now that I drove around in someone else’s car, metaphorically speaking. It has taken me decades to discover who Wendy Lynne actually is. And it’s the test drives that got me here, finally.
My daughter is wiser and stronger than I have ever been, and so I have great hope that she will settle into her own driver’s seat much earlier than I have and that she will navigate her life as her own true self. I hope, also, that she will have someone in the seat next to her who realizes what an amazing person she is…. someone who will be grateful and eager to share the ride with her.
I’m told my car has arrived from Columbus, and so I head out to the parking lot. It’s a Ford Escape, and it’s white. Yep. White. My best friend, who has arrived to see this car with me, can’t help but laugh. And because his smile is easy and contagious, I laugh along with him. And I climb in.
The seat is soft. The smell is almost new without a hint of cigarettes or the 70s. The interior is well cared for. The back seat is spacious. The radio is already tuned to my favorite country station. It rides like a dream, and I am sold.
Turns out I’m a Ford lady. And I like white cars. And I am so ready to drive down the road that stretches out ahead of me.
Wendy Hodge is an Opelika native, an empty nester and lover of all things Opelika. She previously had a column titled A Word or Ten, which was featured in the Tennessee Star Journal and is currently awaiting release of her first novel with Harper Collins Publishing Company.

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