A Racecar Marriage: True Love a Quarter Mile at a Time (Yes, I just quoted Vin Diesel. Sorry.)

The first time I was ever attracted to my future husband was when he was driving me in his ’91 Eclipse.

His hands. Shifting.

It was maybe 1997. I was probably 18 and he was 17. It wasn’t a date – just hanging out with a mutual friend. We had known each other for a few years already, and, even though we went to a very small school, we ran in different crowds. He was quiet and wore a lot of black. I was … not quiet… and wore a lot of … not black. (Pretty sure I was wearing my 1970s hot pink thrift store pants with huge butterflies all over them.[i]) He had been quietly attracted to me, and I knew it, but I had other boyfriends. And I wasn’t interested.

Until that day in his car. And I noticed his muscled hands.

We were still just friends, but my heart started to beat a little faster. And then my heart turned toward him more and more until it beat for him only.

That 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse – a car prized by people like Mr. Okayest for being possible to majorly modify – has always been a huge part of our life.  The car is not a possession or a material object.  It is a thread running through this marriage. A loud, 626 horsepower thread. Today, twenty years later, he finally got that car up on his new lift – a lifelong hard-won pursuit. Although I need him in the house to help me with our three small sons who are bugging me to death right now, I am so happy to see him so happy under that car. He’s gutting it and rebuilding it now. I love the light in his eyes.

Even I daydream of the time when he gets it running again, and we can and speed away from those three small sons for the evening. It will still be our dating car. Sometimes my mind seems to bend when I think back to our teenage selves, and how we ended up together, and our family and our years. I think back to that first ride in the Eclipse in nineteen-ninety-whatever, and his hands, and I think maybe I was able to picture this future – with that hard-won lift and these hard-won children, and the same Eclipse.[ii] It’s always been there.

The car was there when it drove him to the small high school where we met and saw each other every day.

The car was there when he drove to his mechanic job after school, instigating a lifetime obsession.

The car was there when my heart started to beat for him.

The car was there when we drove to our first date, an extremely old-fashioned little Tea Room in a woman’s house, where a husband and wife said they were sitting at the very table where they got engaged many years before. The man said to us, “You’re sitting at the courtin’ table, boy! When you gonna marry her?” (Yes, Virginia is The South.)

The car was there when we fell in love.

The car was there when we went to college, 500 miles apart, and the car made the trip between New York and Virginia for four years.

The car was there when he drove from New York in the night to surprise me, standing underneath my junior-year dorm room window, in a black trench coat, calling my name, like John Cusack in “Say Anything.”

The car was there, getting faster and faster and tougher and tougher under his ever-increasing mechanic experience.

The car was there at the drag strip with us, “a quarter mile at a time” as Vin Diesel ever-so-eloquently says in one of the Fasts and the Furiouses. We spent many date nights at the track. Usually I wasn’t allowed in the passenger seat, as my 115 pounds added “way too much weight” and slowed him down. But sometimes, when his times didn’t matter, I was riding beside him with my helmet, and it was the best rollercoaster in the world.

The car was there that one time it was so fast that my bony knees actually flew up into my face when he shifted.

The car was there, getting louder and louder, until it caught every cop’s eye, and set off every car alarm in every parking garage, in a row, as we drove past each one. (One of my favorite pastimes.)

The car was there when it had to be towed home again and again after a night of pushing it to its limits. That car was the only reason we had AAA.

The car was there when it got too big for its own britches and was no longer street legal. When it stopped passing inspections. When it couldn’t race anymore unless it could get a roll cage installed.

The car was there when we got pulled over many times, with cops on both sides of the car, shining lights in both our faces, yelling, “IS THIS YOUR CAR?”

The car was there, parked, for those three months that he had to bicycle his way to his internship every day, when his license was revoked.

The car was there when it took him across the country for another internship. When I returned from Italy, that car drove us from Washington state to Virginia at the end of that summer. We crossed the entire United States in that car,  even once crossing the border into Mexico.

The car was there, up on a dyno, out-powering all the other home-built racecars.

The car was there at our college graduations – first mine, then his.

The car was there when we got married in the temple, parked so quietly in the parking lot waiting for us to come back out. When we folded my handmade 40-yards-of-tulle-of-a-dress into it on that extremely hot and humid Virginia summer day (with no A/C because he had long ago pulled it out for being – wait for it – too heavy). When we arrived at our reception, sweaty and elated.

The car was there when we sped away from our reception with an enormous roar, and left our families behind for good. The car took us to our new life together.

The car was there at our first rental home. That whole first year of marriage when he commuted every day to the next state to be a racecar mechanic. That time it snowed three feet and got completely buried.

The car was there, probably smirking at me from the driveway, as I called my car insurance company to have my new husband added to my policy, and Allstate told me they would DROP ME if I added him and that car.

The car was there for our second year of marriage – an apartment, which did not suit us at all. With oil changes in the parking lot and much cursing.

The car was there when someone keyed it in that apartment parking lot and broke my husband’s heart.

The car was there, being towed on a flatbed behind the moving truck on our way to our first home that we owned. When we picked up a huge rescue dog to bring to our new home with us.

The car was there, taking us on drives through the countryside, with our new dog hanging her head out of the window, lapping at the mountain air.

The car was there, right behind me, the first time I drove a stick shift alone. He followed me part of the way to my job as a kindergarten teacher, so no one would park too close behind me at stoplights. Because I was still rolling backwards so much. The memory of his familiar racecar in my rearview mirror, when I was so nervous, still makes me smile. That’s true freaking love.

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I never know what I’m gonna find when I call him in for dinner.

The car was there every time my husband got the idea to tear it apart and make it bigger, better, faster – just to see if he could.

The car was there that time he made an entire second car for me from the leftover parts. And I drove it for a couple years, but the clutch was so stiff I often felt like crying when a stoplight turned red.

The car was there that time he raced it so hard he snapped an axle on the drag strip.

The car was there when I realized I couldn’t drive it anymore. That I would probably never drive it again. It became too much for me.

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Melted metal. One of these things is not like the other.

The car was there that time he pushed it so hard on the interstate in the middle of the night that he sent a piece of the engine straight through the firewall[iii]. When he made a huge hole in the engine block and left a hemorrhage of fluids for a mile. And his wife screamed at him for putting his life in danger over and over again.

The car was also there every time I screamed with joy at the fun we had going fast.

The car was there, parked in the garage underneath our bedroom, when we found out we were pregnant after years of trying.

The car was there, parked in the garage underneath our bedroom, when I began to miscarry the baby. When we came home from the hospital with only the knowledge that she was a girl.

And finally, one day when he was tearing the car apart for a semi-basic rebuild, our son came into our lives. We were parents. And the non-working car would sit quietly for the next seven years.

The car was there in our minds when we bought a bigger, nearly-foreclosed house with a detached garage – the reason we had purchased this house in the first place. The car had figured into our home-buying decision!

The car was there when we moved with a bigger moving truck this time, towing the racecar behind us on yet another flatbed.

The car was there when we made a huge permanent gash in our road from getting it off the flatbed.

The car was there when we pushed it down the hill and into the detached garage. When friends helped him get every wheel on a dolly so it could be moved around the garage.

The car got covered. Grew mold and dust as our family grew bigger. Twins. Three children under three. All hands on deck. House repairs that never stopped. Three children in diapers. Oh, the intensity. The car was never forgotten, though. We daydreamed about the glory days and the track and the romance and the speed, while we were covered in spit up and poop and were decidedly stationary.

And, then, one day the children were a little more independent. The house was stabilized – although it will never be finished. We had saved and saved and saved. My husband looked around and said it was time.

FB_IMG_1495119821851The car was there, sitting quietly, as he poured a concrete floor in around it in the garage. As he expanded the garage around it. As he installed a lift beside it. As he insulated the garage. As he learned how to wire the garage.

The car was there that day he and my brother rolled it off its little dollies, and pushed it onto the lift. When my husband smiled.

It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t run. What matters is that it’s possible it may run again someday. What matters is that my husband is happy.  What matters is that the kids don’t run our lives. What matters are the memories and the emotions and the shared experiences we both remember. We grew up together. And now we feel so very old because, yes, “the car makes us feel young again”. We can barely say that with a straight face, but it’s true anyway. That’s how we know we’re old. (Also, we know we’re old because the car is eligible for antique license plates now since it’s more than 25 years old. If it could qualify for plates.)

Today, the children run around us in the freshly painted garage, weaving around and under our racecar on our lift. They peek inside. They ask questions. They know it used to be faster than any car they see on the road. They do know that a Formula One racecar is faster, though. Because that’s faster than everything, they say. They know their Daddy built this car with his own hands. They know that he will build it again. They don’t care too much – but they will when they hear it roar to life for the first time. Will they ride in the backseat? We don’t even know.[iv] Probably not. It’s not street legal, after all.

Seven years since it has started up. Fifteen years since we left for our honeymoon in it. Twenty years since I first set eyes on his hands as he shifted. Twenty years.

****

[i] When Mr. Okayest read this sentence about my butterfly pants, he said, “I remember those pants!” I’m all like, “Yeah, because they probably blinded you.”

[ii] I’m lying. It’s not technically the same Eclipse, but for the sake of writing continuity, I fibbed. He got his first 1991 Eclipse when he was 16. He replaced it four years later with a turbo version. Same color, same year, same car. It’s the same car to me. Yeah yeah yeah. Just go with it.

[iii] Firewall? I originally wrote “dashboard” and he corrected it to “firewall,” but I have no idea what that means.

[iv] Mr. Okayest just said “definitely not.” Apparently he took out (and threw away) the backseat seatbelts years ago BECAUSE THEY WERE – wait for it – TOO HEAVY.

20 Things that Garage Widows Understand

car problems If your husband is a Mr. Fix-It like mine, you have learned – or will learn – a few things along the way. We have been married for twelve years and have had at least as many vehicles over the years. We don’t do car payments. Not one of our one-dozen-plus fleet of vehicles has ever been to a mechanic or a shop.

The only thing we have taken to a professional was our vacuum. Mr. Okayest repaired it himself the first time it broke, but thought he needed a pro the second time it broke. However, the actual vacuum-repairman said he was stumped. My husband brought that thing home, ordered a part on amazon, and brought it back to life himself once again. He has repaired our used dryer more times than I can count. He can fix anything, even when a professional can’t.

Am I grateful? Heck yes. Am I lonely? Heck yes.

Here are a few things that wives of these kind of manly-men have learned – or will quickly learn:

  1. There are two kinds of repairs: “It should be an easy job,” and “It will be a pretty big job.” The former means you will see him at some point that day. The latter means you will hear him refer to the vehicle as a “dirty dirty whore” and you won’t be able to drive anywhere for the entire weekend.
  2. Your kids will be able to identify an air compressor and mimic an angle grinder at the age of one.
  3. You will have to pay a car payment to yourself every month to cover the cost of the repairs he does. Yes, it is wonderful to have no car payments and the flexibility to buy very old vehicles. But it does come at a (literal) cost.
  4. You can probably get antique plates for at least one of your vehicles, saving you the hassle of yearly inspections, which it never passed anyway.
  5. You will double or triple the amount of time he estimates that the repair will take. He’s not slow; repairing things simply breaks other things along the way. On a related note, you will have to budget two or three trips to Advance Auto Parts into each day.
  6. You will pray that it will not rain during the car repairs. If it does, you will be trapped with three toddlers in the house from Friday night until Monday morning, with no vehicle and no ability to play outside.
  7. You will learn to love the smell of grease and carb cleaner, because any smell on the one you are madly in love with becomes familiar and sweet.
  8. You will also wonder if that chemical smell is the reason you never got pregnant.
  9. There will be times that you will wish you could send the car off to a shop and have your husband back, no matter how much money it would cost.
  10. Your UPS man will know you by name. (One of them said to us, “So that was the car I brought in piece by piece, huh?”)
  11. He will curse UPS and FedEx and DSL until he is blue in the face.
  12. At least once a week, you will check on him in the garage and be mortified by the chemical smell and demand that he open the garage door RIGHT NOW. You start to think of yourself as a Geiger counter.
  13. You will have greater tolerance for his hobbies, because of the amazing amount of money he saves your family.
  14. You won’t do normal Saturday family activities, because he will always have a new repair or preventive maintenance to accomplish.
  15. You will have incredible peace of mind knowing that any engine noise you describe to your husband can easily be explained away. You will also take comfort in the fact that he always knows what each vehicle will need, in order, for the next three years.
  16. You will have incredible non-peace of mind, because “the cobbler’s child has no shoes.” You will hear, “Well, it should be okay,” and he will weld things and duct tape things and rig things. He will be MacGyver. You will be amazed and terrified by his creativity (i.e., taking liberties) with the half-ton of metal under his dependents.
  17. You, the kids, and the house will have to get in line.
  18. You will never own a new, or even new-ish, vehicle, since he can keep anything running forever.
  19. Your triple stroller could cost more than your truck. And it doesn’t even have an engine!
  20. The phrase, “As long as I’ve got the thing apart…” will send chills down your spine.

 

Sons, your mother is seriously looking forward to the time when all three of you are in the garage with your father, helping your father, rather than doing whatever the heck it is that you were doing to me during this long, chaotic, rainy weekend. Hurry up! I really want to finish reading a book again someday. Oh, well, at least our minivan has new shocks and brakes and a whole bunch of other stuff that helps it feel less like a boat.

Say It Ain’t So! When a Minivan Happens to a Volkswagen Girl…

I could not decide on a name for this blog post. So, since this topic is so incredibly painful for poor little me (First World Problems!), I’m not going to write an actual post about it. While I drown in my tears, I will just give you a bunch of alternate versions of the title of this non-blog-post post. Here are the Top 5 Alternate Titles:

1)     “How a Lifelong VW Girl Ended up in a Minivan”

On the day I was born, I came home from the hospital in a 1977 VW Rabbit. I mean, I would have, except that my mom was in labor long enough to get the Rabbit towed. Therefore, I actually came home in my Granddad’s car. (The first thing my new dad had to do was get that Rabbit out of the impound lot.) With the exception of that day, I have been in a VW for my entire life.

1977 VW Rabbit 1981 me asleep in VW

Throughout my childhood, my VW-loving parents drove me around in:
-a blue 1977 VW Rabbit,
-a black 1984 VW Rabbit (which my dad only sold this year), and
-a maroon 1994 VW Jetta (which my brother crashed).

As an adult, I have purchased:
-a blue 1987 VW Jetta (my first car, which my brother also crashed)
-a silver 2001 VW Golf,
-a red 2002 VW GTI (which my brother now owns and better not crash),
-a blue 2002 VW TDI (which we still own and Mr. Okayest drives every day. This diesel has 265,000 miles on it), and
-my silver 2003 VW Passat W8 (which kind of fit all 3 kids in the back, but not really, and also held our 100 pound dog in the back)

I never thought I would not own a VW.

2)     “From VW to… Beige.Chrysler.Minivan (to be read in the voice of the singer from the band Cake: A.White.Chrysler.LeBaron)”

Is there anything more bland than those three words put together: “Beige.Chrysler.Minivan”? I feel like I need to sprinkle some Sriracha sauce on those words to spice them up.

We, of course, started out by looking at the VW minivan, the Routan. Don’t even get me started on that. VW stuck a dagger in my heart. The Routan is actually just rebadged Chrysler Town & Country minivan with a more expensive price tag. WTHeck, VW?! That is not acting like “The People’s Car”, now is it?! How could you do that to a lifelong VW girl?

However, since the Routan debuted in 2008, it is not old enough to be affordable for the Okayest Family, so my whole rant is meaningless anyway. We don’t do car payments. Mr. Okayest is a former mechanic, and, thus, we rotate through old vehicles. He can keep them running. We have owned a dozen cars since we were married, many of which we flipped like real estate. Not a single one of them has ever been to a shop. (This hobby/skill keeps Mr. Okayest very busy. I used to call myself a “Garage Widow”.) Therefore, when we look at vehicles to buy, we usually look at vehicles that are about a decade old. This limits the choices somewhat.

3)     “ ‘I Will Never Drive a Minivan’ Said Everyone, Ever.”

I am so not reinventing the wheel here. Like most minivan owners, we tried everything to avoid this thing. We smashed all 3 in the back of the VW Passat until we could smash no more. We did spreadsheet after spreadsheet to try to fudge the numbers and make an SUV come out on top. Mr. Okayest is the best practical thinker you have ever seen, and made jaw-dropping “Decision Matrixes” (matrices?) that gave every pro and con a numerical value. It was so easy to make fun of him and his Excel skillz, but, dang, I was in awe. We simply could not argue with the numbers. No matter how we skewed the values, we could not make the SUVs or full-size vans come out as the winner.

How The Okayest  Family Buys a Car

How The Okayest Family Buys a Car (Make fun all you want. And, um, this is only a snippet of ONE of the Decision Matrices.)

I will make it up to myself by putting this sticker on the back:

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4)     “It’s Not the Number of Kids You Have… It’s the Number of Carseats You Have”

Anyone who makes fun of Americans for driving increasingly-larger vehicles does not have three babies in three carseats. (And I’m talking to myself here. I am the girl who once owned a Mini and a VW Golf at the same time.) We got the narrowest carseats we could find (which also happened to be the cheapest, woot woot!), and we just could not make them fit properly in the back of the VW Passat. There are only 2 LATCH anchors, so car manufacturers think it’s only necessary to save the lives of 2 of our 3 children.

all 3 asleep in vw

Our three carseats across the back row didn’t quite fit properly. They were a little wonky and crooked, because they had to overlap a little bit. Plus, when we shut the doors, the seats would jostle around. I kept picturing being in a t-bone crash with the twins’ seats smashed against the doors, and I felt like I should apologize to everyone who ever owned an SUV “for safety” that I had previously teased.

We have children closer together in age than most parents. I think that most parents who have three children have an oldest child who can buckle his own carseat buckle- or is old enough to not need a carseat. That is the natural child-spacing order. We, however, have three very small and closely-spaced children who must be buckled in by my hands. Why does this matter? BECAUSE I HAVE TO CLIMB IN THE WAY WAY BACK TO BUCKLE WHICHEVER KID ENDS UP BACK THERE. Therefore, I petitioned for a full-size van (which was sadly the major loser of the Decision Matrix) or a minivan with stow-n-go seats. I reasoned that if I could fold one seat into the floor, then I have far more room with which to maneuver. That plan was foiled when my 2-year-old niece moved in with us. We now have FOUR carseats in there and no stowing-and-going happening. (But that’s ok!)

all 4 in minivan

5)     “‘Anything But Beige,’ I Said”

Guess what? We looked at six minivans that weekend, and the last one happened to be beige. I knew as soon as I saw it. I said to him in a defeated voice, “This is the one, isn’t it?”

I’m never going to be able to find it in a parking lot. As a girl who is used to driving around in rare cars (Passat W8), race cars (my husband’s 626 hp racer), or handmade cars (an old Mitsubishi Galant sedan with race components), I now feel like I am wearing an invisibility cloak. Good thing I never leave the house, huh?

***

Postscript: Okay, okay, it’s been kinda awesome to fit all four kids in one vehicle. We have freedom to leave the house all together now. And, yes, its “utility can’t be beat”, as Mr. Okayest has said. And, okay, okay, it’s pretty cool to put regular gas in something for once, instead of premium. And, yeah, those automatic doors are really something when I have my hands full of twins. But, seriously, beige?!!