I remember the first time I was ever in awe of a car.
I was a kid in the very back of a 1982 Ford Crown Victoria station wagon. It was a dark night on highway 89 up in the mountains of New Hampshire. I must have been 7 or 8. Dad, the glow of the dashboard on him, the corner of his eye in the rearview mirror, said, “watch what’s about to pass us.”
I perked up and saw low headlights behind us, to close to the ground. Something was wrong. The headlights were low, as if the lights were projecting the road before it like a movie, like a plot, like a storyline where the ending is just beyond the reach of the headlights. The car flung passed us. It was chopped and low, flat black, with a tiny rear window on a long sloping back. It looked like it got its shape from driving at speed, like a drop of hot lead flung across the face of the earth, streaking an inch above the ground and leaving a blackened road in its wake. Dad glanced at the dashboard, the needle on the Ford’s massive speedometer lazily bobbing, to gauge the speed. He said only “51 Mercury.”
As it climbed up and towards the sky along the slope of highway on the mountains before us, only a fading red glow of bullet shaped tail-lights was visible. The car moved as if the draw to move forward was a greater newtonian force than gravity.
That’s the definition of the awe: that need to move, as if the car were not designed simply to go, but instead made to sail in that universal language of movement over time to show us what velocity means like a new category of vocabulary, to show us that these aren’t miles per hour, these are the miles of our hours.
Dad said it more succinctly with a disbelieving “Look at her go.”