Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It's Valentine's Day, and love is in the exhaust

It amazes me sometimes how interconnected life can be, and how the most material things can often deeply affect the immaterial. Cars are one of those peculiar material things that somehow have the ability to be quiet, and sometimes not so quiet, players in the grand (or soap) opera that is life.

Blogging about cars for sale on Kijiji may seem like a bit of a mindless endeavour, and that is certainly part of the appeal. Browsing Kijiji is something I like to do to relax and take my mind off of more serious things, and the freedom to write lightly and flippantly helps me de-stress and unwind.

Behind the escapist element in car-blogging, however, lies a much more personal motivation. For me, cars are not simply vehicles of transportation. They are not simply amalgams of steel, plastic and rubber that ferry us to and fro. No, they are much more than that. They are pieces of art; they are hobbies; they are passions; and most importantly, they are storytellers.

Nestled in a dust-laden garage in Grimsby sleeps this '73 VW Karmann Ghia. It doesn't look like much; It's fairly beat-up and the price isn't spectacular for a Ghia in this condition. Cars, however, are often more than the sum of their parts, and for me, this particular one tells a story worth much more than the $3,500 asking price.

The early morning heat could be seen rising in waves from steel hoods as the long line of cars, like a swarm of flies at the sight of fresh meat, gushed through the gates of the Geneva Street GM plant. Among and around the big American pickups, and looking very out of place, zipped a small and sleek sports car. The dusty black beauty neatly ducked into a free spot and its owner, after squeezing his lanky limbs through the small door, sprang out and onto his feet.

Before he had the chance to set off towards the plant however, a noise of rushing wind and squealing brakes made him whirl around to see a red blur squirm its way neatly into the spot next to him. As the familiar-sounding engine ceased its chattering and the driver door clicked open, a short, pretty woman cautiously pulled herself out of the car. Her flowing, yet meticulously styled blond hair whipped about as she nervously fumbled to collect her things, and she barely took notice of the young man sidling around her brand new Ghia, his hands in his pockets and his eyebrows raised in admiration.

My grandmother is, and as far as I know always has been, one of the cleanest people I have ever met, and I can only imagine the difference in appearance of those two almost-identical cars sitting beside each other. She was a house-sitter in Austria before the war drove her and her family to America, and if you've ever met an Austrian, you will know that they treat dust, dirt and disorder as though it were a physical manifestation of sin itself. My grandfather, on the other hand, was a laid-back farm boy, who spent his summers toiling among the fruit trees, a true Niagaran. He loved motorcycles and waterskied across Lake Ontario, backwards, for fun.

Apart from their cars, which sparked a conversation, and ultimately more, I cannot fathom how these two personalities would have connected, still less how they would have married and peacefully co-existed for so long. They kept both cars for several years, and eventually sold my grandfather's black one. The red one they kept, and of it I have heard many long-winded stories. From near-deadly highway crashes to bringing my mother home from the hospital, that little red VW was as much a part of my grandparents' early life as were they themselves. 

Karmann Ghias are not rare cars, but they're not particularly common ones either, so whenever I see one up for sale, especially if it's red or black, I get a little tinge of happiness and an eery realization that this car was instrumental in my coming into existence. It reminds me of the extraordinary spot that ordinary items can hold in people's hearts, and makes me value a little more the things we often take for granted.

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