I was thirty six when I bought my first car. It was a bright yellow Audi S4 station wagon. I chose the color because I didn’t want a grey or black car like everyone else had, and red seemed as if I was trying to prove something. There was a nice blue option with grey seats, but I thought that might make me feel too much like an established, conservative older woman. I wasn’t that person yet.
The car came with a black leather interior and a V6 engine. It could accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 5.8 seconds – just like a Porsche 911. When I test drove it, I felt as if I was in a sports car even though to everyone else I probably looked like someone’s mom going through a mid-life crisis. Perhaps I was.
The open trunk was big enough to fit a bicycle and luggage when the back seats were down, and when they were up there was a trap door in the back seat bench through which one could slide a pair of skis. The polished chrome roof rails could handle a rack and a cargo box for a long road trip to any active outdoor adventure of my choosing. I imagined using all these features as I drove around in my high heels and business suit, my well-worn brief case lying next to me on the passenger seat and my sons’ sticky car seats strapped in back. I was a long way from pursuing outdoor adventures back then, but the yellow car enabled my dreaming.
Four years into ownership, when my sons were in grade school they gave my yellow car a name. Every first and third grade boy called it the “Banana Car” and wanted to ride in it. But unlike the pervasive minivan my car could only fit three lucky passengers. My boys’ friends waved at the car as it drove by as if it had a personality of its own. Encased in my black leather interior, I often forgot how the exterior presented itself until one day a small child, too young for school, stopped playing in his front yard, pointed his pudgy finger at me and stared. Then a grin spread across his face in recognition of what must have looked to him like a giant Hot Wheels. When my yellow car made people smile I was reminded of what it felt like to be a kid again. It was the bright and happy float in the parade of grey and black SUV’s that inched its way through our small downtown every morning.
Though the color seemed frivolous, the car itself was very practical. It could carry a weeks’ worth of groceries, a three dimensional science project and two full school bags all at the same time in is trunk. It had heated seats in winter and a sun roof for the summer. When my sons’ hockey games required me to drive across the greater Chicago area in the middle of snow storms, I was grateful for the all-wheel-driving and the halogen lights. (Though it took a good five years until on-coming drivers realized these were standard head lights and stopped flashing me to turn off my high beams.)
People saw the yellow car long before I saw them. In a few instances I was grateful for that. I almost killed a client once when I pulled up to the curb side to drop him off at the airport. I missed a car in my blind spot that was accelerating out. Had he not seen the bright yellow flash in the corner of his eye I’m pretty sure he would have pinned my passenger side. People waved at me from passing cars. But without exception I had no idea who they were in their grey, black or white vehicles with tinted windshields. Who knows how many friends I offended by not waving back. Then there was the time I waved back and smiled at a silver BMW only to realize that it wasn’t a wave but a third finger being held up for my benefit.
For the most part the response out there to my choice of color was positive. But after my husband borrowed it while his car was in the shop he returned it saying he would never drive it again. He had more people honk and shout at him during that week than in all the other weeks of his life combined. There must be something about a middle aged man driving a yellow station wagon that brings out the worst in his alpha counterparts.
I know I sacrificed a little privacy over the years by owning a yellow car. There were many times I’d get a phone call or a text message asking me what color nail polish I had chosen when my car was parked in front of the salon. Or as I was working frantically for a deadline I’d be interrupted at the office when someone saw my yellow car parked in front of the building and knew I was there. It was a beacon in the otherwise grey concrete landscape of my life during those years. But its homing device quality served me well when upon returning from numerous overseas business trips, too exhausted and jet lagged to remember where I had parked my car I had only to look out the tram window as it pulled into the long term parking lot to spot my yellow wagon happily waiting to welcome me back.
When my boys grew old enough to drive themselves they grudgingly asked to borrow the yellow car. The Banana Car wasn’t cool anymore even if it did drive like a race car with its V6 engine. I think its one attraction was that the girls thought it was cute. As they took the keys from me I reminded them that the only car the police will pull over more than a red one on a highway is a yellow one with a teenage boy driving. It was enough to keep them in line on the weekends.
When one of the boys’ coaches needed a ride to a hockey tournament on an icy February weekend he accepted a spot in the yellow wagon. Impressed with the car’s handling in the snow and its cheery color, he christened it “Old Yeller”. The new name stuck.
With the impending departure of my boys for college, I have adopted a new puppy. These days a large green plaid blanket covers the back seat of my car. It didn’t take long for Old Yeller to win over my furry companion who will sit for hours surveying the world of squirrels and canines from behind a nose print smudged pane of glass. I’ve also taken up bike racing and given my new bike a prominent position on the roof rack. Last winter I fit a set of cross country skis nicely into the trunk when I set off for an all-day adventure in the snow.
Given the miles it has carried me my yellow wagon is in surprisingly good shape. But every once in a while something big has to be repaired like the brakes, the heating system or the axle bearings. Each time I call the garage I have only to describe the car and they know who I am without even checking their records. I’m not sure they ever remember my name, but they certainly know Old Yeller.
I am now the age when I would certainly look better driving a blue sedan with a grey interior. But I continue to discourage suggestions that it might be time for a trade in.
Buying my yellow wagon was the best decision I ever made. Fourteen years and half a generation later I’m still dreaming and it’s still driving me around.