Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Separation Anxiety: How A Rental Car Rejuvenated My Automotive Enthusiasm

Separation Anxiety
How three days with a rental car rejuvenated my automotive enthusiasm and concurrently my love for the Challenger

There's really nothing wrong with the midsize-crossover that is the Dodge Journey; in fact, it does everything it's intended to quite well. It's safe, reliable, moderately comfortable, roomy, returns decent gas mileage, is made of materials that were unknown to many manufacturers as recent as ten years ago, and (probably) hauls five to seven people, two of those being very small children, just fine. Fundamentally speaking, it's a good car. But if you're reading this, it's pretty likely you consider yourself an automotive enthusiast, otherwise known as someone who takes particular interest in vehicles that are rather good at sacrificing their ability to be a car in favor of novelties such as lap times or crawling over inanimate objects. And, unfortunately, that doesn't make the Dodge Journey a good enthusiast's car. Yet despite this, it was remarkable how living with one of these “sensible vehicles” for just three days helped rejuvenate my love for cars, and especially for my own. It all started with a usually-run-of-the-mill, though unpleasant, telephone exchange:

“We'll likely have to keep it until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.”

It was the end of March. The Winter Blues had officially assumed full command of my psyche, the snow-covered woods and leafless trees a visual reminder of weather suited best for those who enjoy places the likes of Vail, or whose favorite company is a hardcover epic beside the warmth of a fireplace. And, just as things are looking up – a couple days breaking the seemingly summer-like forty-degree mark – in comes the Dodge Journey, taking the place of my Challenger during its inpatient stay at the dealership for transmission surgery. Quoting a lead time of about a week, the service advisor helped me scoop up a rental in the meantime, though my initial emotions were very misleading. The excitement of potential seat time behind the wheel of a different vehicle wore off very quickly, evaporating entirely when the Caddy ATS and Chrysler 300 on the Enterprise “menu” faded out of view as the rep pulled a straight-jacket-white Journey SXT out to be my temporary wheels. Only a few minutes later, with less than two miles spent sitting in the driver's seat, the feeling was instantly recognizable: it was as if the steering wheel was connecting me to something that wasn't, well, me; I was no longer driving an extension of myself, but rather simply controlling a piece of machinery.

To use a worn-out cliché, the Journey, especially in rental-guise, is effectively an appliance. Its purpose is A-to-B transportation, nothing more, nothing less. It stirs about as much emotion as does running the washing machine, which is next to none, unless you're a dog...which you probably aren't, unless this is some strange post-script from The Art of Racing In The Rain. Coincidentally, the aforementioned is a book that fully encompasses how being a lover of all things car can seize your body, mind, and soul; driving is wholly capable of bringing about adrenalin, joy, fear, sorrow, and everything in-between. To those who love them, cars come alive. Unfortunately, the loaner did not, but it rejuvenate deep within me the passion that burns so strong, which was waning amidst the brutal Northeast winter.

Before I knew it the Journey was gone and my butt was planted in the driver seat of my Challenger once again, putting me on the receiving end of many more stares from middle-aged men and feeling much less like I was heading to pick my kids up en route to drop them off at whatever practice it is they might be going to. The Journey was hardly with me long enough to drive it, to get to know it, and to bond with it, let alone to take pictures of it or do things like calculate the gas mileage it may or may not have gotten (hey, you gotta wind out the gears at least a few times). No hurt feelings here, for the time spent in the blandmobile made driving the Hemi-powered R/T feel infinitely more responsive and (thankfully) faster than it usually does, and the involvement of the manual transmission a revelation. However (and this is still much to my surprise), I now have a deep, new-found appreciation and respect for the Dodge Journey. Not for the Journey as a model, but for the specific vehicle I had for three days while my car was at the doctor. Though driving said Journey failed to stir up any vehicular emotion in the bottom of my soul, it did revive that which beats for the real world of automotive enthusiasm; it allowed me to realize, recognize, and remember just how great the world of cars is, and why I call it my favorite pastime. It rejuvenated the desire for road trips, for track days, for car shows, and for the seemingly simple things like waving at another driver of your same model car as they drive by. A vehicle may not have a living, beating heart, but a soul it most definitely has.

These few days also bump-started my love for the Challenger that has become a willing and able partner to my road-borne adventures. While outspoken internet desk-jockeys argue that it's too heavy to be a good car for enthusiasts, I entirely disagree. Actually, I've always disagreed, but more so now than ever. It might not have the dynamics of a Miata, the drama of a 458, the acceleration of a GT-R, or the road-and-track-compatability of a 1LE, yet it's still a good enthusiast's car. Not necessarily driver's car, but a lot of that is what you make of it; rather, it's what you do with it that makes it your vice, your channel, your way of expressing and enjoying yourself. And though the heavyweight Challenger might not invigorate you to set the new lap record at Laguna Seca, what it does do is inspire you, just as any great car or driving partner should: it makes you want to drive, crave a reason to go places; it forces you to enjoy the adventure and not just the destination. And this, friends, is what being addicted to motor vehicles, to new experiences, to the culture, and most importantly, what driving, is all about.

It's easy to lose way of automotive culture when the weather is shitty, your car is broken, and your favorite motoring TV show has recently been canceled. At said point in the year, nothing seems further away than giving your car a bath, going for a drive, and reveling in the freedom that there is in making your own adventure. But then, just when you're at automotive rock bottom, something comes along and it hits you: nothing can replace the passion that is being a “car person,” because in it comes a one-to-one attachment that simultaneously helps you see, experience, and take joy in new things, and also helps you find yourself. If you need to get your enthusiasm back on track, if you're looking for a way to rejuvenate your passion for vehicles and for the art of driving, if you've got the Winter Car Blues, all you need to do is seek your closest rental location. You'll fall in love all over again before you know it. I recommend a Dodge Journey.

-Ross, 4/21/15