She is twenty-seven or perhaps thirty-one, long-limbed and lithe with clean blond hair pulled straight back – though not in a severe way – from a fine-boned, small-nosed face. That which is not honed by either Pilates or Bikram is flattered by the lycra of her Lululemon yoga capris, the fabric caressing as it flexes. As she bends over to soothe an adorable tow-headed toddler in a six-hundred-dollar ergonomic jogging stroller, I have just one thing on my mind.
That is a really nice stroller.
Congratulate me: I’m a new father! And so, after a bloody, protracted labour that’d make the UFC look like a competitive backrub league, my priorities have changed somewhat. I have a child now. A daughter.
It’s the oddest sensation, to hear the first cry of a child and feel the poles of your life suddenly shift; to be handed a squalling life and feel the unimaginable weight of all that potential joy and heartbreak as it falls asleep in your arms. There was a Then, but this is the Now, and no matter how many platitudes or warnings you’ve absorbed over the years, you are utterly unprepared for the emotional gut-punch.
On the other hand, some things never change. Let’s go buy her a Hot Wheels.
What better sled to go toy-car hunting in than this, the Boss 302 Mustang? TTAC loves the ‘Stang with an – ahem – unbridled passion, and the Boss is perhaps best of breed, though it would certainly be eaten alive by the how-is-this-legal Shelby.
When I was not-yet four, I went on a similar shopping expedition with my Dad, just prior to meeting my little brother for the first time. I remember agonizing over what to buy my new playmate (a tank? a bull-dozer?), finally settling on a semi-trailer dump-truck which is now safely tucked away in some dusty box of old report cards and baby shoes.
In the same hospital where my daughter will be born some thirty years later, four-year-old-me scrubs up with strawberry-scented hand soap and waits patiently to meet another small boy with whom I will spend countless hours devising sandbox highways and vinyl-floor racetracks.
If only I could travel back in time, pull that small boy version of me aside, show him a picture of the school-bus yellow Pony and say, “Guess what? You get to drive one of these eventually.”
Really though, I’d have to bring a recording along as well, because half the charm of the Boss is in the simply outstanding racket it produces, bellowing away from the side-pipes in a glorious snarl that relaxes to the throaty grumble of a jungle cat when tooling around in the lower gears. No electronic exhaust baffles. No “ActiveSoundDesign” pants-stuffing.
As much fun as I’m having driving this thing, it could be argued that playing to an audience is half the enjoyment. Kids love this car – it’s what the Pied Piper of Hammelin would drive.
Adults don’t always turn to look, wrapped up in their own concerns and worries; when they do, you might get a grin, you might get a sneer for the skittle-shaded muscle-car. Not so with anyone under the age of ten – eyes widen, jaws drop, a little girl claps her hands over her ears. When I pull up in front of Granville Island Kid’s Market, a rubber-necking boy of about six or so has to be collared by his mother before he walks into a pole.
It’s magic, magic of the sort I first felt staring into a window like this one. The Boss is good at many things, but best of all is the way in which it mentally puts you back on the sidewalk, three-foot-tall and clutching a metal, wheeled talisman in a grubby fist as it rolls by and captures your imagination.
You tend to forget this feeling, alive for only the briefest of moments; the lifespan of morning dew on a summer’s day. Later on, you might see the car as freedom from teenage angst, a way to assert your dominance over your fellow motorist on the street or racetrack, an escape from the suffocating weight of adult responsibility, a badge of worldly success. The wonder is gone, lost in the everyday fog of speed traps and traffic and depreciation and fuel-costs and all the other little voices clamouring for your attention.
I don’t find exactly what I’m looking for here, so on to the next stop.
Given the modern electronic assault on imagination, it’s heartening to find two entire walls dedicated to Hot Wheels and Matchboxes inside the Toys R Us big-box. I’ve seen an exasperated father hand his boisterous sixteen-month-old an iPhone, and watched her swipe, tap and expand her way into a YouTube clip of Cookie Monster. You’d think toy cars couldn’t compete with gizmos, and yet here they are.
Remember the joy of rummaging through the pile of discards at the bottom of the rack, or flicking through endless repeats to find to one model that you’re after? I know what I’m looking for: I saw it hanging in a grocery store display months-back, but it’s not here.
My brother got married this summer, on the deck of the house where I grew up. In the interim between the ceremony and the reception, I wandered around the grounds, bemused at the change wrought by my dad’s unending landscaping projects.
On the top of a rack he’d built for drying firewood, I found this broken, soil-packed Majorette that dad must have dug up at some point; archeological relic of my childhood. Turning it over in my hands made me realize how few of these artifacts have survived the years.
With that in mind, when I finally find the right car, I buy three, one for now, one to go on my desk as a reminder and one to be tucked away safely for the future.
And here it is.
While facebook wags were quick to inquire if the choice of a Lotus Europa was some way of preparing my daughter for failure and disappointment (and unexplained fires), nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, it’s perfect because it’s a bit odd, and bright-pink, and – as it turns out – somewhat hard to find. Special.
So too, is this machine.
By the time 2028 rolls around, it’s hard to imagine anything like it will still be around. Communal motoring, choked freeways, electronically-surveilliance (mandatory and otherwise) – it’ll be a different driving world for her.
And maybe she won’t care. Likely she’ll have learned to just tolerate her father’s idiosyncrasies, will have matured into her own person with her own passions.
This morning though, I lift her out of her bed-side crib and she opens up her eyes to smile at me, briefly, for the first time. I understand that for a short time we will share everything, but that she will gradually grow away from me; it’ll happen sooner than I can imagine.
But I also know, that sometime far off in the future, if I’m lucky, she’ll pull down a cardboard box off a shelf, perhaps fishing for an old photograph, and she’ll find this little pink car, chipped and battered by the years. As she holds it in her hand, I hope the years melt away, and she is once again wrapped in her father’s arms, snug and safe, loved and loved and loved.