I grew up in rural Maryland, in the eastern United States. Receiving my driver's license was, naturally, a life-altering moment. But even more enthralling was the first time I ever climbed in my machine—well, my parent's VW Rabbit—and took off for the horizon.
It was a Saturday morning in the winter of 1987, and I headed, naturally, to the beach, marveling the whole way at my newfound autonomy. I could stop for snacks when I wanted, take random detours without explaining them to anyone, and test my limits and the car's. (It was a Rabbit of course, so it had relatively little in the way of actual, discernible capability.) I left with no real goal, yet came back hours later still completely fulfilled by the experience. I was hooked.
I waltzed off like that as much as I could throughout that spring and summer—testing the limits of my parent's patience and my own finances—but my first truly destination-oriented, non-solo road-trip occurred that September. It was a drive from my house to a U2 concert in Washington, D.C., about two hours away. This was during the Joshua Tree tour—specifically the show where Bono would slip on the rain-slicked stage and dislocate his arm, but return to the stage to finish the show.
I was still a bit nervous about being on the road, with passengers no less, and navigating my way to a distant destination, sans any form of GPS. But it was a simple highway drive, R.F.K. Stadium an easy target, and my four friends partners-in-crime, helping to make sure we made it in time. Parking was complex, but orderly.
After we found our spot, I locked the car and we walked away. But—thoughtful future English major that I was—I couldn't help reflect on the whole experience so far. I was, in truth, as affected by the fact that I had actually driven us there as I was by the fact that we were about to see an amazing show. I turned back briefly to study the car, now faithfully awaiting our return in the rain, and marvel that the modest machine made this night possible. I had that little hunch that all motoring enthusiasts have during their automotive awakenings, that it and its successors would continue to make many more terrific things possible throughout my life. That has held firmly true. I turned away and headed in to see Bono and the boys do their thing, but I was already very much looking forward to the drive back, when the energy and chaos of a stadium rock concert in the pouring rain would, with a few door slams, yield to the quiet, dry orderliness of an automotive cabin, and a steady drive back home.