You may picture your leisure years as one long pool party, or golf outing. Perhaps you’re the adventurous sort and plan to sky dive. Or maybe you’ll finally learn to tango, or speak French?
I always pictured myself driving an Oldsmobile.
All my working life, I thought I’d finally have the time to play with cars. Even one car would be fine as long as it was really fun, and that seemed achievable because my standard for fun was simple.
Any car with a V8.
When I was younger, I sampled the catalog of American cars available with four-barrel carburetors: Buick, Dodge, Mercury, Chevrolet.
I was a big Pontiac fan when Richard Petty drove Pontiacs. He won his 200th victory at Daytona International Speedway in a 1984 Pontiac Grand Prix that would have looked identical to mine if the one I bought came with racing stripes, a giant 43 on each side and Petty Blue paint.
But Oldsmobiles were at the top of my personal speed chart since I landed in the driver seat of a new 1969 442 the day I got my driver's license.
Say what you will about other advertising slogans, the Oldsmmobile Rocket V8 was aptly named—trust me on that. I rode Rockets on and off for years, adding a 1979 Hurst/Olds and a 1987 442 to the roaring roster of cars that came and went too soon.
I was such a fan (and good customer) that I received a treasured memento from the company in 1997—my own copy of Setting The Pace, Oldsmobile’s First 100 Years. I still marvel at the evocative names that conjured up a glorious, limitless future for America, Olds and me: Futuramic, Starfire, Toronado.
Unfortunately, Oldsmobile came up short of completing its second century by 93 years. The last one chugged out of the assembly building in 2004.
Sure, there are plenty of Oldsmobiles still around, but what would I do with one? None of the models that appeal most would fit in our modern-scale garage, and the fuel mileage wouldn’t fit my retirement-scale budget.
Even if I wanted one for weekend joy rides, I’d face a formidable obstacle in the other retiree who shares the garage. She is much more sensible and feels money is best spent on practical items, which could be defined broadly but accurately as anything without spark plugs.
That’s not really a problem, as my automotive enthusiasm has waned over the years—and my enthusiasm for American cars out-waned the rest thanks to shoddy construction and bad designs.
The capper was when the power steering in my last Pontiac quit for good in rush-hour traffic. The car was all of three weeks old. Unfortunately for General Motors, the dealer that towed the car also sold Hondas. I sat in one while I waited. They had to pry me out, but it made a lasting impression.
I discovered that small cars with four cylinders can be as much fun as big cars with V8s, although fun of any sort is severely rationed on the tourist-jammed roads of South Florida.
As my wise friend David Blasco reminds me, the only reason cars here have engines is to run the air conditioner--and believe me, you do want to run the air conditioner.
None of it matters so much now that my commuting days are over. Thanks to our late and dearly missed Aunt Arpie, I now have the perfect car for a man of mature years.
I drive a tan Toyota Camry.
When Arpie quit driving, she sold me her 2002 Camry XLE. It really was the car of urban legend that an old lady drove to church on Sundays. Although it was nine years old, the Toyota was just inching toward 30,000 miles.
Three years later, I’ve managed to add just 15,000 miles to the odometer. The paint still shines, the seats look like new, and until the battery died last week the Toyota never failed to start.
The four-cylinder motor doesn’t have all that much zip, but neither do I these days. In fact, the Camry and I are a perfect match: We both get around slow and easy, and we have plenty of company in doing so.
The Camry is a very popular car among South Florida’s large retiree population, and tan seems to be the color of choice. It’s not unusual to be driving along behind one and in front of another.
It’s like driving the cool kids’ car in high school, except the cool kids are all 85 years old.
That’s OK with me. I have no problem driving this car, but I do have a problem parking it. The problem is that there are so many just like it everywhere I go that I have to click my way from car to car trying to figure out which one’s mine.
A tan Camry wasn't my vision of retirement, but it sure seems to be everyone else's.