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  • Writer's picturepamradtkerussell

Sports Cars and The Middle Aged... Woman? (or, An Analogy of Thwarted Female Desires)

I’ve heard that when a man has a midlife crisis, he goes external – buying a sports car and working out at the gym; but when a woman has a midlife crisis, she goes internal and reflects and works on herself.

Can I do both?

Also, can we ditch the term “crisis”?

I had a midlife “reawakening” starting when I hit 51. Since then I have spent hundreds of hours reflecting, meditating and and getting in touch with my emotions.

Now I want the sports car.

I grew up with cool cars. My dad started his career as a car mechanic, and he always had a project car (and once even a project airplane!). I remember a green Camaro, a red 1968 Corvette Stingray, a 1965 Corvair, a Pontiac Grand Prix, and for the last two decades he’s been working on rebuilding a Kirkham Cobra – a reproduction of the original Shelby Cobra. When he bought it, the car was a burnt-out shell. Now it’s a gorgeous cherry red topless car with a deep rumble that goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds.

But the car that resonates most with me is the 1968 Porsche 912 he bought and restored over a decade or more. It was his project car of my preteen years. And although it was an ugly mustard yellow color, I loved the way the car sounded and smelled, hugged the corners and that it was built the same year as I was born. I also loved that when I got to ride in it, it was just me and my dad. I have fond memories of “navigating,” and for sure mucking up, our progress in a road rally in South Bend, Ind., where I grew up.

I thought the Porsches were cute — like a VW bug but with more style — and somewhere along the line, I got a poster of all of the Porsche models. It hung on my bedroom wall, right below my Shaun Cassidy poster. I was partial to the 356.

Yet… I believed sports cars weren’t for girls. Maybe it was the work my dad put into his. I didn’t have the ability, or interest, to constantly work on a car. The cars my dad owned always needed work, and I never stood next to my dad and watched him work on cars. Fixing things was not my thing.

I met my desire for speed and hugging tight corners with a Raleigh 16-speed I got for my 16th birthday, and more recently a beauty of a road bike that I still ride regularly along the Mississippi River, anticipating the next curve to lean into.

After I got married, my husband and I ended up living near my parents, then in Florida. I’m sure I had some influence in my husband getting a 1980 cherry red MGB, with a rubber bumper and wire wheels. I had a more practical Saturn SL1. My husband and my dad bonded over caring for that car, and I got to drive and enjoy it regularly.

One of the happiest days of my life was driving that car down the beach with the top down and music blaring on a cloudless day. I was on my way to a newspaper assignment to interview a scientist about sharks. Life was objectively good.

In the child-rearing years, we successfully avoided the dreaded minivan, but we did end up with a new 2007 Honda CRV. Fourteen years later, I still drive that car daily, even though the beige cloth interior has absorbed every single spill from every single road trip and carpool. Each stain is a memory. On the ceiling, a reddish brown streak from the salsa pack that exploded. On the floor, melted crayons from road trips to Alabama.

A few years ago, it hit me. Why had I never gotten a fricking sports car?? I started whining to my husband and searching for cars online. He quickly got the hint. He was on the verge of buying me an MGB when he called my dad. My dad pointed out the problems of an MG in New Orleans. We didn’t have a garage. The potholes would destroy the car. Maintenance would be ridiculous. He talked my husband out of the idea of the MG. He wasn’t wrong.

Still, I coveted. And still I covet.

During the recent months of self reflection, I have decided I don’t need all of the trappings my husband and I have worked so hard for. The beautiful Mediterranean house we lovingly remodeled, all of the crystal and china we acquired, the nice yard we’ve fought so hard to tame – it holds little sway over me.

Just give me a tiny apartment with an outdoor patio – and a Porsche. Or an MGA. Or a Triumph Spider. Maybe a Jaguar F-type convertible. A BMW Z3. Or even a Miata. I just want something fun to drive. The CRV is reliable as hell, but fun is not in its job description.

I didn’t understand this contrast —my lessening desire for material things, but my increasing desire for a sports car — until my 14-year-old daughter wisely pointed out it’s not about the “thing” itself — it’s about the experience — the sounds, sensations and smells of a sports car. It’s about driving fast with the top down and the wind in your face, hair flying around

This desire for something I’ve always wanted, but for years I didn’t even think to ask for, is kind of an analogy for my entire life. No one ever told me I couldn’t have a sports car, but I internalized the messages writ large that good girls don’t drive fast cars, that women aren't supposed to like sports cars, that women can’t take care of a temperamental car, that sports cars are unsafe and women are bad drivers.

You know what? Fuck that. Among all of the other messages we receive that make women feel lesser than, this is one of the more innocuous ones. But, like all of those other messages, it’s just bullshit.

It may be a while before I get my sports car, but at least now, I can acknowledge that, yes, I am a woman, and I want to drive a sleek fast car – not because I want to be cool – but because I want to squeeze every little drop of joy out of this short, precious life.

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