The day of my high school graduation my grandma handed me a note. In that note she talked about how proud she was of me, how she hoped I did great things and on the last line she put she hoped one day I'd have a Corvette in my driveway.
To give a little bit of context here you need to know two things. One is that I have been a lifelong petrolhead, and my grandma was well aware of that fact as it's something I babble on about constantly. The second is when my grandpa started doing really well with a business he owned in the late 70's his gift to himself was a brand new 1978 Corvette Pace Car. Back in those days a Corvette was the ultimate Midwest symbol that you had well and truly made it in life. The All-American Dream for the All-American worker. At the time I was no exception, the Corvette was one of those dream cars I'd fantasized about since I was a kid. I kept the note and made a promise to myself that I would make good on grandma's wish for me and make that dream a reality.
College came and went and it was followed by crappy jobs and crushing student debt. Then my grandma passed. It had always been my hope that I would have reached my goal before that happened. I think more or less so I could have taken her for a ride and shown her she'd been right about having faith in me. I think there was a little guilt combined with a lot of frustration about where I was in life at that point, but I grew more determined than ever to make that dream happen.
I thought I had finally caught a break in 2014 when I landed my first decent job. I worked my ass off for 4 years and did nothing but save. I paid off my student debt, worked towards buying a house and for the first time started feeling like I could feel some solid ground beneath my feet.
In 2018 I was ready. For the first time in my life I had a good deal of money in the bank and I decided as a 30th birthday gift to myself I would finally put that Corvette in my garage. After the nightmare that was my student debt I had grown quite gun-shy of debt so borrowing money was out of the question. I also didn't want to wipe out the savings my wife and I had worked so hard for, so I knew the car would have to be "well used".
I finally found what I was looking for. It was a 2001 couple with a 6 speed manual. Fire engine red with black leather it ticked all the right boxes, and at only 10k I felt like I couldn't go wrong! So I took it home and immediately tore it apart. Suspension, wheels, tires, exhaust, shifter, you name it I wasn't going to be denied. This was my Corvette and I was going to make sure it was perfect. It was loud, it was low and that bright red paint could be spotted a mile away!
I loved showing it off, even though it was almost 20 years old and cost less than a slightly used Ford Focus I felt like people were looking at me differently...because I owned a Corvette! He must be doing well in life, look at his Corvette! Only a person with money to burn can justify owning such an impractical car! It made me feel like I'd finally accomplished something, I even took it out once to visit my grandma's grave to show it to her and to say "I did it grandma, look at it! I finally did it!"
I was happy...for a few months. I took it to a track day and it was a blast, the power and the speed were incredible. How could I not love this thing? Still I was driving it less and less. When my wife would ask to go for a ride the thought of just getting it out of the garage made me feel like she'd just asked to kick me in the leg. It was a chore digging it out of the garage because I had to park it sideways to make room for my other cars. But it didn't get better once it was out. It was so low it bottomed out everywhere and I was constantly on the lookout for holes, steep driveways and speed bumps. I was afraid to get it dirty or scratched...and then there were the noises.
I have what can only be described as an overactive mechanic's ear. So any rattle, squeak or squeal out of the ordinary tends to send me into immediate panic mode. I do this with every car I own, but in the Corvette it seemed like the dial was stuck on 11. I knew full well how expensive repair parts were on these cars compared to the others I owned and my brain, already in mechanic panic mode, would sit there adding up the bills and the degree of just how shitty a time it was going to be to try and fix it once it went. It all got so bad that the thought of driving it almost made me sick, and once on the drive I was so tense I wasn't even pleasant company to be around.
So right before Christmas in 2019 with things at my job indicating a turn for the worse and my general disdain for the car growing by the day, I did what I never thought I would. I sold my Corvette. My wife did not fully understand my reasoning at the time, in fact she cried when it pulled out of the drive with its new owner. Me on the other hand, I felt like a mixed bag. I felt tremendous relief that it was gone, a burden had been lifted, and it was no longer my problem. But I also felt a bit disappointed in myself. A part of me felt like I had somehow failed. I had worked so hard to get that car, and without it part of me felt like I had given up and I was back to being the same unaccomplished guy I'd been before.
Since then it has been a bit of a ride. I lost my job that February, and I spent the remainder of that spring really taking a hard look at my life in the mirror. I gained a lot of clarity, and realized I had been doing a lot of things only to impress other people and elevate myself in their eyes. I realized how ridiculous that was, and how much time I'd spent making myself unhappy to try and impress people that didn't matter or that I didn't even know. I started doing things for me, spending my energy on what I felt was important and guess what? Even without a job, or a sports car or any other traditional sign of success I started feeling better about who I am as a person.
You can't keep a true car guy down for long though. I did eventually buy another sports car last summer. A tiny, blue, 1993 Mazda Miata. It's smaller, slower, quieter, has a fair share of bumps and bruises and I absolutely love it! I didn't buy it to impress anyone, win any awards, or set any lap records. I bought it because each time I drive it it brings a big stupid grin to my face!
It's still a machine and it too does, and will have its issues, but I'm not as bothered by it. It feels more manageable to me because I can fix any issue myself without breaking the bank to do it. Since it already has its share of dings I don't worry about it getting scratched or dirty. It also sits high enough I can use it like a real car! My wife and I spent the summer zipping around the state in that tiny blue tin can and we loved every minute of it! I've even added silly things like stickers and a wing - something I would have never done to a serious car like the Corvette- just because it makes me smile whenever I look at it
So what's the difference here? Why is this car so different from the other? They are both machines after all, both will break and both cost money to own, so how can I feel so differently about the two? To answer that I'll take you back to right before I bought the Corvette in 2018. At that time I was actually debating between a Miata and a Corvette. I loved the look of the Miata, and I've always enjoyed driving smaller cars. People I talked to however said the Corvette was a much better value for money. It was faster, flashier, sounded meaner, and everyone said the Miata was a bit girly.
So I listened to what everyone else was saying, and while most everything they had said about the Corvette was true I absolutely hated it. So what convinced me to finally try a Miata, and effectively "trade down" on what I had owned previously? I stopped giving a shit. I drove one because I thought I personally would like it, and I did, so I bought one. I don't care if it gives off a girly vibe, I don't care if I look like a straight clown behind the wheel, I am enjoying myself and that is ALL that matters.
It's a lesson I am now trying to implement throughout my life. By living, owning and doing things that matter to me and me alone. I guess you can say I'm taking the Miata approach to life. The Miata doesn't care what your opinion of it is, it doesn't try to pretend to be anything it isn't, it simply zips along with a permanent grin on its face. Doesn't sound like a terrible way to live now does it?