Rite of Passage
It was one of those days, early spring, the weather had just turned warm
the past weekend, and as usual, the annual “rite of passage via the
vehicle” was taking place.
It seemed like every corner I turned resulted in some sort of intrusion
and disruption in the usual quiet surroundings here in Livingston
county. I first noticed it driving through the Pinckney Recreation
Area, a lovely retreat of winding roads and overhanging trees, I rounded
the curve just east of Hell ("Hell" REALLY is the name of a tiny village
nearby, isn’t it fun to be able to write that and not get your hand
slapped!), to encounter a roaring, neon blue, streak of light.
Eventually a closer look exposed it as a low slung, plastic encased
motorcycle, the driver dressed in matching leathers bent far over the
handlebars, tilted at a 45 degree angle as he came through the sweeping
curve. Mufflers modified to provide a sound congruent with the speed
and the angle.
“Motorcycle season has begun.”, I said glumly to my wife, and thought to
myself “Darn kid, why doesn’t he just keep the baffle in the darn
It didn’t stop there. Later in the day, driving through Brighton, I was
stopped at a light on and the car started to vibrate. I looked around,
wondering what was thumping, and the better half said, “Guess there’s a
lot of bass on that tape.”, knowing full well that there is very LITTLE
bass in a James Taylor tape... I caught the smile on her face, as I
reached to adjust the tone on the tape player, and realized that she
knew the earth moving vibration was coming from 5 cars behind us in line
where a 5 year old, dirty, Taurus shook with the power of a 300 watt
subwoofer mounted in the trunk.
Later that same day, I found myself once again giving a disapproving
glance to a couple of kids pulling out of a corner parking lot, one
after another, obviously following each other. One of the cars was a 10
year old subcompact painted in red, white, and blue strips, the other
car a very used foreign model (sporty in it’s day, but now just looking
a bit old and dated). These too took off down Dexter-Pinckney road like
it was a European road rally (although a a much slower pace, determined
by the age of the engines in the cars).
Arriving home, about to settle in for the evening, I happened into the
bedroom where, sitting on the dresser, is a small, homemade plaster
replica of a VW Bug. Bright green covered with yellow spots... I
picked it up and a smile came to my face as I thought about the car that
inspired one of the kids to make it for me. Based on a photo of Dad,
hair to his shoulders, standing beside a 12 year old, rusted, dented,
green Bug with yellow spots the size of dinner plates all over it (and a
makeshift peace symbol stuck on the side window).
Thoughts of the VW quickly lead me to remember the days that Dave
Newhouse (now a respected OB/GYN in San Francisco) and I used to race
from his house to mine, he in the MG-A that his father foolishly gave us
access to, me in the Bug. Sliding around corners on dirt roads,
emulating one those races that we would read about monthly in his dad’s
copy of Road and Track.
The great thing about the Bug was that, mounted in the front, under the
hood (should have been an engine there, but Volkswagen decided to amaze
us all by putting it in the trunk) was the speaker that I had taken out
of the old TV that hadn’t worked in years. Darn speaker was about 10
inches wide, sounded great when it was cranked up. Radio, of course (AM
at that), no tape players in those days, no in-dash CD players. (I do
remember the first time I road in a car with a dash mounted record
player, carefully avoiding bumps which had a less than desirable effect
on the quality of the music, unless you didn’t mind skipping from the
first verse of the song to the final chords instantaneously!).
The final thought on this journey I took while sitting there holding the
plaster Bug, was remembering the year I owned a 125cc Galera
motorcycle. Made in Italy, it was one of the hottest things on the road
in my small town. Sleek, black and chrome, and a sound that would melt
your heart (if you happened to be about 17 years old and male). Some
of the most pleasant memories I have were those of escaping from the
world of homework, part-time jobs, and girls to ride along deserted
country roads early in the morning on Sunday, leaning into the curves,
thrilling to the sound from the muffler as it bounced off the trees
lining the pavement.
You know, it isn’t the “sound” that those subwoofers make that bothers
us when that young kid drives by us today in the 5 year old Taurus, it’s
the intrusion of youth into our otherwise sedate middle age lives, and
experiencing one more reminder that we just ain’t as young as we used to
I think the next time one of these intrusions rides, growls, flies, or
vibrates past me, I’m gonna stick my hand out the window the classic
hand gesture that we all understand, I’m gonna give ‘em a “thumbs up”
sign, and flash a smile. Being seen in, on, or next to one of these
wheeled intrusions is a true “rite of passage” in this culture, and
heck, they only get to be young once.
© Robert W. Coller, 1998