When I first returned to the United States, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. It seemed like I had been left behind by all my friends. I didn’t have a job or driver’s license or car or phone or computer, and they were all busy and connected. I also missed the life of relative freedom and adventure we’d left behind. Well, exactly one year has passed since then, and I still miss the travel, but I now have all the above-named things. Including the car. Especially the car. That’s right folks, Eli has wheels now.
I’ve had a driver’s license for a while. I was almost 18 when we came back to the U.S., so I could get a license as soon as I could pass the test. Of course, mastering the use of a 5,000 lb. Chevy Suburban was no easy task for someone who had never driven before. Staying between the lines on the road was a delightful challenge, but parking was a dreaded ordeal. None of the three student drivers in our family was allowed to take the wheel when both parents and/or Rachel and Sam were in the vehicle: too many eggs in one speeding metal basket. So I had to schedule driving practice.
But I eventually got the hang of it. After a few months, I passed my driver’s test and got my license. I started being allowed to take the beloved family car to work (yes, I have a job now), to friends’ houses, and generally wherever I wanted to go. That is, as long as nobody else needed the car. In a family with seven different schedules, it wasn’t often.
I started shopping for a vehicle. Something durable, something that could haul cargo and people, something that looked cool and manly, and something that was not too expensive. A truck checked all the boxes. I was mostly shopping on Craigslist and Facebook, and Dad helped me find some good ones. I called people. Dad and I drove down U.S. 1 and looked at a few trucks. I eventually found one that looked sweet for my price range: a 2005 Dodge Ram 1500 with about a hundred thousand miles on it. We drove down to Key West, looked it over, and then bought it. Simple as that.
I drove home with the radio (my radio) blaring the whole way. It was an interesting experience. On the one hand, I was several thousand dollars poorer. On the other, I was one Dodge Ram truck the richer. That was too weird a thought to get used to in the hour drive back to Marathon. It still seems strange.
The next day, Aaron and I went down to the DMV to get our plates. Aaron had all his paperwork in order, but I didn’t. After sitting in the hot sun with a mask on for an hour or so, it turned out that the guy I had bought the truck from had forgotten to sign the title. He was good enough to meet me halfway and save me an extra hour’s drive. I met him in Big Pine Key that afternoon and got the signature, cursing myself for not noticing the blank dotted lines the first time around.
I went back to the DMV to get my license plate. (Seriously, do they pay those people to be unpleasant? Granted, I can understand how sitting inside all day dealing with the endless procession of befuddled morons like me with only half their paperwork can be taxing.) The whole ordeal was an exercise in patience. But beyond that, it was actually kind of a cool experience. There I was, signing an application for a vehicle title like a real grownup. There I was, whipping out my debit card and paying hundreds of dollars in sales tax like it was nothing. Big boy stuff.
So now I’ve got wheels. It’s funny how it can take only a few months for the totally alien to become second nature. Parking was like that for me. It used to take me at least six tries to get the Suburban right where I wanted it. I practiced parking maneuvers for hours in the weeks preceding my driver’s test. Now, I just pull in like a boss and shift it into park. The same goes for a lot of the things I do now. Phones, cars, jobs: all that seemed like another world a year ago. Now they’re a part of my everyday life. The truck may be just another step towards the scary adult world, but it’s a pretty sweet one.