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Men find refuge, solace in their cars

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Posted on October 25, 2012 |
By Karl Lindholm



Karl Linholm Clippings dad's car.jpg
MILTON LINDHOLM, THE writer’s father, shows evident pride in his car, a gleaming 1936 V8 Ford with a rumble seat. Milton chauffeured his father in the car, which he affectionately named “Redwheel.”

Yes, I have retired, but I am allowed to teach one course a year in retirement, so that’s what I do.

I teach my class in the late morning, and then I don’t go back to an office with a desk full of unmet responsibilities and an e-mail inbox of notes impossible to respond to adequately.

Instead, I go home and walk the dogs. Or I go to lunch with a friend.

Or, most days, I sit in my car in the parking lot behind Greg’s Market, perfectly content, eating my lunch, reading the Boston Globe, and listening to my daughter Jane’s show, “Vermont Edition,” on VPR.

My car is my refuge. I spend a lot of time there. I am proud of my car, a Prius with 150,000 miles. I have a “beater” Prius, full of dents and bruises, a Vermont Prius. I think it counters the liberal-weenie stereotype.

I am ageless in my car. Nothing in my body hurts. I am confident I can run again, play basketball, noon hoops, if I just do a little conditioning.

In my car, I am king in my castle: “There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity” (thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson for that).

It’s when I get out of my car that I am stiff and sore, wracked by mortality.

In the car, I have unlimited ambition. I make great plans. I think of books I will write, trips I will take, clever ripostes that I will make, plans that, alas, ultimately go unrealized.

Recently I was headed out to lunch with a favorite former colleague. It was raining, so I suggested we drive downtown. My car was right there.

I noticed she hesitated to get in the passenger side. She was dressed nicely, professionally, as she was still working full-time. I sensed she was put off by the condition of my car, the mess.

It may have been the newspapers and dog leash on the passenger’s seat that I threw in the back, or the coffee and chocolate-milk stains on the seat, now quite dry and harmless, or the general disarray (yes, there was even some trash in the back: food wrappers, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, and such).

I saw her discomfort so I pointed to the floor mat below her seat and joked, “Oh look, a mouse!” She didn’t find that particularly amusing.

For some men, me, for example, our car is equivalent to a woman’s pocketbook — a perfect mess. But it’s our mess, and we like it that way.

I acquired this sensibility — the car as “home” — from my dad, Milton Lindholm, who died at age 98 a couple of years ago. He drove until his last six months. When I visited, he would insist on driving wherever we went, so he could demonstrate he was still competent behind the wheel.

When he was 95, he went in to renew his license. No problem. He was handed his new license by the DMV worker, who said, cheerfully, “see you in 10 years.” He saw no irony in her comment.

He loved to drive and he was a good driver. He taught me to drive. Always careful in the car, he never sped or drove recklessly. Unlike mine, his car was neat and clean.

He was a champion parallel parker. Give him an inch or two on either side, and he could squeeze his car into that spot. He looked for tight squeezes.

His first car was a Model A Ford. He loved his cars. For a long time, he bought a new Ford every three or four years, and paid cash. A child of the Depression — he was 18 when the Stock Market crashed — he was careful with his money and avoided debt.

On days I don’t teach, I will often vary my routine and get a morning cup of coffee at the Middlebury Market and sit in my car and read the Globe there on College Street, and listen to “Mike and Mike in the Morning” comment on current events in the sports world.

Now and then, a friend walking by will spot me and take pity, rap on the window, and ask, “Are you OK?” like there’s something wrong with sitting by yourself in your car.

I am unfailingly polite and converse pleasantly. I resist saying, “I was OK until I was interrupted.”

We inherited my dad’s Toyota Camry when he died in 2010. It’s a 1998 with 45,000 miles on it. His 17-year-old grandson, Peter Milton Lindholm, a new driver, is behind the wheel now.

We think he’ll be safe in his grandfather’s car. Good karma.

Karl Lindholm’s columns usually appear on the sports pages of the Addison Independent.

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