You can blame the following on my late mother. Her name was Hazel, by the way. On the anniversary of her birthday this year, I bought a sports car that only she would have understood and appreciated. And coveted.
The car I bought is the quintessential “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” It looks like a normal German hatchback on the outside, but that is just an illusion. It is a roaring lion. Beneath its unobtrusive shell, it is a track-ready race car. I like to think we share certain common characteristics: we are not what we seem.
But why my mother? I’m glad you asked. Growing up, my mother was the driver in our family. She’d been driving since her early teens. To her, driving was a high art and if you did not know it, please just get the hell out of her way. When my sister and I were little, mom drove only cars with the biggest and most powerful engines available, typically Buicks. Later, I got her into German cars. Her favorite was a limited edition, two-seater, supercharged, Volkswagen Corrado. It was a little rocket. Young and very stupid men would tail the little old gray-haired lady in front of them on the twisty roads where she lived, thinking they could intimidate her to pull over. She would just smile, lean on the accelerator, whip the car through the tightest turns without braking, and watch in the rear view mirror as her pursuer sailed off into the shrubbery. My mother did not suffer fools.
When I got my driver's license, the first thing she did was take me out to a complicated parking lot and demand I drive through it…backwards. Her point? It takes far more skill to control a car going backward than forward. When it snowed, she taught me how to control power slides. Or she’d ask, “What’s behind you?” to teach me to be alert on all sides. Or, “When you enter a sharp curve, don’t brake, accelerate, the car will follow.”
When you were her passenger, there were any number of things she’d mutter or shout at the drivers ahead of her: “This guy is so slow he must be being paid by the hour!” Or, “It’s the long pedal on the right, idiot!” She was not a patient driver; she was a professional. She did not tolerate amateurs.
Long ago and far away, I owned a top of the line BMW 735 luxury car. It was powerful but, honestly, not very nimble. It was totaled from the rear one day. I took the settlement and bought two cars: a VW Golf for my mother and a VW GTI for myself. My mother immediately became a VW Golf fan; you can’t buy a car that’s more fun to drive than one of these hot hatchbacks.
The hottest of the line, however, was the VW GTI, voted every year since its debut decades ago as one of the top ten cars in the world. It looks so innocent under its Golf shell, but it is a monster. I had my first one (fire engine red) for—I am not kidding—twenty-seven flawless years, until some idiot pulled out in front of it and my baby (her name was “Gigi”) was totaled. I mourned her for five years. I bought a more placid and allegedly environmentally clean VW turbo diesel, which turned out to be a polluter. VW bought it back and now I have a brand new VW GTI and I am like a child in a toy store. You probably have to be a serious driver to understand, and I don’t expect you to if you’re not, but can you imagine the pure joy of throwing your sports car into a ninety degree curve, flooring the accelerator, and being completely incapable of breaking the rear end loose? No, probably not. You are a sane person.
But my mom would understand. My sister insists I name the new car “Hazel.”