I bought my first car when I was 16. Of course, my father had to sign the official documents, but it was mine. It was a used Opel Kadett with a manual transmission. I can’t remember the year model, but it was already several years old when I purchased it from the previous owner in 1977. At the time, we lived in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, and I had not had my license very long. I borrowed the money to purchase the car from my grandfather, with an understanding that I would pay it back, which I did, eventually. I was working at a grocery store at the time, stocking shelves and bagging groceries. I needed the car to get back and forth to school, work, my best friend’s house, and tennis courts for practice or matches. It was a very heady experience to have your own car at 16 years of age. But many of my friends also had cars that either they had bought or their parents had bought for them. Very few of them were brand new, although one of my friends on the high school tennis team apparently had wealthy parents, because they bought him a brand new Corvette with T-tops, which made him an instant hero among his peers.
Most of our vehicles, though, were just humble machines that weren’t too ugly to be seen in or for our girlfriends to be seen in. Many of them took constant work to keep them operational, but for teenage boys, tinkering around on an automobile and learning how to make various repairs is practically a rite of passage. In any case, with our collective mechanical knowledge, a few Chilton’s auto repair manuals, and a little elbow grease, we were able to keep our machines reasonably reliable at getting us to where we needed to be and to some places that we didn’t need to be but went anyway. It’s hard to say enough about the impact of the automobile on American society. The car is perhaps the most iconic symbol of what it means to be an American. It is a manifestation of the right to “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” With a car, you have freedom. You can go anywhere you want to go, and you can go any time you want to go. And with that latitude, you can then chase whatever dreams you may have, or explore any corner of the country (remember, "get your kicks on Route 66"). I recall those first days after I got my Opel and what a powerful feeling it gave me to take control of my life and to do what I wanted to do. I guess this is what has made the auto so popular with Americans and with other countries across the globe as well.
But our country was also built on the principles of self-reliance and individuality. So the auto was the complete embodiment of those two principles, empowering everyone who slipped behind the steering wheel, and giving opportunity to express the owner’s personality to all who should see him or her drive by. This gave us the capability to craft an image of how we wanted the world to see us. There are so many ways to express who you are with your auto. You can paint it virtually any color of the spectrum to suit your preference or personality. And you can have body modifications, chassis modifications, lift kits, racing tires or off-road tires, etc. You can put on glass packs or high-performance mufflers to give it an aggressive rumble. You can bling-out the interior with custom seats, dashes, panels, etc. You can give it an ear-blasting stereo. You can trick up the engine, boosting horsepower with a cold-air-intake, high performance throttle-body, fuel injection, a racing cam, a turbocharger or a supercharger, etc. The sky is the limit. If you’ve ever been to a car show, you know that people’s imaginations take them to some wild places.
Suffice it to say that Americans love their cars, with many families having several cars. And of course, car collectors can go hog-wild if they have the money, such as Jay Leno’s car collection, or the collection Elvis had, which you can see at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. For the average American, though, living much more humbly, the car is freedom personified. And freedom is the most quintessential American principle. We love our freedoms. We can get rather irate or violent when they are threatened, but we are always exercising them quite vigorously, even to the point that we begin to step on other people’s toes, such as in the despicable protests at military funerals by the legalistic Westboro Baptist Church people. The founding fathers truly believed in the freedom of expression and had some very rigorous debates amongst themselves over various issues, so I guess you can’t have freedom without having some measure of discomfort occasionally when one group exercises their freedom, either knowingly or unknowingly, in a way that infringes on others. This is part of the chaotic soup of American values. All these values, however, have their beginning in a Judeo-Christian morality and worldview. It is virtually impossible to exercise our freedoms apart from that morality and viewpoint without arriving at tyranny, violence, or chaos.
I pray that the joy of this Christmas season abounds in your hearts as we remember the miraculous birth of our Lord Jesus.