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I drive a Toyota Corolla. It is a small red car with little wheels and a tiny engine and the efficiency one would expect from Japan’s premier auto manufacturer. I’m pretty sure it could circumnavigate the globe without ever needing to stop to fill its 10-gallon fuel tank. An iconic car to fall in love with driving, epitomizing the American idea of happiness manifesting itself in the form of horsepower and steel and exhaust and mufflers and raw torque? Not really. An amazing vehicle? Yes. Then again, what do I know about cars?
I probably like it because when I say the phrase “my Corolla,” I always kind of think it to the tune of “My Sharona.”
Well, that’s a little awkward.
Unfortunately, on one particular day, I was not behind the wheel of my Corolla.
It was a bright and clear day. I was with my father, and I was at the helm of the aircraft-carrier size of American ingenuity that is the Chevy Uplander. We were leaving the town of Ithaca, New York, after a weekend of visiting Ithaca College, a school I had been considering as a viable option for my higher education.
Ithaca College sleeps high above its similarly named town on a hill, overlooking Lake Cayuga. It provides for some very nice vantage points. The entire area surrounding the town is rolling hills squiggled with highways and streams. It was early spring, and the deep New York snow had not entirely melted everywhere, but on this cool and sunny day, the branches of trees began to show their buds to the world, carefully revealing their delicate green slices to the meet the moist and cool air, like bejeweled rings on the hands of a knotty, knobby, wooden elderly woman. Fog was rising off of the many lakes of the area, giving a ghoulish mask to the sun that would roll in and out of its cloud cover.
Everything was dead from the winter.
Today’s forecast: fifty-five degrees and sunny.
Everything was about to come alive again.
My father and I didn’t speak much on the way home. He probably thought I was mad or a moody teenager or something. In reality, I was doing a lot of thinking.
There was a lot to think about.
Driving down the highway in a Chevy Uplander, my father stoking the coal-burning furnace to power the immense machine as I manned the helm, the car’s iron, square wheels crushed the smaller vehicles on the road. I prayed for mercy upon the poor souls around me as I navigated in and out of lanes, fiddling with the cruise control. Maybe it was the additional thirty-eight tons of steel, the enormous nose, the driver’s seat perched high above the road deck, or the impossibly uncomfortable upholstery, but everything just seemed unnecessarily difficult about this driving experience when compared to my Toyota Corolla. My interaction with this automobile seemed less symbiotic and more chaotic.
During my brief scouting expedition to Ithaca College, I had a problem. A really big problem.
This seemed like the college for me.
Over the past few months, people had been constantly asking me what college I was going to and what I wanted to do when I got there. To be completely honest, there was no more frustrating topic to discuss. I honestly did not know, and I was getting tired of not knowing. “You’ll know. It will just feel right,” they would always say to me when we were done talking.
So, everything should have been solved when I saw Ithaca, right?
Earlier that semester, I had visited Asbury College, a small Christian school near Lexington, Kentucky, and I had a very similar feeling.
The questioning persisted, as always. It grew more and more infuriating. I was frustrated with myself. Why couldn’t I pick? Why didn’t I know where I wanted to go to college? Why didn’t I know what would make me happy?
Up until this point in my life, I had known almost every answer. School was easy: study, learn facts, answer questions, accomplish mission.
Unfortunately, there was no study guide now.
About halfway home from Ithaca, my father and I stopped to eat lunch. Pulling into a parking spot, I greatly underestimated the turning radius of Chevy’s magnificent crossover SUV-Minivan. I wound up about six feet to the left of the parking spot I had intended to pull into.
“I hate this car. I miss my Corolla.”
“There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just different,” he said to me.
One of my shortcomings when it comes to highway voyages is my lackluster skill in navigation. I need someone to tell me where to exit, even if I wrote the directions myself. I think it might be a byproduct of my perfectionist nature. I never want to make a mistake. I always want to know exactly where I’m going.
I’m sure it’s easy to imagine my panic as I approached a confusing road sign. I’m pretty sure the transit authority of the state of Ohio actually accidentally hung up one of those games from Highlights, the Children’s magazine, where you try and follow an arrow through a mess of other arrows to guide the cheetah cub to its mother. No joke.
“Dad,” I said panicked, as onramps and exits began to creep ever closer, “What do I do?”
“Take the express lane.”
I got onto the express lane, but I noticed something about it. As it snaked across the Columbus area, in and out of dozens and dozens of orange construction pylons, sometimes squeezing traffic to a single lane, it never strayed far from the main highway from which I had just exited. Effectively, I could have stayed there much longer, with the same result.
Perhaps I’m rambling, now. “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
There was more than one way home from Ithaca, New York.