The Time We Accidentally Ended Up with a Neon Orange Mustang

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Our rental car was a 2016 Kia Soul, simple & silver, easy to drive & not to tough to figure our. Mike drives a silver Soul, so it felt familiar.

And then, on day two of our trip, the Soul wouldn't start. There it sat, dead in the driveway of a rental home, & when the AAA tech came out to give us a jump, he told us the battery had a faulty cell. "I got it started," he told us, "but if you turn it off, there's no guarantee you'll be able to turn it back on." So we hopped in the car & drove back to the airport to exchange it for something more reliable.

We couldn't get through to the car rental company on our drive back, & we waited in line for almost half an hour when we arrived. We were visiting Hilton Head, a vacation destination where most people's week begins on Saturdays. It was a Saturday. The airport was slammed. We worried they wouldn't have any available cars for us.

"Maybe we'll end up with some snazzy sports car that no one else wants to pay for," I joked.

The car they gave us was a 2016 Ford Mustang - neon orange, so bright it nearly glowed in the dark.

I could not stop laughing.

We were in town for my Uncle Dennis's wedding to his new wife, Aline; they moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania to South Carolina, & now they're just a few miles from the ocean. He's one of those fake uncles, not related by blood, but I've never called him anything else. He & my dad were best friends in high school & into adulthood, & my Aunt Sue, who died a few years ago after a long struggle with MS, was one of my mom's closest friends. Their three sons are my cousins; they feel like family, period.

My Uncle Dennis was also my dad's road rally partner; he was the driver & my dad was the navigator, winding their way through dark Ohio backroads throughout the '80s and into the early '90s, before my uncle moved to Virginia & before my dad got sick. They built a car together, a yellow Datsun 510. They went to races together. They were car people.

And so the fact that my mom & I ended up driving this goddamn Mustang - a convertible, no less - the weekend of my uncle's wedding felt like a gift. Or a joke, maybe. Or both. Something from above.

I could barely get into the car the first time because the passenger-side seat was moved so far up. Who the hell is that tiny? And then, my mom couldn't figure out how to turn the remote-start on, so I had to go ask the Budget employee for help, laughing all the while. My mom marveled at how smoothly it drove, how fast it got, how uncomfortable it made her. I took endless, amused Snapchats from the dash.

It's funny the way you can tell that people are judging you when you drive a fancy car like that. My mom accidentally cut someone off when she was pulling out of a parking lot, & the other driver went full-on road ragey, honking & tailing us & flipping us off. I'm sure he expected, when he passed us, to see some slick-haired douchebag behind the wheel, not my grey-haired librarian of a mother who's barely five feet tall. I wished there were a bumper sticker on the back announcing "THIS IS A RENTAL," some way to assure the general, judgy public that I drive a damn Mazda in real life.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the reception hall, my GPS loudly announced, "You have arrived." I laughed again: "We have arrived," I joked as we swung our snazzy car into a parking space. We were both dressed up, sunglasses on, hair blowing in the wind, our jerky car standing out amidst a lot full of, like, silver Civics.

Admittedly, we were relieved to turn it back in to the rental agency before we caught our flight home that Monday afternoon. By then, it was abundantly clear that we're not neon sports car people. Still, it was a perfect joke from my dad, from the universe, from coincidence. I can only imagine what a laugh he would've gotten, watching his girls drive around a beach town in a goddamn bright orange Mustang. What a ride.

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