It was going to be my last weekend in the United States. I was going back to India after a year’s gap. Of course, I was excited as one usually is when going back to family after a long gap. Upcoming events like my parents’ wedding anniversary and my cousin’s wedding also added to the excitement points.
Amidst all this, I was also feeling sad about leaving the US. Not for leaving one of the most developed countries of the world and the financial benefits that come along with working out of there. But because I would not be able to drive the kind of cars that I drove here in the US, back in India.
Right from the time I took my first rental car in the US, I had made a decision that I will try out all the different types of cars that I could possibly lay my hands on. And that I did. From Chryslers to Mazdas and humongous GMCs. But now, when I had just one weekend left, I was feeling sad at not being able to drive a car that had always tingled my sensation whenever I had heard or read about it. After having been in the land of the muscle cars, I had not been able to lay my hands on one of the greatest of them. I had not yet driven the Ford Mustang.
Mustangs were always rare in a car rental agency. Rental cars are not usually meant for performance oriented people. A car like the Mustang does not necessarily make much sense there. That was the answer that I got whenever I had asked for Mustangs in such agencies earlier. My roommate consoled me saying that I could buy one if I am here next time. I too had resigned to that fact.
Being the last weekend, I had to do lots of shopping. I believe I do not need to delve into the details regarding the kind of shopping one has to do when you have an extended circle of family and friends back home. It was chaotic and fun at the same time, needing to think and think again regarding the justification behind buying a particular stuff for an individual. Backup plans to accommodate any final goof ups will also have to be thought out. I had made the list ready and was just waiting for the weekend to arrive.
It was Friday morning and I had just entered my office. The phone rings and it was my roommate at the other end. He says, “I am at the car rentals now to pick up the car we had booked for the weekend. But they don’t seem to have any right now”. We had booked a midsize sedan category car and it was usual for the rental agency not to have a car in the category that we have booked.
“So what? Ask them for something else. That is what they always do”, I replied.
“Ahem… That they have offered. They only have two cars right now. One is a brand new Jetta and the other is a Mustang. I was planning on the Jetta. What do you propose?” I could feel my friend’s smirk when he said that.
I spent the next few minutes explaining to him the need to get the Mustang, in a language which is inappropriate to put in here. Coming to think of it, that wasn’t entirely necessary as he, after having listened to me lots of times, had this feeling that Mustang was not an ordinary car.
In the evening, the parking lot was the first place I headed to after I got down from the bus. There it was, the two door coupe, jet black in colour, gleaming in the afternoon sun looking just as I had expected it to. Silently thanking God for having given me this opportunity, I headed towards the apartment.
My roommate had taken the car to New York on that day and he was waiting for me to let loose his commentaries about the car. He told how he was late to start but was able to make up time as he was able to zip in and out of traffic easily and effortlessly and about being stunned about the pickup at times. Even though a considerable part of his commentary was beefed up, it was easily understandable that the excitement bug had caught him too.
The next day he accepted my request to let me do all the driving. I got ready before him for the shopping exercise and went down to the car to take a look around.
I had gotten used to the practicality offered by the Japanese cars and the finesse of the Germans, that the first emotion that stumped me when I sat in the driver’s seat was that of amusement. It looked rather bleak, dull and monotonous. The dashboard and the controls didn’t cheerfully call out their names in the order of functionality. They rather yawned at me and looked indifferent. I spent the next few minutes plugging in the GPS and setting up the iPod. I had some trouble finding the seat adjustment controls and getting used to them. Once this was successfully accomplished, we set out.
There wasn’t much noise as I fired the engine which added to my list of amusements. And the cabin seemed to be decently sound proofed as well. I gingerly backed her out and headed onto the country road outside our apartment complex.
I was doing a painfully slow 20 MPH. My friend, worried about getting a honk from a car behind us asked me to speed up. But I continued at the same speed, knowing very well that I was just executing my plans.
There is an interesting part to the American road system. The highways have a speed limit ranging from 65-75 MPH and the country roads around 25-40 MPH. Which means that the ramps which connect the country roads to the highways become small drag strips where you need to speed up from country road speed to highway speed. Now with the Mustang at my disposal, I was looking forward to getting onto the highway more than in any other car.
As I entered the ramp, my speed further dropped due to the incline. I slowly covered half the distance of the ramp, not heeding to the constant high pitched rant coming out of my friend’s mouth.
And then I did it.
Just when I thought I had only a few hundred metres remaining before I joined the highway, I floored the accelerator.
And the world transformed.
The high pitched shrieks from my friend were replaced by a noise so belligerent, so fearsome, so deeply bass-ed that my friend jumped out of his skin. He turned back in time to see a grin pasted on my face.
The grin of having had your neck pinned to the headrest with a thud. The grin from the adrenaline rush which would rival the speed at which fuel is being dumped into the big engine at the front. The grin from realising that my list of earlier amusements were no match for the experience that I was having and that my theory about the sound proofing was wrong. The grin from hearing a cacophonous mayhem at its harmonious best.
I hit 80 MPH at the blink of any eye. All through my driving experience in the US, I had always maintained my speed limit. This was the first and the last car where I did not. Because I simply couldn’t. Any speed below 80 and it made me feel foolish. It made me feel like someone who would only play Super Mario on a PS3.
I drove it almost nonstop that weekend. When we were returning it on Monday morning, I felt I had found the single reason that could make me prolong my stay in the US.
The experience with the Mustang also taught me a lesson. That such pieces of machinery had the power to appeal to non enthusiasts as well. Because after another one of my country road-ramp-highway exercise, my colleague who was sitting next to me said, “You know, it feels different when this car does that. The sound… The surge… Something that I had never experienced before”.
She didn’t bother that I didn’t reply to her. Because I had the grin back on me, my eyes looking at the highway ahead, over the swooping long bonnet with the casted silvery shape of a running horse at the grill, aptly representing the feel and sense of the car.
It wants to roam free. And it wants to be fast and furious when doing that.