I grew up in suburban London and passed my driving test in 2000. Back then, most of my friends drove clapped-out Ford Fiestas and Vauxhall Corsas. They had engines the size of hamster wheels, exhausts with holes in them that made them burble like V8s, and “dump valves” that made them sounds like buses when they stopped. pftWOOOOSH. That never made much sense to me. Why would you want your car to sound like a bus?
I didn’t have very much money — I had a part-time job, but selling trainers to other kids at the local shopping center didn’t pay that much — and so I didn’t own one myself. I soon went to university in the city anyway, where I didn’t need a car to get around.
My halls of residence were in Hampstead, a posh part of town where rich members of London’s cultural elite — actors, artists and writers— live cheek by jowl with Russian oligarchs, American bankers and middle eastern oil sheikhs. The streets are lined with impossibly beautiful Victorian houses. Life here seemed a million miles away from my home in the suburbs, where drab 1930s semis and naff shopping centers littered the scruffy streets. In fact, only forty miles and the hulking mass of London’s center separate the two.
There were plenty of nice cars parked nearby, but I always noticed the Audi TT on Kidderpore Avenue. The car’s styling captured something of the millennial zeitgeist: a Bauhaus-esque assemblage of lines and curves on the outside with a minimalist, bespoke-looking cockpit of brushed aluminium and baseball-glove stitched leather on the inside. In those days, I had ambitions to become a barrister. This was the perfect car, I thought, for a young, wealthy, upwardly mobile professional. I thought I would buy one soon enough.
In fact, owing to some questionable career choices, I didn’t buy a car of my own until much later, once I’d moved to America for graduate school. And I was certainly not wealthy.
At that point, well into my late 20s, finishing up my PhD, I did what a lot of transatlantic transplants do. Hoping to lay claim to my very own piece of Americana, I bought a Jeep, a 2001 Cherokee Sport. It didn’t matter that it was crap to drive and felt cheaply made, that there was so much slop in the steering that you could wiggle the wheel while driving and the car would not change direction at all. I loved its boxy, rugged styling — suggestive of the outdoorsy life to which I aspired — and the torquey 4.0 liter lump sitting up front, ready to propel me to Freedom (or, more likely, the shops).
It was to be a short-lived affair. The day after I bought it, I broke my elbow. Since the car had a manual transmission, I couldn’t even use it. It sat on the streets of DC for six months as I recovered, at which point I sold it to pay off my medical bills.
I put the Jeep on Craigslist. Within an hour, I had seventy replies. I had underpriced it by quite a lot. A man came with his wife and two children from the Appalachian mountains to buy it from me. He used an expensive flashlight to inspect the car in the dark. He left the flashlight in my house by mistake. I still have it. I feel bad that I never returned the flashlight.