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Just a Hobby

April 9, 2007

We went to the International Auto show last weekend as part of the birthday celebration for my husband.

There is nothing on earth (except me and the kids, of course) that he likes as much as he likes cars. He has multiple different names for this hobby he has. He calls himself a “gearhead”, a “grease monkey”, a “connoisseur of cars”… I call it a sickness. He collects diecast replicas of the cars he really wants to own. He has so many now that they completely fill the walls in our rec room. He buys a new life-size model every now and then just to tinker. He has a great relationship with the Snap-On guy (me, not so much). He could spend hours just searching the aisles at Sears for the next great tool to fit in his toolbox. He spends more time decorating the garage than I’ve ever spent decorating the house. He even had diamond-plate specially cut to fit the steps out there. It’s definitely a hobby, absolutely a passion, maybe right up there with an obsession.

I don’t understand his relationship with cars. For me it’s all about reliability and good gas mileage. I don’t care if the whole thing is rusted and falling apart at the seams, as long as it will get me there and home again. I don’t need shiny new paint, happenin’ rims and tires, cool upholstery, a supercharger, a big engine… none of that for me. I’m happy with my little ’89 Honda, sounding like a lawnmower most of the time, still running after 260,000 miles. But I am glad that he has something that brings him pleasure.

Because cars bring him so much pleasure, the auto show is a family tradition. It always happens right around his birthday and we always go. This year was no exception. We loaded up our decidedly un-super-charged minivan and off we went.

We looked at a gazillion cars–new ones, old ones, shiny ones, big ones, futuristic ones. You name it, the powers that be had it at the car show. The kids got the biggest charge out of the Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Big gasps came from their mouths as we checked them out. Oh, they were pretty, for certain–shiny and sleek, fully loaded. As we stood there behind the ropes that kept us commoners from touching, I was struggling with the idea that they really were any different from any other car. My poor husband looked at me like I had grown another head when I asked (I think he looked around quickly to make sure that no one else heard me ask, too) and he began to explain the craftsmanship that goes into a car like that. It’s like a piece of art, he said…

That started me down the path of wondering who actually buys a Lamborghini, or a Ferrari, or an Aston Martin, and the more important question, why? Sure, they’re pretty, but they’re made with the same metal, rubber, leather and wood as any other car. Even if they have one guy on the earth that sews the upholstery… painstakingly making every stitch… one at a time… by hand… at the end of the day, it’s still upholstery, just like in my Honda. It’s not like a Picasso, with his signature style and some kind of deeper meaning, although I must confess that I would never pay millions for a Picasso either.

So what’s the purpose of paying two or three times my mortgage for a car? Is the warranty fantastic? If you buy a Ferrari do they replace stuff on it for life? Nope. Just five years. I can’t fathom that one could even pay off the loan in five years. And insurance? Ridiculous! For a car like that, they charge you per mile you drive, not even a flat rate, so this super-expensive luxury you own would sit in the garage for most of its life, unless you wanted to go broke just to make it a daily driver. And let’s not even consider how much you devalue said luxury with every mile you put on the odometer.

Craziness, I say. It’s possible that I just don’t understand the car thing. I’m about good prices on toilet paper, good gas mileage, thrift stores, and comfort, not excess. I’m about college funds, retirement planning, savings accounts, and getting out of debt. The idea of buying a Lamborghini or a Ferrari is as foreign to me as the idea of spending a weekend on Mars.

Judging by the numbers of people stopping to drool over these cars, though, the idea isn’t so far-fetched for most. Watching their faces, I’m thinking that if they won the lottery tomorrow, these sleek, shiny money pits would be high up on the list. This is where I really started to think that we struggle with the difference between pleasure and happiness. I had a moment where I thought that folks out there with the money to spend probably bought these things thinking that owning this piece of Lamborghini “art” would satisfy, fill some empty place inside, represent happiness to its new owner. I wonder how many people out there are slowly buying the next biggest and best thing they can afford, mortgaging themselves to the teeth searching for the right-sized object to fill that empty hole.

My husband, by contrast, is in the garage working on a ’94 Mustang we bought for a modest $4K, because he realizes that spending $60K more will not make him any happier. He derives pleasure from the simple act of tinkering. He builds his own piece of art every time he darkens the door of the garage. He does it because he loves Mustangs, muscle cars, and power. He does it because working on cars relaxes him, takes him away from the every day grind, because the simple smell of motor oil transports him to another time and place. He does it because it brings him pleasure, not because he is expecting this hobby to make him happy.

We did have a great time at the car show. It’s a birthday tradition that my husband enjoys and one that the kids have come to enjoy tremendously as well. Even I enjoyed myself. I won an iPod Shuffle for answering a couple of safety questions and, for practical (and evidently also safety-conscious) me, that made the thirty dollar tickets worthwhile.

I will never understand the need people have, or even the desire, to purchase a car for more than I will make in my lifetime but, based on the line just to get a look, many more will do it. I’m glad that we have a different focus, that we can be satisfied with tinkering, with die-cast replicas, with having a look once a year… with the pleasure of the hobby and the family tradition rather than expecting happiness that material things, no matter how expensive or unique, will never bring.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Lynda permalink
    April 9, 2007 6:50 pm

    So glad you all had a nice time at the car show! And Happy Birthday to your hubby, whose birthday is the same day as my daughter! You are so right, material things do not bring us happiness, but looking can give us pleasure, even for a moment. Congrats on the iPod Shuffle! I love mine!

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