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Developing a love of cars
My appreciation of cars began with my father’s red Volkswagen golf. As a son of Buyenzi, a neighborhood in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, my father’s knowledge of car culture came from an interest in the Dakar rally and seeing the different imports to the country of Burundi. There, people preferred Toyota Hiluxes, spry pick-ups prized for the legendary durability of Japanese manufacturing.
When it came to buying his own car, my father turned to another country known for its craftsmanship. A red Volkswagen Golf Mk2 was his choice; a small, German sedan built with a precision characteristic of Deutschland’s ethos. “La Golf,” as he called it, represented a culmination of the early successes in his career. Though my mother drove it primarily, shifting through its gears on B-roads was my father’s purview.
My favorite toys became cars of all kinds. In my palm, little die cast cars revved and sputtered to my breathless direction, running over furniture, parents, and siblings with reckless abandon. Later, remote controls and electric motors took the place of my hands and mouth. As the toy’s batteries died, my curiosity only quickened. Curious as to how the cars worked and why led to the destruction of many toys, resulting in plastic bits and clipped wires that were littered all over the carpets. Years later, my little brother told me he never understood why so many toys had to be slaughtered for my curiosity. Wrenching the spinning bits out of perfectly fine cars seemed like a tragic waste.
Later, toy cars were replaced by video games. Ever so vigilant, my parents only permitted games without violence and guns, so naturally the racing genre became the one of choice. Though the series Need for Speed™ primed in my knowledge of cars, Forza Motorsport™ introduced me to the general mechanics of how to drive them. Management of grip, power, and momentum were essential to winning. Understanding the advantage of rear wheel drive over front and lessons in how to control a car without stability or traction control captured my attention.
However, virtual vehicles can never compare to the real experience. In my family, anemic Toyotas are the standard; we own vehicles that exemplify Japan’s diligence to reliability and utility. In the area of driving dynamics, numb steering feel and a forward leaning weight disruption leaves much to be desired. Missing as well are the noises that make a driver’s cars so worth it. Hearing the intake sucking air or the burble of the exhaust envelops one in sensual reminders that this, too, has a beating heart. A family friendly auto hides their whiny embarrassments of engine noise, reflecting a preference for the comfortably aloof commute.
Alas, with dawn of hybrids and electric cars comes the dwindling visceral connection within an automobile. I, however, yearn for the intimate mastery of man over machine. One day soon, you’ll find me shifting through gears on B-roads.