Five years back, I saw this beautiful, late-third-generation Mustang GT soft top while on my way to meet my brother for an after-work cocktail. His law office is mere blocks from Ford’s Garage, the restaurant and bar seen in the background and also where he and I were headed. It always struck me funny that Fort Myers, Florida – of all places – was where Thomas Edison had gone to winter, and also that he and Henry Ford were so tight. I just never remembered reading about this in history books when I was a kid. Nonetheless, the sight of this era of Mustang in such great condition, in downtown Ft. Myers, and also while meeting my brother during the holidays, brought back a flood of memories.
Things often seem a lot less uncomfortable or unpleasant when seen through the backward lens of hindsight. Twenty years ago, I was just about to graduate from college, and my brother was in his senior year of high school. Being constantly pitted and compared against each other despite our age difference (three years is not an insubstantial number for young adults) was not great for our relationship, which only seemed to become rock-solid after we were both out of the house.
Around this time, I owned the above / below, same-generation ’88 Mustang LX hatchback with the 2.3L Lima four (with all of 88 mighty, electronically fuel-injected horsepower!) and a five-speed manual. I purchased it when it was five years old and with 60,000 miles on the clock from a local Ford dealer’s used-car lot, with money I had saved on my own without any help from anyone. This unassisted purchase was a landmark of adulthood for me. My Mustang was slow but pretty, and the fact that its styling had continued mostly unchanged for four, full model years after ’88 helped me preserve the illusion that my car was still on the new-ish side.
I kept it clean, inside and out, and yes – I bought a few accessories for it, as you can see from these pictures. I had a few facial piercings at the time (ears and nose), so it kind of makes sense to me now as to why I would have wanted to individualize my car, since there were still a glut of these Foxes on the road. I’ve often thought that in the mid-’90s, mine just might have been the nicest, non-convertible, four-cylinder Mustang in all of Lee County, Florida.
Diverting back to family stuff, I quickly came to see my Mustang as an ally when returning to the Dennis family nest after being away at college. It often seemed that no matter how hard I tried to prove to Mom, Dad and my two brothers (of which I am in the middle) just how much I had grown and matured since the last time we had all been together, I often fell flat on my face – or at least felt like I had.
Mom, Dad and my older brother had all earned advanced college degrees after undergraduate school (which I did not), and my younger brother had just returned from spending a year of high school as a foreign exchange student in Denmark. (Ooooo, la-tee-dah for him.) I often felt like the four of them were deliberately talking way over my head, with their stupid discussions of world events, politics, and things that probably would matter to most informed adults. I didn’t care. Outside of the college classroom, I was usually done with voluntarily thinking other people’s thoughts on my own time.
That’s when my Mustang would become my savior. “I’m out,” as I would dismiss myself from the house as discreetly as possible, with a random assortment of cassettes and the keys to my trusty, white steed. In a way, this was kind of like going to my room, except my Mustang was a mobile, detachable unit that facilitated my escape from the resurgence of unpleasant family dynamics from which I thought becoming a college man would give me a free pass.
With my most recently made mixtape in the cassette deck of my aftermarket stereo unit with its detachable face plate (purchased from now-defunct Circuit City), I was suddenly back in charge of my own environment. The seats in that Mustang were so very comfortable – nicely bolstered on the sides, and finished in a rich-looking fabric that resembled wide-wale corduroy. (All of us former “Alternative” subculture kids must now remember and pay homage to the ’90s resurgence of the popularity of corduroy among us.) The comfy driver’s bucket seat always seemed to cradle me so soothingly in the midst of my post-teenage angst at feeling dumb and underappreciated by my family.
Time does heal, though, and Dad is no longer with us, twenty years after this scene I’ve set. I’m proud to call my younger-brother-slash-former-archnemesis one of my best friends and biggest allies, and I adore his wife and kids. Looking at the Mustang GT in the title shot in this once-familiar setting and remembering my own, cherished pony, I’d like to believe the kids in the next generation of my extended family will have at least a slightly more positive experience of family than I did during the holidays in those transitional years between being an “adult child” and just being an adult.
No one is guaranteed an easy path on that journey. I hope that if and when one of my nephews or nieces feels the way I did back then, they will have access to their own, personal, motorized escape machine like the four-cylinder Mustang I remember so fondly.
Title shot as photographed downtown Fort Myers, Florida.
Monday, December 24, 2012.
And yes – the digital dates on the other photographs are actual.