A few weeks ago, I had returned from a thirty-six hour trek back to Flint for the annual celebration of a combination of Friendsgiving and Halloween with friends. It’s absolutely one of my favorite things to be able to hop on an Amtrak in the middle of a Friday afternoon, grab a forward-facing window seat for the five-hour trip duration, eat snacks, read, listen to music, sip hot coffee purchased from the café car, and simply be in my own company as I travel back to my home state. By the time I get to Flint, and with the station located about a mile from my childhood home, I’m ready to be social for a few hours before we all crash after catching up and laughing ourselves hoarse. The seventy dollar round-trip fare is less than I’ve spent during some Target runs.
These yearly “Scaresgiving” gatherings are with some of my oldest friends, going back to high school, middle school, and even elementary school. All these years later and through myriad life changes, we are friends today and genuinely care about what’s going on in each other’s lives. What’s especially fun for me is when others in the group start reminiscing about their high school memories and activities of which I wasn’t necessarily a participant. You know… “cool kid” stuff. I was never part of the in-crowd, though I had friends and a small, solid social network. My connections with many present at this party actually began at a time when we all still lacked the self-consciousness that sometimes comes at an age of caring about being seen with only “cool” people. Friends can fall away for a time with new social hierarchies that high school can bring.
By the time I got to high school, many others were going to private parties, skate parks, and music concerts in the Detroit suburbs. Not me. I was playing the piano at home, delivering newspapers, sketching cars, taking photographs, and riding my bike before I would later go on my own long drives around the Flint area by myself. What’s interesting is that many of my high school friends today weren’t people with whom I was then actively hanging out. Often, we were acquainted and would say “hello” in class or in the halls, but it wasn’t until years after graduation that, thanks to the advent of social media, we began to interact again, develop connections, and foster actual friendships. Time seemed to be the equalizer, and suddenly all of the things associated with status in adolescence no longer mattered.
After initially becoming reacquainted, I had really wanted to dislike some of the people I had seen as popular or cool back in high school. It was unfair of me to assume that I wouldn’t like who they were today, or that they wouldn’t like me now… or even that they hadn’t liked me back then. Fear is the root of so much unnecessary pain. It feels like some of our own handicaps are of our own devising and products of our misperceptions or imaginations. I saw my teenage self as dorky, intense, and uninvitable to gatherings and events.
I have come to find out decades after the fact that others had seen me as funny, outgoing, a smiler, and a genuine and caring person back then. It’s all water under the bridge, and I love who each of us has become in 2023. It’s still a riot to hear about the teenage shenanigans of others to where I have had to ask myself if I had been living on a completely different planet. Seriously, in my head and half the time, I could be thirteen. It may have been just what I needed to be so socially sheltered at the time.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am thankful for how elements of my teenage years played out into adulthood. I wonder sometimes just how different things might have been for me if I had been that popular, life-of-the-party guy in high school that was voted best something-or-other in the yearbook. I might have turned out like the Ford Taurus, which started life in ’86 as the darling of the automotive press and sold almost one million copies within its first three model years alone, with almost two million units sold by the final curtain on the first-generation cars by ’91.
The Taurus landed on Car And Driver’s “Ten Best Cars” list for seven consecutive years from the start, extending into the first year of the redesigned ’92 models. It was also a consistent best-selling passenger car almost out of the gate, top-three in sales starting and ’87 and staying there all the way through 2000. The first Taurus was the popular kid: good looking, daring, good at things, made of the right stuff.
A funny thing happened to the Taurus over time, though. Sticking with much the same formula for the second generation cars, they seemed to cling to what had been, by contrast to its earlier iterations that seemed to point the way into the future. By the time the gen-three models arrived for ’96, with their radical, ovoid styling themes, I suspect that many consumers tolerated the styling even if they didn’t love it. After all, memories of the Taurus as a car with groundbreaking style were probably still fresh in the minds of many, and its exterior design had really pushed the envelope in ’86. Maybe after a little time, this new, ultra-rounded looking Taurus will become the new norm, and everyone will love it! That never happened.
After devolving into a rental and fleet car (the 2007 models were sold exclusively to fleets), the Taurus came back for ’08 as a refreshed and renamed Five Hundred before being redesigned for 2010 into a chiseled and purposeful looking machine. It lasted in this form through its end for 2019 which, coincidentally, was the year I spotted this early example. Nothing lasts forever, and the final Taurus still inspires respect in me when I see nice examples on the street. It’s just that no other sedan Ford has put into production since that first ’86 Taurus has come close to blowing my mind that way that car did. Even if the ’96 Taurus hadn’t been unattractive to many, there was no way the style of any car wearing the Taurus nameplate wasn’t going to pale in comparison to that of the first cars that appeared in ’86.
Unlike the instant-success Taurus, I liken myself more to a third-generation Mustang, a car that had a great start at the beginning, lost the playbook (the weak 4.2-liter V8; alphabet-soup model lineup), and then steadily gained more stance, confidence, and power as its platform aged. I harbor no jealousy today for any of my former schoolmates who seemed to have had easy lives back then, and there’s only so much of someone else’s story that any of us actually knows.
I feel for some for whom their high school careers and status ended up being pretty much it for them. We all have a journey and bills to pay as grownups. All the same, it was easy to look at this Taurus almost exactly four years ago with the same kind of admiration as I would have for a member of my high school graduating class who was voted most likely to succeed and had been content to simply rest on that.
Rogers Park, Chicago, Illinois.
Sunday, November 17, 2019.