CLEVELAND _ It’s Day Two here at the RNC. So far I have written a few articles. Roughly 2,500 words. And not one of those has been about my rental car: an all-white 2015 Chevy Camaro. But the car is turning out to be an important part of my experience this week. The Rocinante to my Quixote. The Pequod to my Ahab. Or considering it’s clearly 1985 again—fucking Scott Baio, seriously?—the DeLorean to my McFly.
How I got the damn thing was a total fluke. Playboy said it would cover my rental car and gas for the week while I stayed at my father’s house in Akron, about a half-hour away. I picked up the car Friday night at a rental place in midtown Manhattan. It was a Chrysler 300. Not a flashy car but not an economy either. I’d done that way too many times in my 20s and early 30s–rented the cheapest car available and made the drive back to Ohio on no shocks and no feeling in my ass the following day.
The attendant pulled the car around and jumped out and left it running for me. I got in and took off. Since I was already in the city I figured I’d drop by a friend’s house party downtown before heading back to my apartment in Brooklyn. Only when I parked the car outside my friend’s and went to take out the key did I realize it was a push-button start. And when I reached into the cup holder to get the fob, it wasn’t there. I looked in the glovebox. Not there, either. The console. Nope. I searched the whole car, even under the seats. The attendant must have had it in his pocket and forgotten to give it to me.
The people at Alamo were super cool and apologetic about it. Shout-out to area rental manager Javier Leon. He had the car towed the next morning, knocked off a day’s charge and arranged for me to pick up a replacement at a rental location a short walk from my place. He didn’t tell me what car it was. Neither did the agent at the counter when I got there. He just walked me outside to the lot and said, “Do you want the Camaro or the Infinity?”
Driving that white Camaro seemed like Tom Wolfe wearing his white suits. You can get away with that if you can write like that motherfucker.
The Infinity was an SUV. For a second, I admit, I was torn. Yeah, spending a week driving 1,200 miles in a two-door V8 sounded sick. But I also thought maybe it was a better idea to keep a low profile. Driving that white Camaro seemed like Tom Wolfe wearing his white suits. You can get away with that if you can write like that motherfucker. But if you’re just a hacky journo like me who can’t think of a better way to describe the man who wrote The Right Stuff than “motherfucker,” you should probably try and be as invisible as possible.
In fact, at first I even told the rental guy I wanted the Infinity. But then he kind of looked at me for second. And I was like, “Yeah, the Camaro.” I mean, it was just too fun. And the metaphor of me driving this gleaming ALL-WHITE muscle car to the Republican National Convention was just too irresistible.
Going by Google Maps, the drive from New York to Akron takes seven-and-a-half hours. Nearly an hour of that is just getting across midtown Manhattan and through the Holland Tunnel. I can usually make it in under seven, if only stopping once to gas up and piss. In the Camaro I made it in a flat six. I left at around seven Sunday night, figuring there’d be little traffic at that time. I was right. Once I got through Jersey and into Pennsylvania on I-80 there were hardly any cars and just a couple times of that infuriating and inexplicable highway phenomenon of two tractor trailers next to each other in both lanes going the exact same slow-ass speed. (They’re totally on their CBs just fucking with people, right?) I went 90 much of the way. Got up over 100 a couple times. Most of the time I wasn’t even trying. I would just look down and see the speedometer and be like, “Holy shit!” It felt like I was going 50.
But I was also lost in thought. In the mountains of Pennsylvania, climbing up and down the Delaware Water Gap, there wasn’t much radio service. The car didn’t have a USB port, but I didn’t mind. I like listening to the radio when I’m driving. I like hearing all the local advertising and all the random DJs in all the different regions. It makes you have a better appreciation for the distance you’re traveling, the ground you’re covering. But for most of the drive through those hills I could only get country music or Christian radio—gospel rock, inspirational advice call-in shows or just straight-up Bible study. I guess maybe because it was Sunday night.
And so as I’m flipping between these stations and bombing the Camaro down the pitch black highway, I’m wondering about Trump voters. These are his people. The people who listen to these radio stations. The people who listen to the radio, period—who don’t give a shit about the difference between Spotify and Tidal and Apple Music. I’d spend a minute or two on each station, thinking that if I listened closely enough I might be able to better understand the Trump folks, as if there were some sort of subliminal, Paul-is-Dead-style message behind it all. By the time I got to Akron, I still didn’t have a fucking clue.
But that’s because I was listening to the wrong thing. I should’ve turned the radio off and just listened to the engine of the Camaro.
I realized this last night when I was driving back from the convention. Opening night. What a fucking display. I was sitting there in my seat in press row, in the second level of Quicken Loans Arena, and seriously wondering if I was there to write about the convention or to review a new traveling production of The Hunger Games. When Trump walked out it was like watching Coriolanus Snow. And Melania’s dress with the sleeves was total Effie. Some of my friends on Facebook were angry about it. Others were joking about it. I just felt completely baffled. How? How the fuck did it come to this? I just kept asking myself that same question, over and over, on the walk back to the parking lot where I’d parked.
The lot was a dozen or so blocks from the convention hall. It wasn’t a short walk, but it was close to the highway entrance ramp, and I didn’t want to deal with all the road closures closer to downtown. By time I got to the lot the Camaro was the only car still there.
I wasn’t by my wishy-washy-there-is-no-black-and-white-it’s-all-grey liberalness. I wasn’t wracked with futility and insignificance. Fuck no.
I got in and started it up. And as soon as I heard and felt the rumble of that engine I felt better. I mean, like a thousand times better. Like I was a totally different person. I cranked up the radio. Not God rock this time. Classic rock. 100.7 WMMS. The Buzzard. I felt like I had power. Control. Certainty. I wasn’t halted by my wishy-washy-there-is-no-black-and-white-it’s-all-grey liberalness. I wasn’t wracked with futility and insignificance. Fuck no. I was in a bad-ass two-door sports car blasting “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and about to chew up some highway. Let some other asshole wring their hands and deal with all the world’s problems and leave me the hell alone. It was a simple way to look at the world. Not simple in sense of moronic. Simple in the sense of simple. Uncomplicated. Easy.
There was a bigger point I was planning on making here. Something like, well, what happens when gas prices go back to four bucks? Or when unemployment goes back up and you can’t afford the monthly payments and the car gets repossessed? Or what happens to the auto industry when we rip up all our trade agreements? Or what about all that exhaust that is destroying the fucking planet? Something about how the simple life is a fantasy, a delusion. Life has never been that way. America has never been that way. And OK, fine, let’s just say it was. It’s over. It’s changed. And it can’t be changed back.
But that’s all too jumbled and murky, and I’d need to think about it more, and it’s getting late in the day here in Akron, and honestly all I want to do is get back in the Camaro and hit the road.
Follow Sean Manning on Twitter: @talkingcovers.