Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.

To All the Cars I've Driven Before

To All the Cars I've Driven Before

When I turned sixteen, I drove a white, single-cab 2001 Chevy Silverado that had been in my grandad’s possession for years.

I’d spent a lot of my life riding around in the passenger seat (or the bed, more often) of that truck, and he let the grandkids drive it around his ranch long before we were legal; first letting us steer from his lap while he pushed the pedals below, then directing from the passenger seat once we could reach them ourselves. (He was also the most unflappable and, therefore, most cherished instructor when I had my driver’s permit. The first time I drove on MoPac, it was in that truck with Papa. I went 40 miles per hour and we must have almost gotten hit from behind enough times that he finally, calmly said, “Alrighty, you’re doing great — but I’m gonna need you do something for me, okay? We need to go a little faster.” My eyes widened. “Like how much faster?” I asked. “A lot faster,” he commanded.)

The Silverado wasn’t a cool ride by any stretch of the means; but it was functional and familiar — and, you know, free — and that was good enough for me.

I liked how high it sat off the road and how hard I had to push the pedals under my (often bare) feet. I liked the way it smelled like a million memories of mine. I liked being able pile my teammates in the back and shuttle them from the gym in the junior high across the street to the locker room back in our own building after basketball practice, which was very efficient and allowed us each at least 1.5 extra minutes of allotted shower time, until a teacher saw us and told us we weren’t allowed to do that anymore. I liked listening to very loud music with the windows down and driving aimlessly around back roads and generally feeling very free. Which sounds cheesy, but you know. Some things become cliché because they’re true.

The gas gauge kinda broke at some point and I spent a while just guesstimating when it was about time to fill up. We got it fixed after my dad had to borrow my truck to go somewhere one night and called me fifteen minutes later. On the side of the highway. With no gas. (It was not the best night, thanks for asking.)

Other than that, the Silverado really didn’t have many faults. It was as reliable and sturdy as they come. To prove it, I once backed it right over my friend Caitlin’s fence — I was nervously trying to park next to a basketball goal without hitting it, and was so relieved when I successfully did that I mixed up the pedals for a second — and it didn’t even scratch the paint! Also, let us all take a moment to appreciate Steve Lacker, her dad, who witnessed the entire thing and instead of getting mad, started laughing so hard at me that I thought for a moment he had stopped breathing. He had to sit down on the driveway, wiping tears from his eyes. “You should have seen your face,” he gasped, and waved off my (and, shortly after, my parents’) frantic apologies. Mr. Lacker, you are my hero to this day.

When I turned eighteen, the same grandparents that owned the Silverado generously bought me a car all my own — a white Chevy Cruze, this time. Cuter! Smaller! Able to transport friends more legally!

With a lot of enthusiasm and not much sense of responsibility, I loved the Cruze with reckless abandon. (Apparently drove it that way occasionally, as well, since I got two speeding tickets in it.) It went with me to college; making late-night trips to anywhere that happened to be open, crowded with a rotating cast of dormmates, classmates, and friends. It saw its fair share of early mornings, too; carting me to trailheads along the Blue Ridge Parkway for sunrise hikes. It got me to class sometimes; helped me skip class more often. It spent a lot of time parked outside the hockey rink, and Canadian friends taught me how to drive in the snow in it.

It was the car in which I started my road trip habit — Charlottesville, Richmond, Charlotte, Asheville, Cincinnati, Boston, Pensacola, San Antonio, Alpine, any number of random small towns. It graduated college and drove back to Texas with me, where it did some serious time motoring between Austin, Houston, and Dallas over the years, too. It took me to job interviews, job first-days, and job last-days a few times over. It moved me God knows how many times. (Just kidding, God and I and my parents all know the answer to this one: Eight. Eight moves. And the Cruze may have been small, but I could pack that sucker out.)

I blew the Cruze’s speakers out once. It was ridiculously messy. It held friends from three or four different seasons of life. It saw me fall in and out of like and love, depending on the boy, more than a few times. It was home to both a lot of tears and a lot of laughter, which sounds cheesy, but you know. Some things become cliché because they’re true.

Unfortunately, the reckless abandon with which I loved that car extended to my style of maintenance for it. It’s amazing how it lasted, really, in retrospect; though all the times the battery died, or the engine sounded funny, or it smelled kind of weird, or it just sort of randomly shut off and you had to kind of let it sit for a few minutes and then turn the key again and it usually acted like nothing weird had ever happened probably should have tipped me off that we were headed for a crash-and-burn style ending.

After a few too many breakdowns along Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas, right before Christmas in 2017, a family friend and auto mechanic gave the Cruze a look and told me I needed to jump ship, now. Panicked, I told him that I couldn’t afford a new ship now; but luckily, my dad could. (It is not lost on me that I am insanely spoiled by any standard. I tried to communicate that understanding to my dad when I handed off the decrepit Cruze, thanking him profusely and telling him I owed him. “Honey, you owe your mom and I so much, you will never be able to pay us back,” my dad said, patting me on the arm kindly.) He sold the Cruze to a guy who owned a maid service whose employees would give the Cruze the gentle second life it had probably always wanted. My dad’s car went briefly to my mom while he found her another, and her car — a silver 2006 Lexus ES 330 — went to me.

I was by then old enough to appreciate the cost of a car, and had learned from my and the Cruze’s mistakes. In the 330, I became Queen of the Oil Change; a master of ensuring my car was well-taken care of, because I needed it to last maybe forever, by my 20-something-working-in-marketing calculations. I wasn’t so cautious that the road trips stopped, though. I checked in every 3,000 miles religiously; but between, I wandered North Texas, made about a million trips home to the Houston area, and finally started the 254 challenge since it seemed I was on track for it anyhow. I slept in that car during the Texas Water Safari and steered it carefully down roads it never dreamed it would travel, patting the dashboard and apologizing to it out loud on occasion.

The 330 was home to a lot of thought, prayers, and conversations that led me to move back to Houston last fall; and by the time I did, its trunk was chock-full of hammocks, hiking boots, a sleeping bag, headlamps — various outdoor equipment that was either regularly used or just seemed like it might come in handy. I fitted my cheap bike rack to it; the kind I could take on and off as needed, but never fast enough not to set off the 330’s car alarm somehow in the process. It got increasingly covered in a fine dusting of chalk over the next few months as my climbing habit intensified. When I considered adding a kayak to the mix a few months ago, a friend finally piped up and asked, “Have you considered maybe putting that money towards a car that’s actually for all the kinds of stuff you like to do?”

I hadn’t, of course; and my automatic response was to argue that I couldn’t afford to. But four years out of college, with a couple real, live, steady jobs under my belt and, you know, a car I hadn’t run into the ground, I realized for the first time that, actually, maybe I could.

I started nosing around a little bit.

I started saving extra money here and there.

I started asking people’s advice. What would be best for the kind of gear I had or wanted, for the kind of travel I did, for — sorry mom — sleeping in on extended road trips.

And this weekend, I drove the 330 two hours to Beaumont, did a lot of paperwork, wrote a check, and arrived back home two hours later in a 2009 Toyota Tacoma.

It’s black — like, almost blacked out entirely, in fact. The subwoofer, Flowmasters (Is this even how you refer to them? People who desire their trucks to be very loud, please inform?), and tiny chrome Transformers emblem stuck on both sides of the truck lead me to believe a teenage boy was definitely the previous owner, but either he or his dad took fabulous care of it, so I don’t care. I think it is fun and perfect and beautiful. (And truth be told, a friend at Katy Auto Care already figured out how to remove the Transformers emblems. “Got your autobots off,” he informed me casually as he rang me up. File that under Sentences I Never Thought Would Be Addressed To Me.) I didn’t stop grinning the whole way home from the dealership. It’s a vehicle that feels both like the first one that’s really mine, and also, weirdly full circle. Driving it reminds me of that Silverado I started on ten years ago.

I’m not one to get sentimental about material stuff. I can honestly say I’ve never felt super attached to any vehicle I’ve driven, no matter how much life I lived in it. But I could see it happening with this one.

Here’s to many years and memories to come in my new little adventuremobile. I hope I drive it till the wheels fall off, and find lots of stories to share here along the way.

On the Wall

On the Wall

Blue Hour Bluegrass

Blue Hour Bluegrass