If you looked–really looked—at the
2016 Toyota Camry, you wouldn’t
expect the leggy girls in short dresses
who get into the clubs for free to climb
out of it. It’s humbler than that. Maybe
if the leggy girl got hitched and then
moved out to the suburbs, maybe. And
that’s why I like it so much.
(Full disclosure: The 2016 Toyota Camry
was the only car Hertz had left after my
flight got canceled. Toyota spent exactly
zero money for me to have it. In fact,
Toyota wasn’t even aware that I had it
and I paid $900 to drive it for the
weekend. So you could say that this
opinion hasn’t been bought.)
Last December, I drove across state
lines to attend Christmas at her
parents’ place. Last weekend, I drove
back across those same state lines in
the Camry, returning from a funeral.
At highway speeds, the luxurious
interior, with its buttery and hand
stitched leather, was a well-needed
escape. The substantial steering wheel,
which I worried periodically between
my thumbs and forefingers, was made
from smooth, uncomplaining plastic.
That was a nice touch.
I didn’t turn on the radio, even though
its controls were very conveniently
located on the center console. I wanted
to hear the mechanical whir of the
four-cylinder engine, take in how the
revs came to rest neatly at 2458 rpms
at 80 mph. But even the quiet hum of
the engine didn’t do a good enough job
to quell the pointed silence coming
from the empty passenger seat,
occupied by only my weekend bag and
whispering ghosts that remained just
out of sight.
The truth was, I needed a place to
think and the little Camry was the
perfect place for it. When the people I
used to know saw me again after all
those years, they didn’t even need to
ask what had happened. They only
needed to see the haunted look my
gaze had taken on to know. To
understand. I glanced in the rearview
mirror—took in the premature lines
that now crinkled the skin around my
eyes—and marveled at how
extraordinarily good the rearward
visibility was.
In an age where C-pillars are fattened
up to give a car and sporty and lunging
look, rearward visibility has been
more than halved. I’m glad to report
that the Camry has kept the pillars
skinny. Not in an unsexy, anorexic
kind of skinny. A healthy skinny whose
cheat days included Goldfish crackers
kept fresh in a Folgers coffee can,
tucked neatly behind the flax seed and
all-natural granola in the pantry. I
didn’t even know if there were any of
the little orange fish left in the can, it
had been so long since I last checked.
As I walked back toward the car after
purchasing a decaf coffee from a
pimply teenager who looked vaguely
like a pot addict from the gas station,
the sky overhead darkened with the
impending nighttime and, I grimly
noted, the weight of what I was
retuning from. But there the Camry
was, right where I had parked it two
minutes before. Its non-offensive
styling stood out in the gathering
gloom. While I lit my fourth cigarette
and absently snubbed out the others
beneath the heel of my boot, I realized
I rather liked the new Toyota
corporate front, which can also be
seen on the rare and unobtainable
Lexus IS sedans.
I will complain, though, that getting
back on the highway from an on ramp
proved to be difficult for the Camry.
The dogged acceleration is slow to 60
and takes more effort than getting a
bartender’s attention on a Saturday
night when you’re not a 21-year-old,
bright-eyed coed.
My mother always told me that I had a
soul of a sphinx—ancient beyond my
years—and this kind of phantasmic
anthropomorphism was closest to the
surface during the early days of my
marriage. When we belonged to no
one and everyone belonged to us.
When the trainwreck of my life choices
hadn’t quite caught up with me yet.
When I was free.
One thing is for sure, though, when life
gives you a long road trip to the very
ends of the earth, do it in a Camry. It’s
a solid car for the price (cheap) and
you’ll spend way more time on the
road than filling up at the gas station
like most other people do. The mileage
really is that great.
I was sad when I pulled up to the
rental counter desk at the end of my
drive. I wasn’t ready to part with the
car yet. As the attendant pulled it
away, I found myself staring after it,
mesmerized by the loving red glow of
its tail lights, streaking in the gauzy
night air like scarlet lipstick. It might
not be a comparable BMW or Porsche,
but for those few hours in my life, it
was good to me. That was all I could
really ask for.