Three Cars

Over the past century, the car has come to stand for some standard American virtues—freedom, individualism, virility. Often our cars even seem to summarize our personalities—a soccer mom in her minivan, a trust-fund baby in his red convertible, ten hippies in a VW. We are what we drive, as a nation, and as individuals.

So it’s no surprise that cars are also a realm of fantasy, representing our desires and dreams. There are three cars in “Okeechobee,” and each tells a different story. The old green Dodge Swinger is reality: sliced-egg sandwiches and parents who aren’t speaking to each other. Then there is the blue trailer by the lake, the home of old friends, made desirable by the fact that the child narrator isn’t allowed inside. The reality of the trailer park is improved by the child’s perspective, charmed as she is by the dollhouse proportions and a bathtub outdoors. The reader is left to imagine why guests aren’t invited in.

The trailer is the narrator’s personal fantasy, but the silver Jaguar is her idea of what would make her mother happy: a shiny car that will never break, that can take her far away fast, and that can’t accommodate two kids and a husband. “Every lovely spot near or far, / You can reach them too in your car, / Or you might be there now if you own a jag already,” sang the Who. The narrator expresses this sentiment more sincerely, and it captures all a child’s sadness for a parent’s regrets.

—Caitlin McKenna

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