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He's got a ticket to a car ride, and he loves it


The 2014 Toyota Corolla LE – the car I’ve owned the last five years – is, according to Edmunds, “a small, affordably priced sedan … [that] offer[s] decent performance, a comfortable ride, good gas mileage, user-friendly features and solid reliability.” It’s in desperate need of a washing that doesn’t involve a downpour. One day I’d really like to take it to an auto body shop and repair the big gouge on the front driver’s side that’s a constant reminder that I cut the steering wheel way too soon while I was backing out of the garage two winters ago.


I really don’t drive it much – it’s logged 76,000 miles – so I’m hoping Toyota’s reputation of manufacturing automobiles that will outlast even Keith Richards means this is the last car I’ll ever own. I use it to pick up my son, Nolan, after school and take him wherever he needs to be on a particular day. I go on a handful of road trips every year to flea markets in Minnesota and Wisconsin. If I were so inclined, I have no doubt that I could drive to New England this week, admire the fall foliage, and turn around and come home with nary a concern.


Yeah, I like my car. But Nolan loves it.


Hell, who am I kidding? Nolan is enamored with ANY vehicle – my Corolla, my wife Cindy’s Prius, the school bus that picks him up every morning, 18-wheelers. He has Autism and a lengthy list of sensory needs, one of which is his body’s craving to be on the move. Had he been in the backseat of Jake and Elwood Blues’ car when Elwood announced it was 106 miles to Chicago, Nolan would have let them know, quite emphatically, that they needed to take a much longer route.


Nolan is up for a car ride anytime, and he lets Cindy and me know by either bringing us a sock or socks from the top drawer of his dresser, or by using the communication program on his iPad. Pleasant weekend morning? He hands us a sock. Monsoon or blizzard? We get pleading eyes and the robotic voice on the iPad stating, “I … want … go!” Two-thirty in the morning on a weekday in September when he – we – should have been sleeping? There might have been a half-dozen pair of socks and an iPad involved with that request – which, as you can imagine, Cindy and I shot down in a hurry – but it’s kind of a blur.


I’m more than happy to oblige Nolan most of the time when he wants to go for a ride. Fathers are supposed to do fun things with their sons, and I try my darndest to be a good dad and give Nolan what he wants. Even if it’s doing something different than what 99.5 percent of his peers enjoy.


The local Oktoberfest returned to our area this past weekend after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus. Part of the celebration included a “Special Festers Day” this past Thursday at one of the two festgrounds. Special-needs students from several area school districts eat lunch at the festgrounds and spend a few hours going on the carnival rides for free. For whatever reason, Nolan hasn’t gone on a ride since he was in first grade. He and I have spent the majority of our time during past Special Fester Days hanging around the playground equipment on the other side of the park, as far away from the noise as we could get without leaving altogether.


(Not that I’ve minded. As much as I enjoyed celebrating Oktoberfest and partaking in the festivities when I was younger, I really can’t stand being in that environment now. And it has nothing – nothing! – to do with the fact I blew chow in the parking lot of the apartment building where I lived in the late ‘90s after joining a college-aged co-worker and some of her friends at the festgrounds, stuffing my face with greasy carnival pizza, and going on a few rides, including the Zipper. Watch a video of that monstrosity, and I guarantee you’ll get nauseous too).


I emailed Nolan’s teachers and told them I wanted to pick him up early this past Thursday and take him for a car ride in place of going to Oktoberfest. One of his paraprofessionals told me he became much happier when she told him what was coming after science class. I think I was just as excited to get him and take the long way home, which meant our first father-son stop for beverages at Dunkin’ Donuts in a month.


Sometimes I have no idea how long a particular outing with Nolan will last. I always hope we can spend a lot of time having fun, but I also know all too well a good situation can turn ugly in an instant. We got in my car after lunch, stopped at a local convenience store for drinks, and hit the road. I drove through a couple of small towns north of the city where we live, turned onto the on-ramp to one of the local freeways that passes through the area, and hit the accelerator.


Any day I get to spend behind the wheel is a good day for me. Last Thursday gave me the opportunity to roll down all the windows and soak up a day with temperatures more fitting of late July rather than late September. I admired the fall colors, which are arriving a little earlier than normal this year. And I tuned into the Classic Vinyl station on Sirius/XM just in time to enjoy a nice run of awesome tunes.



But for Nolan, a car ride is his version of a carnival ride. There were moments he pulled his t-shirt over his eyes. He stuck his arm out the window as we drove down the highway. He rocked back and forth. And there were several moments when he just smiled and laughed as he felt the wind blowing in his face and through his hair. Our drive only lasted a little less than one hour – I wanted Nolan to have a little down time before his Adapted Sports League soccer team’s game later that afternoon – but he’d gotten all the sensory input he’d needed.


I’ve learned over the years that Nolan and I can enjoy each other’s company doing things a lot of other people might consider a bit out of the ordinary. Maybe we’ll never scream ourselves hoarse and get crazy dizzy riding on the Tilt-A-Whirl, Scrambler, or a monster rollercoaster at one of those mega-amusement parks. We’ll get our rush navigating stop-and-go traffic and hairpin turns on a county backroad.


Edmunds’ description of my car is pretty straightforward, and it really isn’t the type of vehicle that screams “babe magnet.” But it gives a teenager who has Autism a thrill every time, without fail.

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