How vividly I remember the day I got my very first car.

A Chevy Vega, she was, 20 years old but still rolling on its bald tires with slivers of metal poking out of the rubber. She had a red pinstripe down the sides, which seemed entirely appropriate for a car that could hit 60 mph if you gave it five minutes and if you happened to be going downhill.

The muffler was shot so the car snored like an old dog. It burned oil, too, so every time I hit the gas it would bellow massive blue clouds, fogging entire neighborhoods and leaving everyone in my wake coughing and fanning their faces.

I loved that ride. The day I got it, I spent hours cleaning decades of dust off its panels. I soaked the seat and carpeting in a cleanser so pungent it made my eyes water for a week. I tore out the boring AM/FM radio and replaced it with a sweet, off-brand stereo that would play cassette tapes nice and smooth — until I hit a pothole of any depth, at which point it would proceed to eat the cassette and vomit out coiled ribbons of tape.

I loved that car. Loved the car that replaced it a couple years later, too: A sporty little Chevy Monza that ran like a dream, provided your dream was only a few blocks away. Prone to overheating, was the Monza. It managed to leave me stranded near every other day, yet somehow I adored it anyway. Loved the look of it, and the smell of its faux leather in the hot sun. Loved the bulbous stick shift, the buttery smooth gears and the way the back seat laid down flat so that the car became a kind of roving motel room.

When you’re a kid, a new bicycle is the best thing in the world. When you’re a teen or young adult, there is absolutely nothing better than a new car (new to you, anyway) to get those happy chemicals in your brain squirting like fountains over your pleasure centers. When you’re still a pup, a car is the ultimate liberation machine — a life-changing box of fun to be endlessly modified, tinkered with and accessorized until your wallet is empty but your heart is full. As long as you have a car that starts and a few bucks to pump into the tank, brother, the world is yours. Just sitting behind the wheel and imagining all the places you’ll go is straight euphoria, better than anything that comes in a bottle.

But alas, the feeling wears off. For me, it happened somewhere around my fifth or sixth car. Suddenly I’m 20 years old and driving a Ford Escort wagon with luggage rack. I tell you, if you drove an Escort wagon, it was pretty near impossible getting that euphoric lift, and it didn’t matter how many air fresheners you hung or how many times you played “Highway Star” at full volume.

Sooner or later, the thrill of car owning is replaced by a dull sense of necessity, and instead of pimping out your ride, you’re just struggling to keep up with the money-sucking demands of maintenance and new tires.

It’s sad, really. Childlike enthusiasm vanishes from all corners of your life and it’s hard to keep those feel-good chemicals spurting without resorting to hard liquor or hard drugs. So now that the car is more obligation than thrill, where next to get those dopamine hits?

For me, the answer came around 1998, when I got my first home computer. Oh, dear God, how my dopamine fountains gushed when I realized all that could be done with a PC. A car may be able to take you across the country and back, but a car requires paved roads, money and time. With a computer, the whole universe is at your fingertips and you don’t even have to put on shoes or pants to travel there. A smell of a new car may be sweet and nostalgic, but so is the sound of Windows starting up for the first time and that little network icon lighting up like a Christmas tree when an internet connection is made and the universe opens up in front of you.

I just set up a new computer over the weekend. It’s perhaps my fourth or fifth since that first Compaq in 1998 and, my friends, I’m here to tell you that the thrill is still there. For me, getting and setting up a new computer is the equivalent of a new set of wheels back in the day.

You think replacing a car stereo is awesome? Try ripping the built-in browser out of a new computer and setting up a better one — one you can beef up to no end with extensions, add-ons and performance tweaks.

Back in the age of car love, we would brag about what we had under the hood — things like horsepower, torque and cubic inches. With a computer, it’s all about the RAM, baby. And the processor speed, the operating system and the size of your hard drive, if you get my drift. We’re talking nerd machismo here.

You think modifying your car’s air intake and exhaust to turbocharge your ride was a blast? Try shoving aside your operating system, partitioning your SSD and installing Linux Ubuntu alongside Windows. Now you have TWO operating systems in that sucker, and that’s like putting a second engine in your car and driving with both of them.

In your youth, you might have found immense joy and empowerment by wrenching your own car — the first time you replaced your spark plugs, changed the oil or repaired a burned out clutch on your own, you probably went swaggering about like you were a superstar mechanic from A.J Foyt’s pit crew.

But, my man, you will achieve an equal rush the first time you crack open your computer tower to add more RAM, set up a home network or use third-party software to obliterate spyware and virus threats. Go ahead and swagger, my friend. You’re practically Kevin Mitnick himself.

A new computer, even one as spiffy as my new Dell with its eight gigabytes of solid RAM muscle, won’t wow the ladies or fill your friends with a burning sense of envy. You can’t pull your new PC up next to another PC at a downtown stoplight and rev your engine all menacing-like. Let’s face it: James Dean never would have appeared in a movie about a young rebel with a bitchin’ Lenovo desktop tower.

As a kid too young to drive, I would sit behind the wheel of a car and dream about all the places I would go when I was able. Now I sit behind this new computer and ponder all the things I might create on it. Bestselling novels, perhaps. Dazzling websites or possibly an advanced super computer program capable of bending editors to my will.

Oh, dear God, can I possibly manage the latter? What a joyous world that would be.

I’m going to need more RAM.


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