Wheaton’s Way

Feeling insecure? Buy a Jeep.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, I don’t mind telling ya.

As you already know (because I never tire of shouting it from the rooftops), I have lost a good amount of weight since last July. Sixty-five pounds and counting, actually, which is why attending events is a killer. Lockdown wasn’t the issue, it’s the social get-togethers that are my Achilles heel.

I’m fine in the supermarket – you can’t see my cart for healthy greens and low-fat everything – but hand me a glass of anything fermented and suddenly I’m eyeing the cheese plate like a cheetah zeroes in on a vulnerable buffalo.

People have been very complimentary, which is lovely and supportive, although a few have taken an… intense approach. I had one woman grab me by the shoulders and look seriously and deeply into my eyes, as though preparing to impart a devastating diagnosis.

In her ever-tightening grip, I was told in no uncertain terms that I looked “so much better” [lengthy pause for effect] and that I should keep it up.

She released me while still keeping her gaze locked on mine for a few seconds longer, as if to make sure the message had sunk in. It made an impression all right. Based on her delivery, I gathered that pre-weight-loss-Vicki had been lacking in the looks department. In fact, it almost implied that she, barely an acquaintance of mine, had been on the brink of organising an intervention if I hadn’t turned things around when I did.

It reminded me of many years ago when I was actually about the weight I am now, and I was scheduled to open a charity event’s fashion show. The Humane Society had a do in The Ritz-Carlton ballroom with models on the runway and clothes for sale. I, in a snake-print swimsuit, black tights, over-the-knee high-heeled black suede boots and a long velvet coat, strode out in a display of remarkable balance and confidence.

Later that evening, a couple of ladies told me how much they admired my “bravery”, like it was flattery. I bet no one ever said that to Heidi Klum.

No word of a lie, after writing the previous sentence, I went to my closet in my underwear to get those same boots that I still have after all this time, and nearly broke my neck trying to cross the bedroom floor. Maybe the bravery finally kicked in; or the stupidity.

Anyway, despite the odd backhanded compliment, I’ve definitely been feeling good about myself recently, yada-yada-yada, so I bought a Jeep. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Way back when, I owned a 1983 CJ7. I loved it, but it was wildly impractical 80% of the time. With limited roof coverage, anything heavier than a drizzle could really dampen a mood… and an outfit.

My hair looked the same before and after any journey – that’s the advantage of having steel wool on one’s head – but other friends weren’t as keen to take a ride.

I finally sold it, but never forgot the feeling of the wind in my eyes. So, when a 1985 CJ7 came up for sale three weeks ago, I couldn’t resist taking a look.

That was my first mistake.

Not only was it awfully purdy, but it had a lift kit – always a dream of mine. I don’t know if I just liked the idea of being up high, or if it was a practical nod towards owning a car that could ride above bad island flooding, but it really appealed to me.

The tyres were huge with thick tread, perfect for climbing all the muddy mountains around here.

The owner had said I could take it for a test drive, and when I pulled up, someone before me was already giving her a spin around the neighbourhood.

This therefore meant that both of them were there to witness me trying to clamber into it when it was my turn. With no steps installed and that lift kit I mentioned, I almost had to take a running jump at the thing. I hadn’t lifted my leg that high since aerobics class in the ‘80s.

Once settled in the driver’s seat, I was ready to go. It was stick shift, but no problem – I was an old hand. I reversed it out of the driveway, and expertly put it into first gear. As I released the clutch and accelerated, it didn’t budge and stalled. Ugh. With witnesses, no less.

I started it up again, double-checked the position of first, and put more lead in my foot. I couldn’t be sure, but I’d swear the back of the Jeep was trying to climb over the front.

What the hell?

“Did you check the parking brake?” Test Drive #1 yelled over the protestations of the engine.

No. No, I hadn’t.

Off I went, and even as every bump in the road threatened to shatter my spine, I was immediately in love.

When I returned to the starting point, turned off the engine, and slid off the seat until my dangling feet met terra firma, I knew I was going to make a decision based purely on desire. Think of it as a midlife crisis, complete with farmyard tyres.

How blinded was I? I temporarily forgot that my best friend and partner-in-crime, Lynne, is five feet tall.

“I can’t get in that,” she announced, negatively yet truthfully, as I dragged her out of the house to see my new baby.

“Don’t be silly,” I soothed, “there’s a bar on your side to pull yourself up.”

In order to confirm her misgivings, she reached for the bar – which had her immediately on tippy-toe – turned to look at me, and pointed at each of her legs, wordlessly demonstrating that the only way she could ascend that far was to attempt a gymnastic angle of 220 degrees betwixt the left and right leg.

I got her a stool.

I was worried that I’d regret my impulsive purchase soon after signing the papers, but actually, no. I do love driving around in it.

I’m going to have to get steps installed if I want to wear anything other than jeans. Lynne is learning how to be louder when we’re driving about, even though she still sounds like she’s being thrown around inside a washing machine.

I’ll tell you one thing, though, I’ve never felt hotter at any age than I do when I’m in that Jeep.

Why? The seats are black.

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