Thursday, November 09, 2006

The one thing that unites all human that we ALL believe that we are above average drivers. - Dave Barry

The first car that was mine to drive was my older brother’s grey Hyundai hatchback. It was a stick, but that wasn’t enough to keep me from driving away to Maryland in it a mere two days after C told me I could use it for the summer. Of course, less than 48 hours after that, I was back, dumped for a namby-pamby girl named Beth (I HATE the name Beth), and heartbroken.

I made that car mine by slapping a bright red window decal from my college on the rear window, but when C moved home from Chicago, he wanted his car back, so then there I was, the summer after my senior year of college, transportationless. This became much more of an issue when I landed a great job, which happened to be a forty-five minute commute from my apartment. I whined and whinged and groused, and my mom lent, er, gave – let’s face it, she NEVER expected to be paid back – me some cash to buy a car. Instead, what I bought resembled nothing so much as the Great Pumpkin.

I was in love. I had bought for a thousand bucks a bright orange, full-size, Ford F150 pick-up truck, three-on-the-tree, open bed. God almighty, how I loved that truck. I happily drove it back and forth to work, it amused all the union stagehands and carpenters to see little 110-pound me driving a half-ton truck. I drove the beast back home for Christmas break, without a working heater, driving bundled up in mittens and scarves, a blanket over my lap. It got worse when the radiator sprung a leak on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I had to run the fan full-blast to keep the truck from overheating. I followed a gas station attendant’s advice, dumped a tablespoon of ground pepper into the radiator, and managed to limp it back to Pittsburgh to replace it.

I could tackle anything on or in that truck – it had a straight-six engine and was incredibly forthright. Over the course of a year or so, I partially rebuilt the carburetor (my handy mechanic friend R taught me how), and replaced the timing belt, spark plugs, radio, exhaust system, and all four tires. What I couldn’t fix was the cracked frame.

One of my weird talents of which not many people are aware is that I can weld. I learned in college, and to this day, I swear I retain the muscle memory of lining up a bead, doing the quick sharp head nod to knock the helmet visor down over my eyes, touching the stick down to the metal, listening for the proper sizzle and watching for the pooling that indicates the proper angle and speed, and then knocking the slag away from the weld. There was a time I could have done it in my sleep. Jennifer Beals had nothing on me, baby. But what I could not even hope to do was weld my truck frame – that magnitude of welding was well beyond my skills. And paying an expert to do it, especially with no guarantee of success, was well beyond my financial means.

It was with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes that I sold my beloved Ford truck for scrap metal. And then I immediately purchased a smaller Nissan pick-up truck – still a manual, but only a four-cylinder. And not orange. My Nissan was tan, with a sporty little brown stripe on its sides. Other than the fact that it felt like it had no shock absorbers at all, it was wonderful and I loved it. It was cute. It was reliable – something that could not be said about the Ford. And it got terrific gas mileage. But eventually, as all good things do, this truck came to its end also. It began to give me trouble starting when it was damp outside – which in this city is round about 80 percent of the year. The carburetor needed to be rebuilt. And the body was rusting away, slowly at first and then increasingly faster and in larger patches. By this time H was on the scene, and he helped me trade it in. The car dealer gave us a thousand dollars, sight unseen, and of course, the morning I was meant to be picking up my new car, it was pouring rain. I finally, finally, got the truck’s engine to turn over, and left it running while I got ready and ate lunch and then I drove it to the dealer’s lot, turned it off, jumped in my new car, and drove away laughing maniacally.

The new car was a sedan. Sedate, sedan. See what getting married will do to you? I balked at a non-truck, but ultimately came to adore my cute little white Honda Civic, with its sharp little nose and pretty blue interior –and heat! and a radio with tape deck! – as much as I’d loved any car. It rarely needed anything – well, except some body work, which is typical of Japanese cars.

Seven years later, after a routine oil change/tire rotation/brake job, the front driver’s side tire fell off and rolled away down the street WHILE I WAS DRIVING. Fortunately I was going 25 on Smallman St in the Strip District, and not 75 on the Parkway (which I had been the night before), and no one was hurt. I was shaking and an anxious, gibbering mess, but physically I was fine, Primo was fine, the fetus-that-would-be-Seg was fine. I thought my mechanic friend R was going to commit hari-kari, however. He had neglected to tighten the lugnuts on the tire while replacing my brakes the previous weekend – in all the years of all his mechanic work, he had never ever committed such an error. He is one of the most methodical, detail-oriented, anal-retentive people I know, if not the most. I blame it on his pesky and troublesome girlfriend (who unfortunately is now his wife.)

But the accident had bent the frame, and what with two babies, and possibly more to come, it was time for a new vehicle. Perhaps I still feel guilty over the extravagance to follow as I am compelled to point out that in all these years, H was driving the same Geo Prizm he’d been driving when we met. But we bought a BRAND NEW CAR.

The salesman asked me what I was looking for in a car. I thought for a minute and said, “I want it to be a manual. I want air conditioning. I’d like a radio with a CD player. Power steering would be nice. That’s about it.” He looked at me. He cleared his throat, paused, and said slowly, “WHAT in the HELL have you been driving?”

We started out looking for a used Subaru or Honda CRV, but I fell in love with a souped-up Toyota Matrix the salesman had me test-drive for comparison with the CRV. And a new Matrix was thousands cheaper than a used Subaru. And it got fabulous gas mileage. It was cute, it was sporty, it was a glossy silver, it had room for two car seats AND a folded-up stroller. It had AC, a CD player, the rear defrost and heat worked, it boasted power steering and anti-lock brakes and even an airbag or two. I’ve had the Matrix for a little over three years now. I thought I’d keep it pristine since it was new and all, but I am just as slobby with this car as I was with all the others. I am manic about having oil changes and routine maintenance on time, however. I still get 25 mpg city, 40 highway. It sports a dent where an errant baseball bounced off the top of the car but otherwise the body is still in terrific shape. And H scraped off my Kerry window decal when he lost the election.
The only mistake I made was not springing for the power locks; you might think they’re unnecessary but they sure are nice when you are holding the baby with one arm, the toddler’s hand in the other, the diaper bag in your teeth, and the traffic is whizzing by.

I’ll bet this? Comes with power locks.


blackbird said...

- oh it DOES, but they cost extra.

Bec said...

Power locks? Hell yes. Especially once the number of children outnumbers the number of adults to attend to them near roads.

Still, BB, that gives you something to shock the sales guy with next time...

Joe said...

Dudes, my convertible doesn't have power locks. It doesn't even HAVE locks.


hungry in LA said...

I LOVED that orange truck. Especially when it rumbled up at the then ungodly hour of 730 or so to pick me up to go to the Wildwood flea market. Ah the good old days, when we wouldn't speak until we stopped for coffee. And I believe I was somehow involved in the demise of the rearview mirror... Why didn't we pool our welding talents and turn it into a John Chamberlain style sculptural monolith? Surely we could have sold it to a nice North Side couple as art. It was truly a beautiful machine. So sad.

My Ford sucks by comparison.

Rogue Librarian said...

I test drove one of those sporty little BMWs last year and loved it. The one I looked at had power locks, and if my next post is in Vienna (instead of NY were I will probably have no car) that is my first purchase. And that as much as any other reason is why I often don’t mind being single.

Gina said...

My Aunt C has one of those cute little BMWs, but hers is an automatic. What's the point in that?!?!?

My first car out of college was a brown Ford LTD that would just . . . die at stop signs. There was a period of time when my sister lived with me, and when we'd drive together we'd hold hands and sing church songs to try to keep the thing running.

Amy said...

I drive a sedan. I say that with all the melancoly I can muster. I hate it. I chose it, but I hate it. Now that it seems there are just two of us in this family for the long haul, at the exact moment that LM turns 12 and can safely ride in the front I'm getting a TWO SEATER. Unless I have a really big dog again. And by two seater, I may just mean a truck.

Caro said...

Where do you fit the car seats in the car you pictured?

Or do you drive it by yourself on the way to some fabulous vacation alone?


Sarah Louise said...

I love that story. I will always love that story. (about the car salesman asking you what you were driving.)

MsCellania said...

I've had cars that were so horrible, valet parking lot attendants fought over who had to park them!

So you no longer take your cars to R?

Amen to the power locks and remote entry.

The car I currently want is the VW Phaeton. It's like a limo w/o the stigma. I am TIRED of getting the back of my seat kicked! But the gas mileage on these big sedans? HORRIBLE. Might as well drive a Caddy or Lincoln SUV - NO Thanks!

Joke said...


Car and Driver magazine just referred to the Cadillac SUV as "a $54,000 automotive mullet."


Anonymous said...

Heh. Until 2 years ago, I drove a tiny car that lacked power steering, among many other things. When I got my new car I had several near-misses in parking lots until I got used to my easy-spin steering wheel. No more grunting while parallel parking! Imagine that. :)