Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Baby, you can drive my car...

Baby, you can drive my car? Forgive me. I mis-blogged. What I really meant to write is, Baby, you can steal my car. Or total my car. Or even buy my car, maybe for less than the Blue Book value (which is a little over five thousand bucks) -  I repeat, I'll take less than the Blue Book value, even though my 1998 Beetle is still in fairly good shape.

My car problem is that, while I have always enjoyed being a car-driver, being a car-owner has never been high on my list of must-be's.

I realize that my attitude makes me suspect.

After all, I must be anti-consumerist, because - even with all that Internet shopping - I can't possibly get to The Mall and shop if I don't have a car. How can I possibly buy all the stuff I need to pull my weight by contributing to our GNP?

And, of course, I also shirk my consuming duties by not buying cars.

I've only owned three cars in my life - which is probably below the average count of the average 22 year old.

And the sum total of my spending on car purchase in my life is less than $30K.  (Rusted out, used Honda Civic: $2K; new Mercury Tracer: $9K; Volkswagen Beetle: $16K - maybe $17. I used the Civic as a trade-in for the Tracer. Sight unseen, the dealer gave me $100 for it. By the time I drove the Civic in to pick up my new car, something was so seriously wrong with it I couldn't get it out of third, and had to take backroads. The dealer told me that if he'd known how bad it was, he'd have given my $0.)

And I must be anti-American, because - let's face it - isn't one of the great appeals of being an American hitting the road? Jack Kerouac, Route 66, Travels with Charlie, On The Road with Charles Kurault.

OK, Charles has been dead for 10 years; and I'm sure that John Steinbeck's poodle Charlie has been dead for a lot longer than that.  Route 66 may be the only old TV show that's not available 24/7. And Jack Kerouac? Well, Jack's dead and buried just up the road in Lowell, Massachusetts, and I suppose I could go visit him if I were willing to get in my @*#*)#Q&*&#&@!*car and drive up and see him.

But the point is, having a car is a big part of the American myth, or mystique, or way of life - a lot more so than in any other place on the face of the earth. I mean, do other countries have journey sagas that involve hopping in a car?  I mean, Canterbury Tales, for crying out loud. They walked.

And all those songs of my youth that were paeans to cars: Little Deuce Coupe, Little GTO, Fun Fun Fun ('Til Her Daddy Took the T-Bird Away).

We're supposed to love cars - or at least like them - not loathe them.

Perhaps it my urban life style that makes me so averse to car ownership. Having a car (and no place to park it) makes me think twice, and then think again, every time I start my engine. Wherever I go, my first thought when I hop back in the car to get home is, wonder whether, where, and when I'll find a parking place. So personally the conditions of car ownership are unpleasant from the get-go.

Then there was yesterday.

My car is filthy. We have had no snow this year, but I was up in Syracuse where there was snow. So my car is covered with all that highway salt-sand-crud blowback from 18-wheelers. And it makes no sense to go the car wash because we're having snow today and Friday. So I'll wait.

Even so, I had to clean the windows, which I thought I did a pretty good job of when I filled 'er up yesterday. But once I got in the car and hit the glaring rays of a late January afternoon, I realized that the windows were still streaky, the light blinding. Even with the windshield wiper fluid on perpetual, I could barely see where I was going.

I have now cleaned all the windows by hand, using Kleenex for the final touches.

But my car's being filthy is one good reason to hate it.

And why stop there?

Today, the front license-plate-holder was hanging by a thread, so I yanked it off.

It is impossible to get it screwed back on without - I believe - removing the entire engine block. Or something along those lines. In any case, a civilian can't do it, so I'll need to go to the dealer. Appointments take 3 - 6 months, and the only other auto body shops I know are a) out of business or b) really out of the way. But sometimes, if you get there before 6:45 a.m., and look kind of sad and weepy, the guys at the dealer take pity on you and do a quick repair. Their definition of quick is different than my definition of quick. So I'll just have to sit there taking in the muzak and basking in the fluorescent lights for 2-3 hours while they screw the license plate back on.

This repair job - which I've now had done about 4 or 5 times lasts a couple of months, then back I'll go.

Definitely a design flaw, exacerbated, no doubt, by city parking, which involves more bumps and grinds than the afternoon show at the Ba-da-bing, let alone when compared to friendly, suburban driveway parking.

Today's final straw was the pop-off of the little "thing" on top of the gear shift knob - you know, the "thing" with the line diagram that shows where the gears are.

Other than the fact that if felt a little odd, I don't really think I need the "directions".  I don't look at the top of the gear shift when I drive. (I was going to write that "I can shift blindfolded," but that's probably not such a hot idea.) Yet, when that little plastic sucker popped off, I had a moment of panic, forgetting for a moment where reverse was.

Which is not as dumb as it sounds.

There are some cars where putting the car in reverse actually takes a foreward, not a backwards, motion. Once I borrowed my brother's car that had this peculiar property. I couldn't figure out how to get the car in reverse, I couldn't get a hold of my brother, and I finally resorted to asking people walking by for help. Which didn't do me much good since the average American driver doesn't drive a standard shift car to begin with, let alone know how to deal with this one. There was a couple from Ireland strolling by, and the mister hopped in and showed me how to get into reverse gear.

In any case, I found the plastic shift-top and put it back on.

I thought.

It popped off again.

In fumbling around trying to find the black thing, on the black floor mats, under the black seats, I managed to gouge the knuckles on my right hand, proceeding to bleed all over my recently dry cleaned coat. Good thing it's black.

So, baby you can buy my car.

Name your price.

This girl has had just about enough of the joys of car ownership to last me the rest of my life.

Beep, beep-m, beep, beep. Yeah!


John Whiteside said...

I felt much the same way when I lived in Boston. (Parking in the Fenway, whee!) Of course, now I'm in Houston, and between the two of us, my partner and I have five vehicles (my car, his truck, my motorcycle, his "toy," an old Triumph convertible, and his boat).

More seriously, this is one American dream with a downside if you're poor. It costs good money to own a car, and it's the ticket to participation in society - access to jobs, school, etc. - in most of the US.

Contrary to popular belief, Houston has a pretty good public transit system (tons of buses for those who live inside the Loop, and really fantastic and well-used commuter bus service from the burbs). But, like many such systems, the normal in-town short-hop service is used by people who can't drive for some reason (like money)... it will get you where you need to go, but it's just highly unglamorous.

With the city becoming more dense and light rail and bus rapid transit being added, it will be quite interesting to see if even Houston can adapt to a different kind of American dream.

Cahill said...

I drive about 35k miles a year. My garage is where cars go to die. The wrecker pulls up every 12-18 months to haul off the latest victim. I buy old and drive them til they day.

I was asked once "what's your dream car?" by a friend. What a quaint concept. After some thought, I told him my dream vehicle can with a propellor, not wheels.

Cars are tools, and they ought to be treated as such.

Cahill said...

My previous comment - it should have said "I drive them til they die"

Anonymous said...

The gear shift thingie! The first car I ever owned was a 1969 Beetle--purchased in the Penalty Box Lounge from a guy named, uh, I forget his name. One of the best things about the car (besides the fact that it only had a couple thousand miles on it) was the fancy, he-paid-extra-for-it, wooden gear shift knob, with logo, etc. Later that year the car was in an accident and hauled off for a month of rehab. When it came back, the snazzy gear shift knob had been replaced by plain black plastic and there is some scum bucket in suburban Savannah who probably still has my gear shift knob!

LOL, Kathleen

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And I like not only to drive my car, but to own. I like to care my car, for it's like alive.

van man said...

Yes, not only in USA to own a car is a dream. It's a dream in most of countries. But if you don't like to own a car, and wish just drive sometimes, you can rent a car. It's a good way out.

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