I have a bit of a problem when it comes to cars. Okay, not every car. I have had lemons that I was more than happy to trade in. That underpowered Suzuki Samurai, for instance. You know you made a mistake when tractor-trailers are passing you going up a steep incline. And that Suzuki Vitara (I know; shame on me. I didn’t learn the first time.) It wasn’t even a Grand Vitara, which is one of the biggest oxymorons ever produced. Yeah, that Vitara, whose check engine light refused to ever go out, and no one could figure out what was wrong with it.
There are cars, though, that I get attached to in a less than healthy way.
When my cousins gave me my Aunt Kay’s 1972 Volvo not long after she died, it arrived from Denver on the back of a car carrier. It was severely oxidized, and the driver’s door was several shades of blue lighter than Old Blue, because it had sat in her garage for years next to a window where the sun bleached it out. The driver of the carrier told me, “Be careful. That car don’t have no brakes.” I idled it into my driveway, stepped on the brake and nothing happened. I had to yank the emergency brake to keep it from hitting the garage door. It looked old and depleted. Its driver, the person I loved more than anyone else in the world, had died at 89, and the car seemed to reflect my sadness about that. Just as I wanted to bring Aunt Kay back, I wanted to restore Old Blue. I had spent all my teenage summers with that car, washing and waxing it, riding with Kay and her dog up to her cabin in the mountains. So in no time I had it worked over and repaired, stripped down and repainted so it looked as good as the day Kay got it when she was 65. It was a solid work horse of a car, but when it became mine in 1996, it had only 20, 000 miles on it. It only had an AM radio, and the air conditioner didn’t work, and it had an enormous steering wheel on it, because it didn’t have power steering, and you needed a big wheel to fight with just to make a left turn. I had to get rid of it when I moved back to Florida 16 years ago, but I sold it to a very earthy older couple who recognized my emotional attachment to it, and they swore to continue to baby it. I believed them, and maybe that car is still on the road today. It wouldn’t surprise me. Cried when that one was driven away, too. Gimme a break; I was only 44.
I did a really stupid thing when I finally ended it with my ex. I had money from the sale of our house that was burning a hole in my pocket, and in 1992 I went out and bought a 30 year-old Cadillac Sedan deVille. I had grown up fascinated with fins. Every day we drove my father to work past the Cadillac dealer in downtown Tampa, my face was pressed against the window in utter amazement at the enormous cars that looked more like rocket ships than automobiles. the seville lasted for a year, and it was a blast to ride in. It was like my first car in that it, too, was freedom that could be bought with money. It was my celebration car. More like a boat on a still lake than a rocket or car, the Cadi could easily fit in six of my co-workers to drive to lunch. It got seven miles per gallon. It was more of a novelty car than a car I had an emotional attachment to; kinda like my ex. One day a light on the dash that read “GEN” came on, and it was confirmed that the generator was kaput. This was before the internet lit up and buying parts became as easy as owning a keyboard and a credit card. Needless to say, NO ONE on planet Earth wanted a 31 year old bomb that could only run as far as the battery would take it. I placed ads in the local paper, the Washington Post, and Autotrader. I even paid to have a photo ad flash on the screen at the local multiplex, while the deVille sat, deflated, in my garage. I was at the point where I was going to investigate having the fins made into a piece of furniture and scrapping the rest of it. But finally, a collector bought it for $400, “because he wanted to do me a favor.” I’m sure he managed to do himself a favor after he restored it. He also called and bitched at me because the car blew out a tire while he was towing it back to Timberville. Too bad. Buyer beware. It probably didn’t want to go with him. No tears, but god, what a joy to drive. My freedom hadn’t disappeared. It was just time to move on.
Which brings us to the car I abandoned today. Ten years ago I bought the second brand-new car I’ve ever owned. I even had a color choice, and I chose the red one, because it was the same red as my first car, the Volkswagen. It was (oh, god, I’m using past tense already!) a Honda Fit with a 5 speed manual transmission and so much fun to drive. It had great pickup, and the front wheel drive made it so maneuverable. I’m a little sentimental about the Fit, because it was last car I bought before Bill got cancers (yeah, that’s plural). It’s the car I had when we got married. It’s the car we took mini vacations in, and it has never, ever, in ten years given me a mechanical problem. We had to get rid of it because due to Other Bill’s declining peripheral vision, we had to buy him a car with blind spot detecting mirrors and a backup camera. It’s like driving a supercomputer. (And I thought my first car was technologically superior because it had an 8-track AND a cassette player in it, and had two door speakers and Chris Sestile’s old stereo speakers in the well behind the back seat. No one else and pseudo-Quadrophonic in their cars.)
The Fit was a tough sell as well, almost as tough as the Cadillac. Seems no one on planet Earth wants a car they have to manually shift. Plus when you sell a car outright today, you have to sort out the scammers who will “send a company to pick up your car, because I’m in a wheelchair/the army/jail, and I can pay by Paypal if you just click this link…”
Then there was one guy who communicated by text only. Wanted to come by after work last week at 11 pm, because he could get a ride then. I figured he was either psychotic or young. He later agreed to coming this morning, but he’d have to Uber. Not my problem, so the date was set. I had been victim of so many fraud attempts, and I was still skeptical, so my buddy-cops made sure I was followed during the test drive just in case anything funny happened. This will most likely be the last car I sell outright. I’ll just have to suck up the low trade-in values henceforth. I knew the kid was going to buy it the minute he sat in the driver’s seat. He was a skinny boy with tattoos, and he smoked. He didn’t smoke during the test drive, but still. He drove too fast, wound the gears out too far, and he rode the clutch. I felt bad subjecting my little four-wheeled friend to second-hand smoke and rough handling for the rest of its life. I don’t know why I feel that way. It’s not like it’s human.
But sometimes a car is more than just a car.
I didn’t cry when the kid drove off, cigarette dangling from his mouth. But the day’s not over yet.
Gimme a break, I’m only 61.