Thursday, March 8, 2012

Car Talk: Part 1

I had the most ridiculous weekend. It was one of those weekends where you just have to laugh, because if you don't, you'll cry.

It all started with my car. Those who know me know that my cars have always been...elderly. If my car were a person, it would be old enough to vote, and it's coming up on drinking age. And what I'm going to say next is going to make me sound like a total snot, but it's true. Cars have never been either a major possession or a major purchase for me. For that, I have my father to thank.

Some people collect butterflies. Some collect baseball cards. My father collects cars. Not classic cars. Not expensive cars. Cheap, ugly, serviceable cars. And for years, we had a swap plan in place. Dad would acquire a new car. My mom got first dibs. If she didn't want it, my sister or I could have it. In return, we would give our car to Dad, and he would sell it and keep the money. If Mom did want the "new" car, her old car would be available for me or Clare.

In the sixteen years I've been driving, I have paid money for exactly one car. It was $400. I bought it from my aunt. Again, I know it makes me sound like a spoiled brat, but I've never had a car that was fewer than ten years old. And as image-conscious as I can be about certain things, that has never bothered me. (With one exception. I refuse to valet park a 1992 Camry. If I'm going somewhere with valet parking, someone else has to drive or I'll Metro it.)

Things have changed a bit. Dad no longer works for a car dealership. His access has dried up a bit. This is not to say that they're lacking for cars at my parents' house. My mom has her mini SUV, my dad has his truck. The extra car du jour is a 1993 Corolla station wagon. Dad has a Beetle (old kind, not new) that is his fun car when it's working. (Not currently.) My grandfather's ancient truck is somewhere in the mix. And Dad just bought a Ford pickup truck, as a backup when his truck, which he uses for work, finally bites the big one. But the days of the great Dad trade-in program are over.

That hit home to me just over four years ago, when my mom totaled her car on an icy November morning. I was with her, headed to the grocery store to buy supplies for Thanksgiving. A car coming around a hairpin turn had to stop suddenly, hit a patch of ice, and hit us three or four times before it was over. It was frightening, but not nearly as sobering as what happened next.

She had to go to a dealer to buy her next car.

Suddenly, a car looked like a much more daunting purchase.

Luckily, my car is a tank. I kid you not, I have lost count of the number of accidents I've been in with this car. (Not my fault. Mostly. For awhile, I seemed to have a "please rear-end me" sign on my back bumper. You'd never be able to tell by looking at it.) I hit 300,000 miles a couple of months ago and according to Dad it will probably go for another couple of years.

But, with a car this old things go wrong, and for the last several months I've had a terrible problem with the windows fogging up. If there was any moisture in the air at all it would look like a couple of teenagers were making out in the back seat. This is a problem when you're driving to work in the morning. Or anywhere else. I needed a new heater coil, so Dad told me to bring it home and he'd put a new one in. Piece of cake.

Then this weekend happened, and I ended up back home in DC without a car because he didn't have one to give me. If you don't know why that's hilarious, take another look at the list of cars my parents have.

The rest of the story tomorrow.

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