Thursday, January 06, 2011

But What Price Freedom?

There are people in the world who take a lot of pride in their automobiles. Their cars are always shiny and smell new, the upholstery is plush, and they never let you eat Cheetos when you ride with them.

Then there are regular people, who have regular cars. Maybe a dent and a scratch here and there. Maybe a little dusty. Maybe there are a few unidentified loose interior trim pieces rolling around under the driver's seat, and maybe there are a few random other things, too, which may be sticky.

And then there's me. If I had set out from the infancy of my driverhood to possess only cars with what we may charitably term Character, cars that require, nay demand, a humorous cartoon soundtrack to accompany their questionable progress down the street, then I would have made a smashing success. But there was never a conscious effort on my part. It just happened. Oh, sure, I covered my last VW in silk daisies, taped a magic wand to the antenna, affixed frog and rainbow and peace sign stickers to the windows, superglued three plastic martini glasses to the dashboard, and hung a purple disco ball from the ceiling, but that wasn't an attempt to make the car silly. It was only an acknowledgment of the silliness that already existed, and put more of a positive spin on the billowing clouds of white smoke that obscured the immediate vicinity every time I started it up.

I still have the poor thing. I haven't driven it in probably two years. The clutch was getting a little iffy, and my environmental conscience was suffering pangs over the smoke issue, and then someone smashed the driver's side window to steal the radio (as if it worked!!), and I kind of lost heart and stopped driving it. It won't start now, of course, because it sat for so long the battery is dead. I assume the clutch didn't just need a nice long rest to get better, the tires are flat, and the amount of smoke it would probably give off if I did manage to get it started might permanently alter the delicate balance of the Earth's atmospheric gases. Perhaps I can trick a local charity into accepting it as a donation.

So now I drive this large, bouncy thing my friend Diane sold me, on ridiculously easy terms. I like it fine. Parallel parking is of course completely out of the question, and filling up the gas tank will give you apoplexy, but fortunately I don't drive so much that I have to put gas in more than once a month.

It has not yet sprouted any flowers.

But it SCREECHES. I nicknamed it "the Behemoth" shortly after acquiring it, but it's becoming "the Banshee," because it just gets louder, and louder, and louder. One time it stopped screeching, and it turned out that was a very bad thing, because it meant that the alternator/water pump belt had broken. Fortunately, I was only a couple of miles from a Pep Boys, where I was able to get a new belt, which made the car screech again. Embarrassingly. People turn and stare.

I started it up in the parking lot at work today, and a guy I know slightly from another department signaled for me to roll my window down. "That sounds like a serpentine belt," he said. "It's bad. It shouldn't do that. It could break."

"Yes, I know," I said. "The old one did break. This is the new one."

"Well, it needs to be tightened, then," he said, "and I know somebody who works here who can help you - he's a mechanic. I'll call him tomorrow, and ask him to take a look at it for you. No, no, don't worry about it. He's cool."

There's this coworker of mine that I'm dating, and that's probably just about enough said about that. Not long after we began going out, he came into my office rather perturbed. "I'm not sure how to handle this," he said, "but there's a guy I know who keeps asking me about you, since we work together. He keeps asking me if you're seeing someone. The thing that really bugs me is, he could be competition! He's a mechanic..."

Our relationship being clandestine as far as work goes, he never told this guy that yes, I was seeing someone, and in fact the person I was seeing was him.

So now my car is getting looked at tomorrow by a guy who doesn't know that I know that he was asking about me, unless I can think of a polite excuse for begging off - but then my car really is exceptionally screechy.

Speaking of which, Katie has recently turned eighteen, and clearly intends to allow no one any rest by night or by day until somebody coughs up a car for her. Maybe I should just give her mine, and flee the country. By bicycle.



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