Monday, February 18, 2008

For the Love of Driving

Our ’96 Bonneville is on its last legs. Having replaced its “sister,” our ’91 Caprice, with a used ’05 Explorer nearly two years ago, I am reluctant to be buying another car so soon, but “Bonne’s” condition can no longer be ignored. In mileage standards, this car only crossed into the 180K range, not nearly enough for as much as we drive. (Our Caprice almost reached 220K before we gave up the ghost and donated it to charity.) We drive a lot. Putting 20K on a car annually is an easy task for us. I drive all over God's little acre to wherever my agency sends me, and The Oracle can chew up a heavy chunk of mileage on days when he can't take the train to work.

For two years, Bonne has been faithfully running while needing a new catalytic converter. We haven’t replaced it because doing so would be horribly expensive. It has something to do with rarity of the part due to a design change early in production. At this stage, it would cost more than the car is worth. In addition to the converter, “Bonne” needs a transmission since she’s developed sluggish behavior in her lower gears. There’s also the pesky bad sensor for the anti-lock brakes (if the light goes on, the anti-locks don't work and you have to "pump" 'em the old-fashioned way). The power locks fizzled out many months ago (more than a fuse), the armrest has disintegrated, and the doors have taken on an annoying squeal that cannot be cured with a shot of lubricant. I just have to resign myself to needing another car.

Y’see, in our marriage, we sort of “took turns” picking cars (kinda like our Christmas trees). There are certain non-negotiable requirements regarding head and leg room when your spouse is 6’6”, but there’s still a lot out there to choose from. When the time came to replace our mileage-addled Caprice, it was George's turn, and he picked the Explorer. Now it's my turn.

Here is my problem: I am afraid of choosing another car. You may think that's stupid, but every car I have ever truly enjoyed driving has met an untimely demise. I like driving the Explorer. Despite her flaws, I like driving Bonne.

But, oh, I loved my '94 Dodge Intrepid. I loved that car. It was gold, with a leather interior and all the bells & whistles, it had the bigger engine, and it had a moon roof. That car cornered like a cat and never made me wonder about it's ability to accelerate and merge in a hurry if I needed it to. But, alas, immediately following Precious Daughter's baptism, some butthead totaled my Intrepid by making a left turn across our path. The car took the impact on the passengers-side front, and all the crumpling intrusion is right where my feet would have been. If I hadn't been in the back seat fussing with Precious Daughter on the way to her post-baptism luncheon, my lower legs would have been crushed. Seated as we were, the only injury was a heavy bruise to the Oracle's forearm from the air bag.

The only car I loved more than the Intrepid was our '88 Firebird.

The Firebird, or FireChicken as we often called it, was a gorgeous metallic medium blue with a gray interior and T-tops. The Oracle bought the car off my mother after my eldest sister passed away. Really, he didn't fit all too well in there, but he knew the car was important to me so he bought it for the price of the loan balance. He looked like a big praying mantis folding/unfolding his 6'6" frame to get in and out of there.

That car was pure pleasure for me. I loved taking the roof off and driving it on lovely spring days and summer nights. If I didn't burn so easily I probably would have driven it that way all through summer. I'm also a baby about 90-degree heat. At night, though, it didn't matter if it was 90 degrees outside. At that time I worked 3-11 shift, and when I got off work at night I'd take off the roof and take the long way home. It was a 35-minute drive, and I lollygagged and stretched it out even longer. Sometimes coworkers and I would go out on "Thirsty Thursdays" and I'd happily designate myself to drive others home.

Shortly after we married, the FireChicken was stolen from outside our first apartment on a bitterly-cold January night, and I was elated when it was recovered a couple months later (thanks to a slow-leaking tire) on a street not three miles away. It seems some creep didn't want to walk to wherever, so he stole our car instead and ditched it on a side street near a train station. The lady that lived there finally called the police because this car with a flat tire finally got on her nerves. What amazes me more is that the hundreds of people who walk to that train station never noticed the ripped-out steering column or the hole where the radio used to be.

A few months later we moved into our house. On the first truly warm day of spring, I had the roof off as I was driving to work. I was listening to Yes on the radio and driving past my mom's neighborhood when WHAP, the next thing I know my car is swerving up an embankment and whacking a telephone pole. Nobody knows why. The guess is something broke in the front end. Anyway, having the roof off clearly kept it from shattering on me. My only injury was where I tensed my arms and where the rear-view mirror popped off the windshield and whacked me in the shoulder. My mechanic came and towed my car, and my poor baby was a total loss. It was with her insurance settlement that we bought the Caprice.

When the Intrepid got wrecked, I had an opportunity to buy another Firebird, same body type if not the same year. I was within a hair's breadth of buying it too. I sat in those familiar seats a long, long time, basking in nostalgia and considering my purchase in such comfortable, familiar surroundings. I eventually realized that buying a 12-year-old sports car to tote around our three-month-old wasn't such a bright idea.

Whatever we buy this time around, I've come to the conclusion that if I love driving it, I have a pretty good reason to believe that it's going to get totaled. Also, "three's the charm" here. I got lucky during the crashes of the FireChicken and the Intrepid, but I just might get maimed or killed if there's a third time.

The Oracle is drooling all over some F-250-thing he wants, and I just might let him have one if he can find one "pre owned" and still under warranty.

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