That Old Car Smell

A while ago my parents decided that they were going to get a new car and give us the old one to replace my 15 year old Honda Civic. We’ve been biding our time the past two years, patiently waiting for this generous gift.

I bought my car in 1995 when I was 18 years old and just out of high school. I paid for it myself and it quickly became the one thing in the world that was, truly, mine. It was my escape from everything and everyone. It was freedom. I took good care of it at first, washing and vacuuming it every weekend, keeping it oiled and gassed up, maintaining it mechanically as often as necessary. As years passed, I neglected it here and there until one weekend I drove out to my parents cabin about an hour out of Seattle and my car died in front of the driveway. There it sat for a few weeks until my father pronounced it beyond his mechanical abilities and it was towed to a garage for expensive repairs. Apparently it was out of oil, which did some pretty good damage to the inner workings of the engine or, as I know it, that stuff in there.

It’s been all downhill from there. Bit by bit, that car is falling to pieces.

It’s a magnet for stray shopping carts, hit and runs in parking lots and stereo thieves. Admittedly, two of the three incidents in which my stereos were stolen are partially my fault. I left the face plate in the car at night without remembering that sometimes it’s hard to pass by a vehicle that’s not yours without tearing out the stereo and taking that four cents. I should have known better, but the third thief proved to me that it doesn’t matter much because he stole the stereo while the face plate was sitting safely in my home. Then there was that one who must have been interrupted while trying to steal the entire car, because he ripped the plastic off the top of my steering column and left it in the front seat. Either that or he just stole my airbag and when someone finally puts my car out of its misery on the streets there will be nothing to protect me. I’m thinking of getting one of these. I now have a tan scarf hiding the damage which garners curious glances anytime someone new hitches a ride.

Many years ago, when I was living in West Seattle, my neighbor across the hall came home in the wee hours, very, very, very drunk. So drunk, in fact, that he mistook my apartment door for his own. I woke up to someone rattling my door handle and throwing their body into it to get it to open. I ran over and pressed my eye to the peep hole to see who it was that was going to murder me. I recognized him and meekly squealed: “You don’t live here!” He stopped for a moment, looked all around like he’d heard the voice of God and then stumbled down the hallway, only to come back and try again. I could feel the door moving as he ran into it a few more times and I started to get really scared and really angry so I yelled as best I could, “YOU DON’T LIVE HERE!” He looked around again and stumbled to the elevator and, apparently, went down to get in his truck, back into my car and drive away, because the next morning my car’s hood was dented and scraped and the hood ornament was laying on the ground. I’ll never forgive him. I had to buy an ugly black bra to cover it up.

When I had owned my car for only a few months, someone backed into the rear panel and made a massive dent. I was able to pound it out pretty easily with a rubber mallet, but it left a small scrape to remind me that people are assholes. A few years ago, while Janie and I were eating cheese enchiladas at our favorite Mexican restaurant, someone again backed into my car and left a dent near the trunk without leaving a note. Would it have been so hard to, at least, write SORRY in the dirt on my window? I guess the answer to that is yes.

My little Honda Civic suffers other maladies that are not the fault of anything but time and, maybe, some aggressively loud music. It burns through oil like crazy, so we have to remain rather vigilant in refilling it. When the A/C is on, it doesn’t have any pep, so if we’re trying to make it across a few lanes of traffic before that semi hits, we’d better think about turning it off. The speedometer is malfunctioning and it’s not uncommon for it to read as 80mph when cruising at 30mph. No one has stolen the stereo in a few years, but it does occasionally lose power or decide not to give back a CD when I press the eject button once or twice or ten times. The speakers in the front stopped working many years ago and, in the last year, the right rear has gone by the wayside leaving us with one speaker thumping away with Janie’s rap music.

Last weekend my parents finally bought that new car and earlier this week we took possession of the old one, a bigger, cleaner and more functional Nissan Maxima. We decided that Janie would drive the old Honda and I’d take the Maxima. Once again, we are a two-car family. Just in time for that $4.00+/gallon gasoline. Super!

The most exciting thing about the new car is that we now have a certain freedom to move about the state. The Honda is so old that it can’t be trusted to make a trip longer than the 30 minutes to Ikea and, even then, it’s not a guarantee that it’ll make it home once it is filled with cheap home furnishings that Janie will say we didn’t need. It is old, yes, and it spent the better part of its years as the workhorse for a young 20-something who moved 10 times in 13 years. It’s managed a road trip to Disneyland, several drives to Vancouver B.C., some jaunts to Oregon, a stressful and terrifying summer vacation in Montana and Wyoming and countless miles spent meandering around Seattle and mall parking lots trying to find just one vacant spot. It has hauled furniture, boxes, garbage, cats and dogs, shopping bags, drunk friends, dirty soccer equipment, and, just this past weekend, heavy bags of mulch and several 10-foot rolls of fresh new grass. What I am saying is that it has been a very good car to me and it has safely transported me over 140,000 miles in the years since I bought it. I still remember the warm June evening at the Honda dealership with my dad and an eager but not too pushy salesman named Gary, when I wrote a check for over $13,000 and bought the first car of my very own to ever hold a naked lady while driving back home from a long day of whale watching.

One Comment

  1. May 24, 2008

    The first car I bought was a Honda CRX, also from a guy named Gary, this one, very pushy. The first one was totalled by a guy driving a muscle car — not a Trans Am, is there something called a Firebird? — who didn’t stop for a red light that I was stopped for. I was fine. The car folded. So I bought my second CRX from a woman named Diana who was getting ready to have a baby. I drove it for about 13 years and 107,000 miles and was sad to let it go. Enjoy your wheels.

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