By Sean Wilkinson
After a couple of years of hoofing it everywhere or relying on others for rides, I’ve finally given in and bought myself a car. I was sick of feeling like a grade-schooler, asking for a lift to the store, to the beach, to work, to my house. I was all too familiar with the feeling.
You know the one… You’re sitting in the passenger seat, watching the scenery roll slowly by. You pull up to the front door, hoping you won’t see anyone you know — not yet, anyway — but there they are, all your friends, standing outside Happy Wheels, turning to see the car they all hear approaching. You’re suddenly all too conscious of your shamefully chauffeured position. Your parents’ car backfires and shudders as you open the door to hear snickers and guffaws. As if it weren’t bad enough that you’re going to spend every Couples Skate hunched over the lonely Mike Tyson’s Punch Out machine in the corner of the carpeted section.
I mean, really – we are not urban enough here in Portland to pretend we don’t need a car for certain tasks, or even just for our mental health.
Even a simple grocery trip is hard without a vehicle. That is, unless you don’t mind walking through the experimental death zone that is Maine Med Alley (formerly western Congress Street) to Save-A-Lot, where you can stock up on pale, frozen meat and processed cheese and steal a cart to push home to your apartment. Or, I suppose, you could always go to Congress Street’s own Paul’s Food Center. Nothing like the stench of mouse feces to go with your cans of wax beans and “I Survived the Ice Storm of 98” sweatshirt. No, sir, I was ready for a new vehicle.
And I didn’t go the usual route of letting a cheap, sickly car fall in my lap like an unloved pet, either. No, I went to a dealership. A real, honest-to-goodness, populated-by-asshole-salesmen dealership. And I bought a car that was made in the past three years. Everything works. It has four hubcaps. It’s truly astounding.
I’m used to a very different kind of car. I’m used to the kind of car you make daily allowances for. The driver’s side door has never unlocked from the outside, so you get used to unlocking the passenger side door and leaning through. A plastic bleacher cushion provides some dry-ass comfort when the sunroof has been leaking all night. It only shakes between 55 and 75 miles an hour, so if you keep it at 80 on the freeway, it’s fine. Try not to get distracted watching the pavement below through the hole in the floorboard. When the engine starts smelling eggy, that means the battery is about to explode. These are all real examples from cars in my past.
Now that I have something new and shiny, it’s like I’ve had my first child. What was that bump noise? Oh, god, it’s probably the engine block slowly cracking in half. What’s that smell? Does that smell like a clutch disintegrating to you? Or maybe my wiper-fluid tank is on fire. If my radio goes out of tune for a minute, should I be worried about a system-wide electrical malfunction? If I stall it on a hill, I’m probably going to destroy the transmission and see it fall out from under the hood and tumble under the wheels of the truck behind me. At least, that’s how it feels sometimes.
I just saw my sister the other night, still in the hospital, holding her hours-old baby quite casually. I relayed my car fears to her via the pretext of baby safety.
“Don’t you worry that you’ll drop him? That he might stop breathing? That his nose is plugged? That his hair will fall out unevenly? That he might need to breathe underwater forever and filter oxygen through a rudimentary set of gills located under his arms!? That he’ll touch a cop’s boot and freak out on PCP like the D.A.R.E. story!?”
Her answer, calm and collected, was, “No. You get all of that out of the way with the first baby. When I had my first, I called the nurse in every five minutes, convinced that he’d stopped breathing. I didn’t sleep. I obsessed about every drip and every wheeze. But he was fine. You get over it.”
“You get over it?”
Oh, thank god. Guess I just need to trade this car in for a newer one.