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May 2, 2003 - 10:30 p.m.
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I got a new car a couple of months ago. It's the first time in my life that I've gotten a new car. And I severely dislike it.
Was I duped by a salesman? No. The reason is much more screwy.
I got my first car when I was fifteen years old. Yes, I got my first car before I was old enough to drive. It had been my sister's car, but she was getting a new car for herself, so my parents bought her old car from her to give to me. It was a small 1980 yellow Mustang. I hated the color. But I loved the car. And soon I had a driver's license to go along with it.
In high school, I had been that ugly geeky kid whom the girls avoided. However, I was to make in important discovery. For high school girls, good-looks was only the second-most important trait for which they looked in potential boyfriends. The trait that high school girls find most attractive about high school boys is possession of a vehicle. It is therefore no coincidence that not long after my first car came my first girlfriend.
That car meant many things to me. That car helped me bypass my friends who would, in that masculine way, beat the hell out of me on the school bus daily. I had my first sex in that car. I lost my innocence in that car (not the same as the sex). I gained friends like I never had before.
That great popularity waned as I got older. The sad fact is that as more and more of my peers obtained their own cars, the less they needed me.
The end came when I was twenty. A friend- we'll call him Jake- needed me to drive him to his college for summer classes. He did not have a car at the time; that's why he was still my friend. It was a 200-mile trip each way.
We had gone about 190 miles down the interstate when smoke started coming up from the hood of my car. I pulled over along the shoulder of the highway, and opened the hood so Jake could take a look. I had never experienced the normal boyhood fascination with cars, so to this day a car engine looks like abstract art to me.
I looked over Jake's shoulder while he examined my engine. I saw something that I thought I should point out. "Hey look, there's a fire underneath the engine."
That's when Jake first noticed the engine fire. Jake yelled, "It's gonna blow!" and both of us ran and jumped in the ditch. Jake has what you would call a low freak-out threshhold.
We huddled in the ditch for several minutes, and there were no explosions. So we picked ourselves up and hitched a ride to the nearest service station. The station towed my car in, and they soon diagnosed that the car had blown two pistons.
I asked the mechanic guy, "Will that take long to fix?"
He laughed, Jake laughed, and my friends often repeat what they see as one of my all-time stupiest quotes.
Jake got a taxi the rest of the way to school, and I called my father to come and get me. As soon as my father arrived at the service station, he told me that he had already picked out my new car.
You see, to my father, a man without a vehicle isn't a man. My father currently owns three vehicles. My mother, by the way, has never had a driver's license in her life. My father drives all three of his vehicles exclusively. (And that's not even counting his company vehicle.)
So my parents got my second car for me, which was a used beige '89 Cougar. It was in good shape for a used car- they bought it from their next door neighbor, who is a mechanic and sells used cars for extra money. It's nice to be able to trust your used-car salesman. It was a big sedan-type car.
That car only lasted me a couple of years. I had still had it when I went to law school. At the time, I was living with at a friend's house, which was about a mile away from a subway stop. The subway ran right past my school. So I thought it was a good idea to take the subway to school. It was environmentally responsible, and the half-hour walk to the subway stop would be good exercise.
That nonsense got tired after a semester, and I started driving to school. My law school was located in the middle of that suburban sprawl that features major highways cutting right through residential areas. I was driving home one day, west along this road, about 35 MPH which was the speed limit. I was in the residential area, with cars parked alongside the road in front of people's houses.
One of these cars, that had been parked on west-bound lane shoulder, pulled out to do a u-turn on the road and head east. The car attempted this maneuver right as I was passing. It happened so suddenly that I didn't have time to brake. The car was perpendicular to me when I slammed into the driver's side at a full 35 MPH.
Cougar sedans have huge front ends. The front end of my car was gone. I am convinced that in a smaller car, I would have been crushed. But I wasn't injured, and neither was the driver of the other car.
I remember that awful shriek of rending metal. I remember it frequently.
Our respective insurance companies sprung into action. The guy from my insurance company talked to me that night, and then called her insurance company to argue forcefully that the accident was all my fault. Her insurance company fought back, making a fierce argument that the accident was all her fault.
Her insurance company made a complex and clever argument. First, it pointed out that I had admitted that the accident was her fault. Second, it revealed that she had admitted that the accident was her fault. Third, it harped on the fact that the police officer responding to the accident gave a citation to her. And fourth, it warned that every witness to the accident said that the accident was her fault.
Faced with such a challenge, my insurance company gave up, allowing her insurance company to pay for the damage, and conceding that my insurance rates could not be raised.
I went for a month without a car. Even though insurance would be paying for a rental, I just didn't want to drive. I was too frightened. I didn't want another car. I swore that I would never drive again. Ralph Nader gets by without driving, so could I.
Practicality eventually overtook my newly developed phobia of driving. I needed my own transportation. Since I was still in school, my parents yet again bought a car for me. This was was a used red '91 Cougar sedan. Even though I started driving again, to this day I am on edge every second I spend behind the wheel.
I drove that car 150,000 miles over nine years. I've been poor, so I needed it to last. Most of my lawyer-stint was spent at Legal Aid, which does not pay enough money to support an L.A. Law kind of lifestyle. Then I decided to quit the lawyering thing and earn another degree. To save pennies, I started living with my parents again.
It had been my intent to stick with that old car until I had my degree and a full-time job again. And that car was falling apart. Paint was peeling away. The interior was disentegrating. But, that car would get me where I needed to go. And it had a V-6 engine. I know little about cars, but I know that V-6 means power.
Anyone who has ever challenged the ability of a man to commit to a relationship has never considered a man's relationship with his car.
For about the past year, my father has been constantly asking me when I was planning to get a new car. My answer was always that I would get one after I finished school. But just about every day he'd ask me again, and I'd give him the same answer. He's obsessive like that. But I wasn't about to give in to his suggestion that I could do better with another car.
A few months ago, he told me that he was concerned that my car wasn't safe anymore, and that he was going to help me buy a car. He'd put the down payment on it for me. I appreciated the idea, but I turned him down. The money I had been making at Omega House wasn't stable, and I wasn't confident that I could keep up with payments.
About a week later, my father had a new idea. He understood my concern about keeping up with the payments. On the other hand, he didn't think that the car I had was safe enough. So he told me that he'd make the down payment on a new car, and that if I fell behind on payments, he'd keep them up.
It was another generous offer, but one I again turned down. I told him that I could get one more year out of my car, and that it would just make more sense for me to wait until I could pay for a new car myself.
A week later, my father had another idea. He said he was still concerned that my car wasn't safe. He said that he'd make the down payment on a new car, and that he would make payments until I got out of school. I could just take over the payments when I got a full-time job. Generous again, but I had to turn him down again. I felt like I would be taking too much advantage of my parents.
Then my mother came to me. She told me the real reason that my father wanted me to get a new car. He was embarassed that his neighbors saw my hunk of junk in his driveway.
I should tell you at this point that my parents are not rich. They live in a rural area, and work for an excavation company. However, their financial situation is helped by the fact that they each work 60 hours a week, getting valuable overtime pay. Also, it took them thirty years, but they have completely paid off the mortgage on their home.
For some reason, they like to give as much money as possible to their two children, who are fully grown and capable of fending for themselves (theoretically).
Learning the real reason that my father wanted me to have a new car, I caved in. But I felt guilty about all the money that he would be spending on me. So my criterion for selecting a car was that I would select the cheapest one available. I didn't tell him that; I insisted that I was in love with that blue '03 Ford ZX2. That it was one of the cheapest cars on the lot was just a happy coincidence.
So we went to purchase it. Even though I had never been involved with a car purchase in my life, I was very shrewd about all the extras that the salesman tried to push. I played hardball with the warranty salesman to get a better warranty than the one he pushed, for half the price. I fought for every penny I could save my father.
My father had been planning to help me buy a car for a long time, so he had a lot of money saved for it. I had chosen a cheap car and knocked the price down. So my father bought the car outright, without financing.
And then he told me he was giving me the car. I had anticipated that result.
Mom knew that I was feeling guilt about my father's spending on me. To make me feel better, she assured me that she'd find a way to spend an equal amount of money on my sister this year. I hope my sister isn't upset about how I whittled down the price of my car.
My new car has a small, wimpy engine compared to my old car. I do a lot of interstate driving, but the engine whines in pain when I start pushing past 40 MPH. It drives me nuts. I spend a lot of time in my new car, and most of it is unhappy.
And so this is the reason I got a car I don't like: Because my father is too generous with me, and I feel too guilty to accept his generosity.