Friday, April 13, 2012

14 Years of Hard Road

Two days ago, my tire blew.

This has happened to me before. In fact, it happened about two years ago, and it turned out that my tires were old and worn and needed to be replaced, but I didn’t know that because I almost never drove, because I was under-employed.

So I called up the fix-it place, and they said they would order me two more tires, and I could drop by the next day.

Then, yesterday morning I woke up, and turned on my car, and my parking brake light was on.

My parking brake was not stuck. I tried it and it worked. And when I let the car drift a little, it stopped with no problems. So I drove to work.

I Googled the problem, and was informed that it was either old brake pads (possible) or I was low on brake fluid. I checked the level, and it seemed right, but hey, what do I know about cars? Nothing. And I was already headed to the shop.

So I drove.

My old tires were replaced with new ones, and the guy at the shop told me my other “old” tire was still just fine, so he put it in my trunk.

That was nice of him, but I sort of wished at that point he had only sold me one tire.

And then? Then he showed me a paragraph of stuff that was wrong with my car.

The scary thing was, it didn’t really scratch the surface.

The body has been rusting for a while now. Before too long, the integrity of the actual car will be in question. Some rubbery grease-filled things were broken, and the grease was gone. Which isn’t good. I did, in fact, need new brake pads, but also all the parts and pieces that go with them.

My clutch is getting bad.

These are the things they pointed out to me.

Here’s what they didn’t.

The air blowers don’t work on level 1 and 2, only on level 3 and 4. Sometimes when you start the car, it will stop unless you press on the accelerator right away. The side view mirror shell was broken off almost a decade ago, then put back on with super glue. Only the glue gave way, and the bottom half of the shell went flying off on the highway a couple of years ago.

I have subsequently been afraid to take it through a car wash, for fear my mirror will be torn off.

Years ago, I caught the front bumper of the car on a rock, and tore it off my car. In Pennsylvania. I got it back to Wisconsin thanks to duct tape. I got it fixed. Then, a week later, it got caught AGAIN.

The nice man who fixed it screwed it back on, said things would be fine. Nope. The bumper cover sags, and the paint has been peeling off, inch by horrible inch. For years, I thought about fixing it, but practicality outweighed vanity. By a country mile.

And when the car is idling, sometimes it lets out an insanely loud squeal.

In all honestly, I planned to get rid of the car more than two years ago. The plan was to pay off my wife’s car, then get a new van, so we would be ready to expand our family from three members to four.

But I lost my job. And when that happens, you don’t buy anything. I took our tax money that year and paid off my wife’s car. After that, we just kind of held on.

My car broke down twice over those two years. We spend something like $1500 to keep it running. Money that otherwise would have gone into getting that new van, if I had been working.

The fact of the matter is, the car is ready to go. It’s a 1998 Nissan 200SX. It has 14 years and 153,000 miles on it. It’s pretty ugly, both inside and outside. And the underside has a looot of rust on it.

And yet.

My wife and I got married in August of 1999. On our anniversary, we will have been married for 13 years.

I got the car the summer before we got married.

For a lot of years, it was “the good car.” There was my wife’s old beat-up Toyota that was falling apart, had been dinged up just a whole lot, had hit a deer and survived, and only had a tape player.

Then there was my car. It was the last of the 1998 Nissans on the lot, as the 1999 models were coming out. It was a manual transmission. It was a two-door. I suspect they just wanted it off the lot.

My brother had owned two cars up to that point. One was a beater my uncle sold to him for a dollar. The second was a used Geo my parents bought for him when the beater snapped an axle after my brother hit a curb with it.

I had never owned a car, up to that point.

Part of the reason I wanted one so badly was our family work schedule. I had to drop my dad off at work at 7 AM. He worked across the street from me. Then I would drive home, nap for 30 minutes, and go back to work, where I had just been an hour ago.

My dad got off work at three, and had to get a ride with a co-worker to get home.

These were not indignities, really, but they were inconvenient. It was my first job out of college, and winter was coming, and soon the drive would take longer due to ice and snow, and it wasn’t like I could sit in the parking lot reading a book waiting for my shift to start.

I needed a car.

So I went to check out Saturns, because I hate haggling. And today Saturn is gone. And the Saturn in my price range kind of sucked.

I bought my Nissan off a car lot from the father of a childhood friend. I had never met the dad before, because my friend was raised and adopted by his stepdad. He wouldn’t shake hands with me because he had a bad cold sore.

Despite the cheapness of the car, I asked for another $1000 off the price as a first-time buyer, and as a recent college graduate. Only because my mom had told me that you could get those discounts. I have no idea why. Maybe they thought if you graduated from college there was a better chance they wouldn’t have to repo your car.

They knocked $750 off the cost.

It took me nearly a week to put 100 miles on it. I took a picture. I took another one when I hit 1000.

The first CD I ever played in that car was Edward Scissorhands.

I went to visit my grandparents, just to show them my new car. My grandma loved it, and actually came along for a ride with me. She noticed how quiet the car was.

She was right. It was a quiet car.

Until it developed the horrible squeal, anyway.

There are other memories tied up in the car, of course.

The first time I used it to drive to Indiana to see Kara, and fill out our marriage license. A nine hour trip, taken alone.

Our first trip to Pennsylvania, to spend time there with Kara’s grandparents and to go to the first of many family reunions.

Several trips out of town, from the two years when I spent two weeks a month on the road doing installs and educations for my work. It was before GPSs were everywhere, and once I drove through the town I was trying to arrive in. I called using a pay phone, and discovered I was an hour outside of the city I was supposed to have stopped in.

Then there was the CD player, which would play CDs with no problem. Until, that is, one day, when it decided you could only eject CDs when you stopped the car. Long road trips got painful as you listened to the same disc over, and over, and over again, because we were trying to get somewhere and didn’t want to have to pull off the road.

For a long time, the car leaked oil, and a dozen parts had to be replaced before Nissan figured out the actual problem.

My dad accidentally hit my car’s back bumper with his car. He offered to fix it, but it was two small dings. Years later, another woman actually hit me on an on-ramp to the highway, and a section of my bumper tore off and lodged in her tired. Getting it fixed was a pain in my behind.

I remember when we first started talking about getting rid of it. We were bringing a baby home. A two door car and a baby don’t really go together.

And yet, we’ve made it work for almost five years, as the baby has become a toddler, and then a small person.

As I sit here writing, I want to feel nostalgia for this car, the place where so many different things happened. But it isn’t a person. It’s a thing. My kid has grown up in it, sure, but it is not a magical play-place. It’s a box with wheels that took us where we needed to go.

Sometime in this next week, I will get a new (though probably just to me) vehicle, and it will feel weird not to crouch and buckle my kid into it. And I will finally have more than a tiny trunk to use to store groceries when I shop.

But mostly, I’ll be glad that the old box with wheels is gone, along with its broken heating and cooling system, and peeling paint, and rust.

But only mostly.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, the cost of keeping a car going is the same as making a payment on a new car. I would frequent Pick 'n Pulls to buy the parts I needed. I learned DIY. I did what I had to do. Now I've had my car 17 years. Unless it's a classic it's time to get something new.