Saturday, February 11, 2012

Automotive Soul Mates

The Honda was a beast. Every available option: power seats, moon roof, six-disc CD changer, climate control. And it was mine.

It was also years past its prime. I’d driven it into the ground. I couldn’t even care when it broke anymore. It was like the time my mother had an elderly yet incontinent dog and we all politely waited for it to die of old age.
“He’s gone on the floor again, hasn’t he?” she’d sigh.
“Yes, mom,” we’d sigh back.
You couldn’t be upset at a dog like that.

Now, we sighed at the car with the same feeling.
“Is that a new ding in the door?” Sigh.
“Is the engine making a new noise?” Sigh.

“Did a rather small yet suicidal deer just completely destroy the entire front end in the space of two very exciting seconds?”



It had been my first car.

Not “my parents car.”
Not “my boyfriend’s car.”
Not “our shared car because we’re poor newlyweds who only need one car.”

MY car.
“My car, with the seats and mirrors permanently adjusted the way I like them because, yes, sharing is nice, but, dammit, I’m an adult now and I don’t have to share.”
Mine. Mine. MINE.

Therefore, I was up all night worrying that I would be incapable of driving another car.

“What if the rental car is nothing like the Honda? What if it’s an alien car with the buttons all in the wrong places?” I asked Matt, on the way to the rental car place.
“Just tell them you want a mid-size car,” he said. “Believe it or not, most cars are remarkably similar to each other.”
“Okay,” I said, looking out the passenger window of Matt’s car, which is not at all similar to any other car I’ve ever driven, a manual car that I cannot, in fact, drive. “What if they give me something I can’t drive?” I asked.
Matt, parking at the rental place, shrugged his shoulders. “Then you trade it in for another one.”
I appealed to his vanity: “What if they give me something that looks stupid?”
In the callous voice of a man who drives a convertible sports car, he said, “Then you’re going to look stupid.”


The rental car was nothing like the Honda. Having made it home from work - my normally passive commute remade into a harrowing experience fit for the plot of an opera - I sprawled in the living room floor to mope.
“How does it drive?” Matt asked.
“It’s terrible!” I said. “The brakes are all wrong and the steering wheel makes this horrible wind-up toy noise whenever I turn.”
“Wind-up toy noise?”
“It’s like, well, you know: whhhhirirrr.”
“That’s not a real thing.”
“No, really, it is,” I assured him. “And I have to adjust the seat manually, and I can’t just set the AC to 70 and let it ride! I have to keep readjusting the damn thing! While I drive, no less!”
Matt arched an eyebrow at me. “Okay, now you’re just being silly.”
“No, really! The rental car is evil.”
“The rental car is normal. Those features you had before? They’re not standard features. You’re not going to find them again.”
“Okay, forget the AC. I’m serious about the wind-up toy noise!”
But he wasn’t listening to me.


When I called about the suddenly flat tire, the rental agency apologized profusely, promising a replacement rental car within the hour. I began to cheer up a little. “It’s confirmation!” I thought. “I’m not crazy! The rental car really was evil!” A little spark of hope for a better rental car in the next life ignited in my soul, only to flicker and die when an equally nasty rental car took its place an hour later.

That night, nestled on the couch with a chocolate bar and a Jane Austen movie, I grieved. Two out of two rental cars had bested me, a figure which my mind astutely observed equated to one hundred percent of them. I pondered the possibility that the Honda was the only car in the world for me, my automotive soul mate, and that I would never be whole again.

“Dear, I’ve got it!” my husband said, penetrating my grief with his enthusiasm. “You say the rental car doesn’t drive like your old Honda? So why not replace the dead Honda with another Honda? Only, you know, a NEW one? Come look at this.” He led me toward his office, where his monitor showed the 2012 Honda Accord glinting like an unfathomable secret on Honda’s nonEuclidian “Build Your Own Car!” page. Matt clicked the mouse through a 360 degree tour of the cab.
“My god, it’s full of buttons,” I said.
Matt nodded. “You said you wanted all the features your old one had; here you are then!”
I stared at the slowly revolving cab, full of knobs and toggles and voice activated features that would doubtless respond to my every request in the voice of Hal (“I can’t let you do that, Dave.”). “This isn’t a car! It’s an evil robot!” I said.
“No, it’s great! You’d just have to learn what all the buttons did.”
“And while I’m puzzling that out, the steering wheel will come to life and eat my face.”
“Look, we can even order it in that shade of blue you’ve always wanted!”
“What, SkyNet Blue?”
“It’s not that bad!”
“It’s an anime villain!”
Matt, noting my agitation, closed the browser and gave me a hug. “We’ll just see what they have at the used car lot this weekend.”


“Are you sure this is the best route for a test drive?” my husband asked, after the third construction zone in as many blocks.
The salesman, who looked no older than eighteen, smiled, addressing all of his commentary to Matt despite the fact that I was driving. “Oh, sure. This curvy bit here really gives you an idea of how the car performs!” Oblivious to my white-knuckled grip on the wheel, the salesman directed me down winding roads in an unfamiliar part of town.
I had spent the morning test driving car after car, each more horrid than the last. I wondered, was there actually something wrong, not with every single car in the world, but with me?
The salesman continued, “If you turn here, it leads right back to the lot! See?”
I parked the latest in a long string of disappointments in the corner, where the salesman immediately picked out the next candidate. “Why don’t we try this one next?” he said, holding open the driver’s side door of a mysterious black car with windows so dark the cab was scarcely visible within. Infernal devices gleamed on the dashboard.
“I’m not getting in there,” I said. “Too many buttons.”
The salesman’s plastered smile faltered. He looked at Matt for guidance.
“We’re just going to look around on our own for a minute,” Matt said.

When the salesman was gone, Matt walked me deeper into the car lot. “How you doing?” he asked.
“I can’t do it anymore,” I said. “I don’t have another test drive in me. They’re all terrible.”
“Let’s stop for the day, then. We can try again next weekend,” he said.
“No. I’m done. I don’t care enough. Just buy me any old car so we can leave.”
“If you can’t have your perfect car, pick one feature you’d like to have and we’ll go from there.”
“Alright,” I said. I thought about all the great features I liked in my Honda. It really had been a great car. If it had been blue, it would have been perfect in every way. “Can I just get a blue one?”
Matt thought about it for a minute, then pointed over my shoulder at a car I hadn’t noticed yet. “Do you mean like that color of blue right there?”
It was SkyNet Blue.
Matt waved the salesman back over. “I think I’d like to test drive this one,” he said. “Or maybe my wife is up for one more?”
“I believe I am,” I said.


It drove perfectly all the way home.