September 28, 2009

Maybe It's Me: The Car Cursed, or, Why I Owe My Dad Sixteen Years of Manual Labor

I’m cursed.

Maybe it’s me, but I believe that everybody – in their own right – is. That everybody has that one thing that just tears them down time and time again. I’m not talking about an addiction; I’m not talking about a fault in our personalities; I’m talking about something that is beyond our control, that no matter what it’s unavoidable and haunts us through our life’s story.

I am cursed with bad car luck.

I write this sitting in the auto center down the road from my house, where my uncle is my mechanic. He’s always been my auto mechanic. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing, because I have a trusted auto mechanic who’s always done me right, tells me straight what’s wrong with my car, and does really excellent work for reasonable prices. It’s a curse, because after my uncle checks my car he yells at me in parental fashion for my lack of auto knowledge and general maintenance, then calls my father to tell him how much I suck at taking care of my vehicle, and then finally my dad calls to continue the verbal abuse.

As I wait for him to come out and yell at me for this most recent bout of car neglect, I reminisce (as I always do when I’m sitting here) about all the other cars I’ve had in my life.

My first car was the best car I owned. She was a 1984 Volvo station wagon. Her name was Ovlov. I bought her off my dad for $1,000 when I was a senior in high school. She was a long car, beautiful pale blue in color, with vinyl seats that burned your thighs in the summer and froze stiff in the winter.

I loved Ovlov.

Two days before high school graduation I got into a massive car accident and totaled Ovlov. I didn’t see a stop sign that was covered by some tree branches and rolled through it while a one ton pick-up truck was speeding – going forty over the speed limit – through the other side of the intersection, intentionally ignoring the stop sign (we would later find out that the truck had two women in it, the driver was trying to bring her drunk friend back to their apartment so she could get back to the bar to continue having a good time). The truck t-boned me and Ovlov, crushing her to death; bad enough that I had to be slid through the shattered front window to get out of the car.

Later I was told by my mom that when the medics showed up they asked her (assuming she was just an on-looker) where the body was. My mom responded that the body, her daughter, was fine and was with an officer. The medic apologized and then went on to extol the tank-like qualities old school Volvo wagons had. “She was lucky,” he told my mom. “They don’t make cars like that anymore.”

I had her for exactly one year.

What I didn’t know then was that this was the beginning of my lifelong Car Curse.

I was bedridden for two months as my body healed, and when I could finally walk again I immediately wanted new wheels. But, I was broke and couldn’t afford much. We went to see an exceptionally questionable car dealer, and he talked me into purchasing a dark blue 1984 Chevy Citation.

I don’t know if you know much about cars – I obviously don’t – but I know that Chevy Citations are these really ugly cars that were created, not-so-jokingly, so that it could lose a wheel and still be able to operate on just the other three. They are squat, ugly things; and, I swear to you, there are maybe only twenty-three of them left in all of America.
One of which, I was the not-so-proud-owner of.

What the dealer neglected to tell me when I bought it for $600 (after talking him down $150) was that it didn’t have a radio. Or a heater. And that the ceiling of the vehicle had been thumb-tacked back into place. And that the drivers’ side door didn’t open from the outside, so you had to crawl through the passenger side. And that if it dipped below thirty degrees, the car wouldn’t start. Oh, and if it was more than seventy-five degrees, the car wouldn’t start.

It was basically four wheels, an engine, and some steel.

I dubbed him The Captain.

When I got the car Uncle The Mechanic, told me “This is a horrible car. You have ONE year with this. I shouldn’t even allow this on the road – I should be calling the authorities on you for this. But I feel bad, so for this one time only, I’m gonna look the other way. But, in ONE year, you better NOT BRING THIS CAR BACK TO ME.”

I hated The Captain.

Exactly a year later, while I was working out at the gym some lady overheard me talking about how I was on the verge of being transportation-less. She then offered to give me her car.

“How much?” I asked skeptically.

“Free,” she retorted.

And, so, she gave me her car – a pale blue 1986 Toyota Camry – for free.
Come to find out she had received the car from a friend when she was down on her luck. So she knew there would come a time when she would have to “pay it forward” and give the car to someone else who needed the boost. And so, I named the Camry “G.Sam” for Good Samaritan.

I loved G. Sam.

Nearly a year later, I noticed that the temperature gauge started acting funny. Uncle The Mechanic told me that they could fix the problem – it would cost thousands of dollars – or, I could ride it out, since the car didn’t have much life left in her anyway. Not having thousands of dollars, I decided to keep driving G. Sam, hoping to push it for a couple more months.

One night, driving home from work I started to smell oil. Smoke started pouring out of the engine before a loud BANG! CRACK! SIZZLE! DEATH! was heard. I pulled over, popped the hood, and backed away as the smoke began to billow out of her. Peering in after most of it had cleared, it appeared that there was a giant crack down the engine, and fluid was leaking out everywhere.

I sat on the curb and laughed.

A police cruiser pulled up. “You okay, ma’am?” He asked.

Through my fits of laughter I said, “I’m fine. My pride isn’t, though.”

The officer shrugged. “Nothing I can do for your pride, ma’am.” And took off, leaving me and the corpse of G. Sam on the side of the road.

Having absolutely no money, my grandparents took pity on me and let me borrow their enormous green mini-van. His name was “The Green Monster.” He guzzled gas – if you looked at him wrong, you’d suddenly be half a tank down. He didn’t like going more than fifty MPH, smelled like old people, and wasn’t ideal for a young twenty something.

I hated The Green Monster.

Nearly a year later, after saving some money up (and gratefully passing The Green Monster on to a different family member), my dad took me car shopping. I didn’t have a ton of money, but he offered to pitch in some cash if we found something I really liked. I could pay back him later in manual labor. Uncle The Mechanic had heard a rumor that a guy was selling a really nice VW Jetta (the car my estrogen side had always wanted) for only a couple thousand, because he had too many cars and just needed to get rid of it.

We found the guy and my dad bought the car.

For himself.

“I needed a new car,” he said passively. “Hey, how’s this: I’ll sell you mine for $500. And manual labor.”

And so, I bought my dad’s 1992 white Ford Taurus. I named her “Tex.” She was big and American and drove like she owned the road even though she didn’t, so “Tex” seemed fitting.

The moment I bought her from my dad, she suddenly stopped working. Never felt like starting. “Never happened to me when I owned her, you must not be driving her right,” my dad accusingly stated.

“HOW AM I NOT DRIVING HER RIGHT? SHE’S AN AUTOMATIC – TURN THE KEY, MOVE HER INTO DRIVE, AND GO!!! I’M CAR CURSED I TELL YOU!!!” I yelled, kicking the car’s tire, breaking three of my toes. The car glared at me, twinkling in the sun as if taunting me into attempting another assault.

I hated Tex.

Desperately needing a car, I invested a couple hundred dollars into keeping her on the road (my dad contributing some money, with me having to pay him back in even more manual labor).

Exactly a year later, Uncle The Mechanic told me that Tex would take thousands of dollars to fix – among other things – the radiator was leaking fairly steadily. Not having thousands of dollars to fix her, I decided to drive her to the car graveyard the following day and then figure out my next auto move after that.

The next day, while handing her over to the owner of the “cars to be destroyed for metal scraps” lot, the radiator gave way and hot, green liquid profusely poured out of her underbelly. The owner of the car lot looked at her, looked at me, and started laughing. “I’ll give you $75 for it,” he said. I took the money without haggling for a better price and never looked back.

My dad took me car shopping again, this time to legit car dealers where I had to ask them for an auto loan. “It’s time you stop buying crappy cars, and invest in something,” my dad told me as we headed to the first of the car dealers.

They said no to me. No auto loan. I didn’t make enough. And I had no previous credit to go on. Thus, they had no interest in helping me.

Seven car dealers later, I sat across from someone who happened to know me from church. They called their bank friends, other people who knew me from church, and decided that – even though I was a ghost in the credit world – they were going to take a chance on me and give me an auto loan. But, because this was a huge risk for them, I would only be allowed to choose from between two cars.

A tan 1996 Ford Taurus.

Or a white 1996 Ford Taurus.

I slammed my head on the desk.

Later that day, $7,000 in debt, I rolled away in the white Taurus (named “B.B. The Texataurus” – BB because she was, again, “Big and Beautiful” and “Texataurus,” because, well, she, essentially was my last Taurus “Tex,” just older), and had myself a good cry.

Exactly a year later I went to visit Uncle The Mechanic, and for the first time in my life (after paying $1,000 to have her fixed – several hundred dollars coming from my father with the promise of more manual labor from me) received an inspection sticker. Which meant I would have BB The Texataurus for more than one year.

Maybe.

Two months later from that inspection sticker date – or, today, as it were - I’m back in the office because my car squeaks when I turn the wheel. And the brake light has decided to stay on. And I’m four thousand miles over my oil change. And my left rear tire is deflated.

My uncle just beckoned me into the shop.

“Your brake fluid is leaking. Your transmission fluid is leaking. Your antifreeze is leaking. You had a nail in your tire and your tire rod is going to go soon,” he says, arms crossed, staring accusingly at me. It’s at times like this he looks exactly like his brother – my father.

“You can’t yell at me for ANY of those. I didn’t do ANY OF THOSE THINGS on purpose!” I start panicking, knowing that I will somehow get blamed for these things.

“No, you’re right,” he says calmly before leaning close to me, peering over the rim of his glasses. “BUT BEING FOUR THOUSAND MILES OVER YOUR OIL CHANGE IS SOMETHING I CAN YELL AT YOU ABOUT! AND IF YOU DO IT AGAIN, I’M CALLING YOUR FATHER!”

I cower away to pay my bill.

The owner of the shop, a friend of the family, is there to cash me out. “How’d it go this time? Weren’t you just here?” He asks, typing my information – which the entire staff knows by heart – into the computer.

I sigh. “It went better than expected.”

“Good to hear. Now, did you want us to bill your father or did you want to pay for it yourself?” He asks.

“I owe my dad like sixteen years worth of manual labor, so I’ll just bite the bullet and pay for it myself,” I remark handing over my debit card, my account of which has maybe, if I’m lucky, $100 left in it.

“It’ll be $96 today,” the owner says running my card.

“Figures,” I take the card from him and head for the door where BB The Texataurus is waiting on the opposite side of for me, probably twinkling in the sun, taunting me in her deranged Taurus way.

In unison the staff all says goodbye to me and that they’ll see me again in a couple months.

Could be worse, I suppose. It could be the entire staff of the dentists office who knows me personally. Instead, it’s the auto mechanics, which have watched me for seven years now break the vehicles I own.

Such is the life of The Car Cursed.