I learned to drive a 1972 Pontiac Catalina; my friends called it the Kielbasa Wagon. I drove around in that for years—until the day it died one summer day when I was on vacation during college, at the drive-thru window at the bank, doing the banking for Dr. B. If that car could have talked before its demise, it would certainly want to tell the story of how the horn got stuck when Jill and I were driving around in it and should not have been, maybe because we were cutting study hall our senior year of high school. I didn't have the car with me at college, given that I was in Boston and didn't need a car, so it wasn't hugely devastating when it died. It had been on its last leg for years. The Fonz could have opened the trunk just looking at it; I could do so with a little push. I could pull the keys out of the ignition while it was running.
At the end of my senior year, my parents bought a used Plymouth Horizon, which became my car after I graduated. I had that car through my twenties, and it was loyal to me. It got me back and forth from Boston to Hartford and back to Boston umpteen times—for every holiday, birthday, wedding, and christening—although I was not as kind to it as I should have been, neglecting regular maintenance and ignoring noises as they got louder. Every ping and grunt I drowned out with a turn to the right on my volume dial. If I got to 65 miles per hour on the Pike, God help you if you made me decelerate. And if you beeped at me, well, screw you, I couldn't hear your horn anyway over the sound of Frampton or U2. Maybe Pearl Jam or Live. When it was beyond all hope, too expensive to repair, it wasn’t even worth the standard $50 junk yard trade. The twenty-five dollars I got barely covered lunch for my roommate and me—as a thank you for her following me there.
I lived without a car again, taking the T for a couple of years instead, again memorizing the Peter Pan bus schedule to Springfield that I had known when I was in college. I actually enjoyed those years in Boston without a car and all the associated expenses. Eventually, when I got a job as a textbook editor in Lexington, it was time for a new car.
My Geo Prizm was my baby: the first car I actually owned. My dad went to the dealer with me, of course, but I got the loan and made the payments and was more responsible with it and better about maintenance, although in the end I ran that one into the ground too. It was ten years old and had more than 100 thousand miles on it when I traded it in (well, when the dealer took it off my hands) and I bought my 2005 Toyota Camry.
And here I am again, with an aging car, wondering how long I’ll be able to drive this car if I take good care of it, curious about how much that will cost. I didn’t name this car, as I did the Black Pearl (my Prizm) but I do love it. I needed a water pump and timing belt this past spring, and a new battery a couple of weeks ago. Today I have an appointment for an alignment (my bracelets clink as I try to steady the steering wheel) and probably two new tires. Tomorrow I have an appointment for an oil change.
I’d rather two new outfits, and shoes, and matching bags, of course, but I love my car, and I’d love to have some time with it and without car payments. (As Amy hoped in vain she and her husband could, before his Volvo died the other day.) So I’m going to do the right thing and keep my car appointments this weekend--and I'm not even going to ask my dad to come with me. My nails will wait until next week; my highlights will wait until my next paycheck.
How’s that for prioritizing?