Nervous About My Breakdown

Cars, cars, cars. The symbol of American strength, ingenuity, slickness and cavalier spending. In the fifties, teens defined themselves by the type of car they owned, or the model which they lost their virginity in the back of. Hot rods, ‘Vettes, Chevys, Mustangs, souped up, top down, suede interior, take your best girl to the drive-in and let clutch out, grab the stick shift and let the roar of the engine take you both to hubcap heaven.


Fast forward to 2011. Most of the boats are gone, leaving us pared down, economically sound, German or Japanese matchboxes. Or, gas-guzzling mini-vans made for carting twelve-year-old sports players to and fro, with enough interior space to host an all-night toga party if you were cool enough to plan one after the kids were asleep for the evening, which you’re not anymore. Sure there’s room enough to get laid if you weren’t so friggin’ tired and if your mean machine didn’t have the sex-appeal of a Wal-Mart shopping cart.


Since my teens, I have had—by necessity—extremely low standards when it came to automobiles. From 16 to about 25, as I worked my way through college at a local deli, I drove all manner of motorized junk. The kind of cars for which the term “lemon” does not quite do justice. I had one car that when you rolled down the passenger side window it would fall into the car and you needed to pull over and use two hands to fix it. A friend of mine followed me in that car while I drove a rented U-Haul across a bridge in a torrential downpour. He wasn’t aware of the trick window, so the sideways rain drenched him utterly and completely. Another car I owned was so old you couldn’t get the correct model of windshield wiper for it, so new wipers would invariably unattach and drag across the windshield for awhile before blowing off completely, leaving me squinting and hoping the blur in front of me was a green light.


All I expected for my cars was that they start when I turned the key, go forward when I hit the gas and last forever and ever. Not too much, right? They didn’t need to look nice, or have an ounce of pickup when going up a small incline or even smell good. Just have four tires and go. Somehow even these low requirements eluded me. One car, a blue Ford Escort that I inherited from my parents when even THEY wouldn’t dare drive it anymore, required two quarts of oil to make the trip to the SUNY school at which I was getting my graduate degree, then two more to make the trip back. I bought oil like it was milk that semester, frequently and in large quantities. The Escort finally met its maker when the engine quite literally exploded southbound on the NY State Thruway. I can’t say I was tremendously surprised, but like most owners of multiple lousy cars I always expected the best.


My favorite junk car was this tiny Gremlin (I think) that a Mexican friend of mine found for $500 and fixed up for me. I worked with the guy’s brother at the deli and got to know their whole family real well—they sort of adopted me as far as cars go because they knew I was a no-nothing gringo who went through cars like a fat man goes through donuts. Quickly and without a modicum of delicacy. This little brown ditty was just about the ugliest thing on four wheels and it not only didn’t have a radio but didn’t even have a hole where a radio might be installed. But it did have a rear window wiper which to me was the height of exotic accoutrement. My friends cut a hole in the dashboard and somehow got a radio to work, and I was off to the proverbial races. The car lasted two months, but I never saw so well out my rear-view mirror.


We currently have two cars, although both the words “have” and “cars” I am using with reserve. One is a throwback, a 1995 beast of a Taurus with six cylinders and 11 mpg that we inherited from Mary El’s dearly-departed Daddy. He was a house painter so he chose something with a lot of room and dependability to spare. It has rips and scratches on the interior roof where he put his ladders in and out. It its time it was exactly what he wanted it to be—a reflection of his hard-working, dependable, responsible, high-quality self.


We ran it into the ground.


Actually that is the flip version. The fact that is lasted until three days ago is testament to the way Mary El’s father cared for the car and used it sparingly. We tried to follow suit, but soon there were problems cropping up despite our efforts. For a good while it wouldn’t start in the rain. It developed a problem with the steering column that resulted in an eight-week stay at the mechanics. He lost the keys, replaced the entire steering column with a new set and left us unable to access our own trunk. More his fault than the car’s, I must say. Finally the transmission began to slip while I was driving the kids home from bowling and now it sits abandoned on the side of Route 145 until we figure out how to get the money to move it.


Now we are left with our Toyota Corolla, the closest thing to a dream car I ever had. Obviously, my dreams suffer from inflation and lack of available credit. It’s a 2001 with almost 200,000 miles on it. It is living on spit and a smile at this point. We’ve endured all manner of trouble with this one—for while it shook violently when it got over 60mph. Its “check engine” light has been on for the better part of a year. We just recently spent $300 we didn’t have to attempt to make it legal once more. It worked, but at a steep cost. Our Tom-Tom was snatched from the dash in the gas station parking lot. We asked them if their policy was to lock the cars before they left for the night. We were told yes, but only for the nicer models. Our car wasn’t even good enough for our mechanic to lock it to avoid robbery. It think that about says it all.


So, like Obi-Wan, the Corolla is our only hope. Right now we are driving about two hours a day, between Mary El doing a show, me rehearsing a show and the kids’ Little League games. Let us pray…


    • theresa petti butler galimi
    • May 19th, 2012

    LOL, love it. Thanks for your humor.

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