I bought a new car. I’ll sum up the dealing with car salesmen experience in two words. Space aliens. It’s all there: fake emotions, vacant and slithering eyes, cold and clammy skin, eats baby piglets whole. I didn’t personally witness that last one, but I’m certain it happens. POOR BABY PIGS.
Here’s what I learned. Lesson number one: the space aliens will not haggle with you. Lesson number two: the space aliens are not honest. The trick is to know their weakness, and that’s lesson number three. They think their intelligence is superior. They don’t think the humans can detect bullshit. Perhaps this was true in the past, but the humans are now armed with an incredible superweapon: the Internet.
But lesson number four is the most important of them all. Never, ever deal with the space aliens. There are a few good humans left out there in the wasteland of car lots. Your mission: to find them. So, after two weeks of research, test drives, and phone calls, I found an actual human being. And so I bought a car, a 2012 Hyundai Elantra Touring.
It’s a grown-up car with lots of room and safety features. I’ve always driven tiny subcompact coupes that are nothing more than the base model gearboxes. Cars are like clothes to me, something that is purely functional. I’d rather spend my money on records, stereo stuff, collecting toys, and the occasional classy night at the Red Lobster. No seriously, I’m kidding about that Red Lobster thing. Although nobody is kidding about those delicious cheese biscuits.
The girlfriend heavily influenced my decision. She didn’t want to be shoving a stroller, a car seat and a baby into the backseat of a two-door in a few years. Yeah. I just typed that. I made a decision on a car based on whether a stroller could fit. The other thing I had to give up was the manual stick shift, which is more fun to drive. But the girlfriend can’t drive one, and I guess the future mother of our children should be able to drive my car. I don’t think that’s what the Beatles were singing about, but oh well.
Hey, it’s not all I’m-a-boring-old-person-now-doom-and-gloom. The car has a spoiler on the hatchback, so it’s still got a sporty look. And it’s black, which is the classiest color of all. There are all kinds of neat features I’ve never had before. For instance, CRUISE CONTROL AND POWER WINDOWS. Yeah I know everyone had that ish ten years ago, but I’m loving it. It’s like a Disney World ride. Also: Electronic stability control! Anti-theft system! XM radio! iPod player thingy! Keyless entry and little remote that makes the car do a cute beep! SERIOUSLY IT’S A REALLY CUTE BEEP.
The car has another beep when I don’t put my seatbelt on, and I don’t really like you as much, irritating stupid beep.
Alas, I want to say a few words in tribute to my dearly departed car, a Chevy Cavalier—you awful, horrid piece of shit that caused me sleepless nights in our final weeks together when you were a rattletrap that pretended not to want to start. But I’ll always remember the beginning when the paint reflected the sun and sparkled. Rally yellow.
Before trading it in, I pulled a couple of trash bags of crap out of my car. I swear I’m not a messy person, and in fact, the trash bags were kitchen-sized trash bags, which are not very big. So there. Cars are like time capsules for a period of our lives, except you don’t plan the items you put into the capsule. Here is a small list of the things I found in my car:
– One unwrapped fortune cookie.
– A butter knife. I’d like to be coy and say I have no idea why that butter knife was in my car, but I do know. It was an essential tool to unjam CDs that got stuck in the CD player.
– One dollar in rolled pennies. Just in case I ever ran out of gas and lost my wallet at the same time. I’d have my back up one hundred pennies.
– A Christmas ornament. It’s a snowman whose lower half is a jingle bell. My mother gave it to me one year. It’s kind of sad that it never made it out of the car and onto to the Christmas tree. It’s been a couple of lonely, freezing Christmases for that ornament sitting in my glove box. It probably realized after year three that I was never coming back for it.
– The phone book. As my car sputtered towards its final days, I became terrified that my car would die somewhere and I’d need to call a tow truck and a nearby mechanic, where ever I happened to break down. I still don’t have one of those neat phones that can look up stuff. It doesn’t do those app things or whatever you people call it. And I can not and will not download your humorous sound board app.
– Coldplay CD. WHAT? IT WAS 2003. EVERYONE LIKED THEM, OKAY. Oh screw it, just put me out of my misery. Which is apparently what I was in when I bought that CD.
– 100349594694569 losing scratch-off tickets.
– President Obama trading cards. Another form of gambling. I was going to find the super rare chaser card of Sasha Obama doing something generally adorable. AND SELL IT ON EBAY FOR A MILLION DOLLARS.
– An embarrassing number of Red Bull cans, which no other human being can know the precise number, except the girlfriend. Because she knows a lot of embarrassing things. And that is basically the person you marry, a repository of all your embarrassing things. A person who simply sits in the passenger side, tosses whatever crap is there into the backseat, and says, “you really ought to clean some of these cans out of your car,” and nothing more.
– Chevrolet rubber floor mats. I bought these the day I bought this car. After my mother and I left the dealership, we stopped at an auto store. “Just to look,” she suggested. To get something. Maybe a cool key chain or air freshener to commemorate the purchase, something. We ended up picking out a pair of rubber floor mats that said “Genuine Chevrolet” in red, white, and blue colors. In truth, they belonged more in somebody’s rednecked-out truck than they did in the tiny Cavalier I was commuting to college in, but my mother and I were sort of swept up in the novelty of a brand new yellow car.
– A box of press-on nails. I don’t really remember why. The girlfriend wanted to experiment with press-on nails once while we were driving to a wedding or something. It was pharmacy-store trashy and exciting.
– The pillow I was going to give to a homeless person. It was a nice decorative Nautica pillow that I made the mistake of storing in a cellar. It got a little moth-eaten, but ignoring that, it was still a decent pillow. It didn’t seem right to just toss it, so I threw in the backseat and wanted give it to a homeless person who looked like they could use it. But the right homeless person just never came along. I was holding out for someone who was going to appreciate it. I don’t care if that sounds crass. Homeless people can be bitchy sometimes.
– The Club. Yeah, the CLUB. The original steering wheel lock. In cherry red. OH YEAH. I bought it before moving into Baltimore because I became convinced someone would try to break into my car and steal it. It wouldn’t have been unlikely in the city. But I never actually used it out of pure laziness.
– A blanket. I used to work with a manager at an old job who always talked about how it was important to carry a blanket in the trunk of your car, in case you ever break down in the cold somewhere. Frost bite can occur within 24 minutes. Hey, it made sense, and I’m all about survival in intense situations. And if my car also became surrounded by a pack of wolves, I could fend them off by menacingly swinging the Club. The only problem is, I don’t drive in rural Montana.
– Krispy Kreme wrappers. Phew. Glad the girlfriend didn’t see these. “Are you eating doughnuts in your car? When do you randomly buy all these doughnuts?” are such unnecessary questions.
– Little gumball machine toys of dogs. Sargent Barkowski, Ralph, and I Don’t Remember What We Named This Other One.
– A sheet of 37 cent stamps. That means I’ve had these stamps in my car for eight years. For perspective, that’s the length of time the Beatles were together.
– Every last remnant of a decade-long smoking habit. I quit four years ago, but there were still pack wrappers stashed deep under the seats, loose matches, a lighter or two, and even a single cigarette buried deep within one of the compartments. It was crumpled and discolored, but man, if I knew about That One when I was in the throes of quitting. Glad I didn’t. I also found a whole bunch of discarded Nicorette wrappers. Glad I did.
I loved you, smoking, but now it seems like I never did. An appendage that turned out to be nothing more than a ghost. But I know I loved you, once. I don’t miss you, and I don’t really remember. It was a break-up, like any other. You seemed so worthy and monumental and all-encompassing. Perhaps not worth dying for, but worth a gallant struggle.
Then one day, I had a realization of how easy it was to live without you—a realization that was at first unsettling, and then freeing. In the end, it was nothing at all. Nothing even worth saying, except I found a matchbox, and it reminded me of something unimportant, once.
Cars are like love stories, too. No wonder so many songs have been written for cars. In the beginning, it’s so shiny and pretty and purring. And by the time you say goodbye, you’re standing there in the driveway holding a trash bag full of your stuff. It’s stuff that could tell stories, but they’re stupid stories, and most of them you will solemnly keep to yourself. You just think the next time you’ll be better. Be less messy. Less reckless. Less hard on it. You were 22 then. You’re 30 now, and the new one in the driveway has room for a stroller.