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about a car

April 13, 2010
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I write to you from the very nerve center of America’s much-chronicled obsession with cars.  In this city with me tonight, lovingly garaged from Studio City to San Marino, is a collection of Maybachs, Bentleys, Porsches, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Jaguars and Maseratis that probably keeps Henry Ford continually revolving in his grave.  Even Angelenos who can’t afford the upper tier of automotive luxury put colossal amounts of time and thought into their cars:  selection, purchase, upkeep.  But selection more than anything.  Here, I’m told, you are what you drive.

Well.  Meet my car – which, as a friend observed with only slight exaggeration, was assembled sometime during the Reagan administration.

DSC_0123, originally uploaded by csouers.

(Ignore the snow.  Clearly there is no snow here.  And actually mine is white, not red, but you get the idea.)

I take a certain amount of perverse pride in being an Angelena who drives a clanking, crashing, completely uncool pile of of junk from 1991.  It’s especially entertaining when you’re going somewhere that has a valet.  I’m opposed to valet parking on principle, and avoid it whenever I can, but the occasions when you can’t are usually dressy ones.  So there I am, a passably urbane woman in a cocktail dress, emerging from a car that looks like Jethro Bodine should be behind the wheel.  The valets have gotten less quiet about the disparity with every year I’ve owned it.

It is, on the other hand, incredibly utilitarian.  You can squish a small army of friends in there, and even the people with claustrophobic tendencies will be comfortable.  It turns on a dime.   I’ve never cared if people eat in it, or pile furniture in it, or tie things to the roof, or stuff it full of sandy beach towels.  It’s almost impossible to hurt; my last fender-bender knocked out my tail light and demolished the other guy’s front bumper.  Even if you did manage to ding it with your door in a parking lot, I’d never notice.  Isn’t there something great about that, a car that’s just a car?  That hauls people and things from Point A to Point B, and doesn’t need to be polished with diapers?

Not that there aren’t drawbacks.  I was pulled over a few months ago, and the CHP officer was miffed when he caught up with me.  “Didn’t you hear me telling you to pull over on the shoulder?” he demanded.   (I had opted to drive the extra 50 yards to the offramp.)  I settled for a meek, “No, sir,” but I was so tempted to ask “Officer, have YOU ever driven a ’91 Jeep Cherokee on a freeway?  It’s like driving an aircraft carrier, sir, really.  I probably wouldn’t have heard if a 747 was trying to land directly on top of me.”

I like to think that it adds a little kick to your daily peregrinations, not knowing whether you — and your vehicle, and all critical parts thereof — will make it to your destination.  Frequently, we don’t.  The water pump exploded one night at Derek’s old house in Montrose.  The brakes gave out completely in the alley behind my college apartment.  Once, memorably, it started billowing smoke at the stoplight on the corner of San Vicente and La Brea, creating an arresting spectacle in the midst of morning rush hour, and causing me to drop my water bottle into my purse without first remembering to reattach the lid.  I drowned my cell phone, all of my cash, and a number of cosmetics that day, but the Jeep lived on.

It’s possible that I love it, in spite of these flaws, because of the way in which it was acquired.  I was 16 years old, out for a jog, and this nice man who had only come to the Simi Hills Golf Course for a quiet afternoon on the links had innocently put a For Sale sign in his Jeep’s rear window.  Sixteen-year-olds, as you may have heard, are rabid about anything that might have the capacity to transport them away from their parents’ house, and particularly anything that might do so cheaply.  I was no exception, and clearly this Jeep was going for a reasonable price.  So I did the only logical thing:  I charged after him like the Roadrunner on amphetamines.  Actually, I chased him to the very end of the golf course parking lot, where he was finally forced to stop and roll down the window a cautious inch to ask me what in hell I wanted.  I’m sure he still has nightmares about a wild-haired adolescent, wearing hideous red athletic pants and a crazed expression, bobbing and waving frantically in his rear-view mirror.

At any rate, I am moved to write this paean because in all probability the Jeep will not be with us much longer.  Like a very old, very tired lady, it has lately developed narcolepsy, and has the tendency to turn itself off whenever given the opportunity.  “Opportunities” are any situations where we are moving at less than warp speed, and include stoplights, drive-throughs, and most recently, the middle of the freeway.  (If you are experiencing any kind of ennui, I would just love to recommend this as a way of elevating your adrenaline levels.  There is nothing quite so invigorating as suddenly realizing, in the middle of rush hour traffic on the 110, that you are essentially driving a glorified skateboard.  You will feel alive to the very tips of your fingers for hours afterwards, I promise.)  As a result, I have spent most of my driving time in recent weeks careening wildly down the road, bellowing at traffic, yellow lights, and any driver who dares to touch their brakes.  The accompanying monologue sounds something like,  “The GAS, it’s on the RIGHT, you TROGLODYTE!  WHY DID YOU BUY A CARRERA IF YOU WANTED TO DRIVE EVERYWHERE AT 35 MPH?  What are you DOING?  Don’t STOP!  We can’t STOP!!!”

I’ll be an adult, this time.  I’ll buy something that wouldn’t be a college sophomore in people years; won’t make my mechanic, God love him, consider a career in plumbing every time it is yet again towed into his lot; won’t drink gasoline like the aforementioned aircraft carrier; and doesn’t look quite so out of place in my admittedly urban life.  If the truth must be told, times when you need four-wheel drive, fog lamps and a tow package on the 405 are relatively rare.  But I have enjoyed thinking of myself as the kind of person who drives a Jeep — the kind of person who doesn’t worry about door dings or impressing the valets, who could, if necessary, flip on the four-wheel drive and go take care of business.  Because that’s what a car is all about, right?  Perception, yours and others’.  We’re weirdly hung up on what your vehicle says, on whether or not it’s you. For better or worse, this one was.  I’m going to miss it.

And until then, if you see me coming, for God’s sake get out of the way.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Bryan Farris permalink
    April 14, 2010 8:53 am

    OH NO!!!! POOOR JEEEPY 😦

  2. April 14, 2010 1:22 pm

    I know how you feel. I loved my little 2001 Honda Civic so much that when I was in an accident back in 2004 that totaled my baby, I replaced her with the exact same car (just the 2004 model). The rear bumper is all dinged up, mostly due to parallel parking “nudges” (both by myself and strangers), but I don’t mind. Love that car.

  3. David permalink
    April 14, 2010 9:56 pm

    Kate,

    Your association with junker cars was begun early in life. For years, you were subjected to the humiliation of being schlepped around in a 1966 Pontiac Catalina that often blew up right in the school pick up line surrounded far and wide by vehicles not more than a year or two old and sporting names like Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, etc. (The Pontiac was assembled during the Lyndon Johnson administration !!) On the positive side, the ’66 was big enough to play a game of soccer in the back seat with full teams and you could put your Jeep in the trunk as a spare car rather than just having a spare tire.

    Not much later the adventure continued when you were picked up in that same stuffy school line by an even older Jeep (I mean older than yours …1989 and red…just like the picture) towing a full scale Civil War cannon. Not your everyday event at that place.

    So, your weakness for, shall we say, older and less sophisticated cars is not entirely your fault. You were born into it. However, it is time to leave the past behind and rise into the light of a reliable vehicle.

  4. Suranee permalink
    May 21, 2010 12:11 pm

    Hahaha, oh katie, how i have loved our adventures through front yards, underground garages, and grocery store parking lots all thanks to Baby. I will be sad to see him go.

    and i think you definitely missed out on a life event by not telling the police officer your true thoughts. lol.

    miss you!

  5. June 11, 2010 2:13 pm

    For serious, how much longer am I gonna have to see this jeep? It’s summer!

    Waiting…

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