Sunday, December 16, 2012

Quasi Sports Car

When I was fifteen I learned to drive on a 1986 beige Ford Taurus station wagon, the same car JD drove and called The Beige Banshee. Despite it “smoking” several times when JD drove it, the Banshee was good to me until it would stall when coming to a complete stop.

My parents were done pouring money into it and decided to purchase me a new car. When my dad called local dealerships one Chevy salesman said, “If you can drive the Taurus here then we’ll give you $300 for trade-in.” My dad got the Taurus there by maintaining some pressure on the accelerator the whole way.

Thanks to a dedicated career in acquisition and a GM MasterCard, my dad negotiated for a 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe with 89 miles for under $10,000. I had the option for a different model with automatic locks and windows, but I opted for manual because I liked the rollers. The car came with a cassette player, air conditioning, and little else. But I wasn’t even sixteen and had my own brand new car.

One of the first of my friends with a car, I drove them everywhere: to school, weekend hangouts, Blockbuster, late afternoon fast food, Best Buy. But the journey, not the destination, was always the most fun. Topping at 85 down Hoadly Road (45 mph limit) or 100 down Prince William Parkway (55 mph limit) listening to my CD-of-the-week, we discussed girls and my instinct to spot police cars, with the windows rolled down. I wanted to name my Cavalier “Car Sweet Ass” and Big Easy insisted on “Give Me Fuck.”

The following year all my classmates recognized Car Sweet Ass. It sat in the closest spot in the first row of the student lot, facing a disabled parking sign. I was on crutches recovering from cancer surgery.

Most former classmates would be surprised that I still drive the same car, which is over 13 years old. Though, it isn’t as sweet. It has needed a new alternator, air conditioning compressor, and tires. It shakes when it reaches 75 mph and sometimes when idling. It makes funny noises.

The 12-disc CD changer my parents had bought as a birthday gift broke years ago, and more recently the radio stopped receiving frequencies for every station except ESPN Radio. I listened to music by plugging my mp3 player into the cassette deck through an adapter. But the cassette player spit out the tape half the time, so I often settled on ESPN Radio. Because my one station was sports, I was able to hold off on buying a new unit for months.

mp3 player connected to car stereo through tape cassette deck

In October I purchased a CD player with an auxiliary input. I joked that my car would now die on me. The next week Hurricane Sandy hit.

1999 Chevrolet Cavalier coupe receives new windshield due to Hurricane SandyShattered back windshield from Hurricane Sandy Stranded in Chicago as an internally displaced refugee, my apartment building manager called the morning after the storm reached Northern Virginia. My car’s back windshield had shattered. Wind forced the pummeling rain inside leaving the interior saturated and molding and the trunk flooded with four inches.

The car’s value varied from $800 to $2,000, and I was sure the cost to replace the windshield and restore the interior would exceed that. I drove Car Sweet Ass to the collision center and waited for an insurance estimate. At the least, I got to drive an Infiniti G37 rental for up to 20 days. Allstate could take its time.

The total bill to insurance came to $1,700 and either I was in good hands or Allstate needs to update its Blue Book. Transitioning from a luxury speed sedan back to Car Sweet Ass was retching. I could move my seat 2 ways instead of 20, had to push 10 times the force on the accelerator pedal as the G37 and roll my windows. But there’s a reason I learned to roll the passenger window down in less than two seconds while stretching across the car at high speeds.

I can nick my car without feeling bad. I can veer towards another driver hesitant to let me into his lane, knowing he’ll make room for a perceived crazy driver in a valueless car. My first car isn’t yet smoking, is still taking me to destinations at less than 75 mph, and Giving Me a Fucking bang for my (parents’) buck.