Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Car

I don't like cars. I never have. I have never seen my car as a reflection of my soul. I've seen cars I've rather liked, of course, but then I have a nagging feeling that my tastes in automobiles simply reflect effective mass marketing. I mean, why didn't I want a car like that years ago, before they started building and selling that model? why don't I feel that cars shaped like shipping crates satisfy a desire I never dreamed would be fulfilled in reality? and why do the older models now leave me cold inside? If cars reflect our inner beings, why do so many people have closely similar tastes in automobile design? And why do those tastes seem to change just as the new models come out? Shouldn't some deep resonance--some glimmer of something personal--tell me that "here is the object I have been waiting my whole life for"? or "this seems tailor-made just for me"? or "even though it's no longer functional or admired by others, I still have a soft spot in my heart for it"? Lovers of old cars are the only genuine car lovers out there--and I'm not one of them either.

The American cult of automobiles is one of my least favorite things about America--just slightly above my countrymen's naive acceptance of trickle-down economics and the corporate elite's right to rule and their propensity for xenophobia, racism, religious intolerance, homophobia, English-first-ism, and anti-intellectualism of every stripe, while being aghast at the notion that anyone would have the brass balls to call it what it is--mean, stupid, and guilty as fuck. My idea of the perfect car is the back seat of a taxi cab. If I had my way, public transportation would be the only form of transportation--even if you had to rent cars the way you can rent bowling shoes--even if you had to put coins in a meter to make the car work and you simply climbed into the closest vehicle to you and then left it at your destination for the next customer to pick up. I'm a strong supporter of healthcare reform and education for the masses--but, for me, the first significant step towards anarcho-socialist utopia would be the nationalization of all forms of transportation.

I have had four cars in my life. I am fifty-eight. My first car was a Gremlin--hardly the badge of an enthusiast. The car I drive now I've been driving for almost ten years. I retain that specific knowledge sadly because I now drive the car my father owned when he died, the day after the Twin Towers fell, minutes after he raised a flag at half mast in Augusta, Georgia, his adopted hometown--not that my father ever saw the Twin Towers except in pictures. It was a fine car in its day. A four-door 2000 Chevrolet Malibu, myrtle green. My dad always took excellent care of his cars--he did so hands on until automobiles became so computerized that knowledge of mechanics (at which my dad was a whiz) was no longer sufficient to care for and repair them. The car hasn't been washed since he washed it--it's got a new windshield, a new battery, four new tires, but I'm convinced it still holds a whisker or fingernail that once belonged to my father. 

The last time I filled the gas tank was June 16th. It's resting on empty (or close to) right now. I've been on break since the end of the first session of summer school, and I have not been driving much at all--mostly reading at home, watching my DVDs, and ordering new books and movies from Amazon. Forty-seven days between fill-ups is all the more impressive when you consider that, in that time, the car has picked up people at the airport twice. I've enjoyed my sedentary existence this last fortnight because during the school year I commute to another city to teach--33 minutes each way. I don't mind the commute--though it has become more tiring the longer I do it--I just wish I could catch a subway a couple of blocks from my home and ride to work. Even if the commute time doubled, I would not mind--I could read, grade papers, proposition handsome strangers (nothing so attracts the attention of a stranger as a middle-aged guy with a stack of student essays to grade).

The only thing I ask of a car is that it get me from one place to another. And that is the only thing my car does. In theory. Right now my car is having electrical problems--it's had them for about five years now, and nobody I've seen about it, not even the local Chevrolet dealer, can pinpoint the problem. It's dumbest effect is that it makes funny noises--tickatickatickatick-dingDINGding-ticktick-ding-tickatick. It's scariest effect is sometimes the directional signals work and sometimes they don't. Also, the air conditioner sometimes works and sometimes doesn't--it's running fifty-fifty, these days. Since the temperatures hereabouts have hit 100 fahrenheit a couple of times this past month, I have had a strong disincentive to drive far from where I live. Making matters worse, when the a/c doesn't work, neither do the power windows roll down--oh, the simple beauty of a hand-powered crank for me! I don't listen to the radio--or any music at all--when I drive. When a car is brand new, I listen to the stereo just for the novelty of it--but then something happens (the news is about Republicans, it's Sunday and all there is is radio preachers, Bruno Mars is topping the charts, etc.) and I lose interest--preferring to sink into my thoughts and direct my attention purely to the task of driving.

I used not to mind driving. Now it's an odious task. I would much prefer--have always much preferred--being able to walk places. Perhaps I am becoming a sedentary kind of guy--maybe because of my childhood spent on military bases, packing up and moving every two years. Who knows? On the weight of limited experience, last summer's vacation, I think I would enjoy living in a French village, not far from the Mediterranean, with a stockpile of books and DVDs, my dog, friends, a good Internet connection, a boulangerie at the end of the block, an outside cafe with Jupiter on tap and cute young waiters who smile at my bad French. The first morning I walked fifty steps to the corner tobacconist--in a town of 1600 citizens--and bought a stack of gay porn and a stack of pro-wrestling glossies, feeling perfectly at ease and getting a wink from the old gent behind the cash register, I knew, "Here is the desire I never dreamed would be fulfilled in reality."

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