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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Cubmobile, R.I.P.

Ah, where do I begin? I'm only four days into the new year, and already I feel discontent.

Christmas and the days that followed were fine and well, but nothing spectacular. Most of my time was spent at the cabin with my parents and the dog, or antiquing around Gatlinburg. Truth be told, I got a little stir crazy, especially toward the end of the trip. On the way home on Monday afternoon, I had a deep feeling of unsettlement that I was having trouble shaking. I chalked it up to hormones, the holiday singleness funk, and being in close quarters with my parents for six days.

Around three p.m., we pulled into my parents driveway and I dumped my stuff in my car and headed back home. I exited the interstate onto Wedgewood and waited at the ten minute-long light to turn left onto Eighth Avenue. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some steam waft across my windshield, but I brushed it off. A second later, more steam. Rather, smoke. Panicked, I called my dad and drove on home. I pulled into the driveway, lifted the hood and saw what appeared to be oil leaking all over my engine and smoldering. It looked like it was pooling down in the crevices of my car. By 4:30, my car was being towed to the mechanic.

Ironically, Amy and Emily were also having car trouble and both of their vehicles were also at the same mechanic. We joked that we should apply for the roommate discount. Thankfully, Arica had left us her car while she was in Texas. Otherwise, we'd have been in trouble.

Tuesday morning I woke up, and marveled to Amy that I didn't know what to do with myself--I had a whole week of vacation left and no obligations. I was going to clean out closets, file paperwork from the past year, run errands, cook and freeze future meals, read, paint, write, workout, load my iPod, and so much more. Little did I know...

The mechanic called mid-morning on Tuesday and confirmed that I did, indeed, have an oil leak. He was going to replace the cracked valve cover, but warned me that I had other leaks as well. The valve cover was an easy fix, but I was potentially looking at thousands of dollars to replace the cracked head gasket that was leaking coolant, and the other issues. He said that once you take one thing out to replace, that it might, in turn, create other problems. Basically, the replaced valve cover was a band-aid solution, and repairing other parts was the equivalent of opening Pandora's box. I call my dad with this news, and he tells me that he thinks it's time to replace my car.

Now, my '97 Nissan Altima was twelve years old, but was just fine for my needs. My commute is only three miles one-way to work, and while the car was old, it had only 117k miles. Yes, the Cubmobile groaned and creaked on cold winter mornings, but she was faithful to me and a reliable ride. She needed new tires and she had a bent toe arm, and that would require a good chunk of change soon. But she was worth it. I planned to keep my car for two more years and pay cash for its replacement. I had a fund, people.

Everything happened so quickly, and Tuesday afternoon, my dad and I were looking at cars at CarMax, the Nissan dealership, and the Toyota dealership. I didn't test drive anything on Tuesday evening, as the daylight was gone by 4:30. We began again on Wednesday, and by this time, I was past the point of overwhelmed and worried. What did I know about buying a car? I didn't want a new car. I wanted my car. And I certainly didn't want a car payment.

Normally, I wouldn't have ever even entertained the idea of a brand-new-off-the-lot car. But because of the poor economy and the end of the year, both Nissan and Toyota were offering zero percent APR for three years---plenty of time for me to pay off the car. I'd just about settled on a bright, sparkly, cherry red Toyota Carolla, as it drove a little better than the Nissan Sentra. Dad and I sat with the slick older gentleman and wheeled and dealed until we came to an impasse. The Toyota dealership wouldn't come off the car another $1500, the amount of money it would take for me to be relatively comfortable with payments. Dad and I walked out.

Talk about supreme frustration. While Dad is right that there is freedom in walking away from a bad deal, I was also in the same place as I was on Tuesday night. I had no further peace or clarity about a car. The only thing I knew was that I still wanted to keep my car. I cried and cried about this, seriously considering saying "to hell with it" and playing Russian roulette with the Cubmobile.

I realize that this is probably not the normal response, right? Most people would be glad to get rid of their 12-year-old clunker. But clearly, I have some sort of emotional attachment to the Cubmobile. When I was sixteen, my Grandpa gave me his '94 Nissan Sentra, because he bought a new car: the '97 Nissan Altima. Grandpa called it his "Al Teema," because he thought that was how it was pronounced. When he passed away in 2001, I was bequeathed the car. It felt like a privilege to be its recipient.

On top of the sentimental connection, I felt yuppie guilt. While one could make a fairly strong argument that I needed a new car, I also realized that my dented, creaky Altima is a the equivalent of a golden chariot outside the boundaries of the richest country in the world. The value of my 12-year-old car is worth food, clothing and shelter to hundreds of lives of those living in utter poverty. And I'm shopping for cars in the 15k range, why???

I drove in the Cubmobile to my parents house on New Year's Day. Dad and I were going to another CarMax, but before we could go, my parents and I got "into it." They couldn't understand why I was so upset. And maybe some of you don't either. But spending another New Year's Eve alone and feeling the weight of a car payment on a single person's already limited income was enough to put me over the edge. Hearing "suck it up" was not appreciated.

Five or so hours later, I was signing the paperwork for a 2006 Nissan Altima. It is a pretty car, but who cares? Is it what I would've chosen if given the time to think about it? Maybe so, maybe not. But at the time, I was so worn out and beaten down that I didn't give a rat's ass what I drove home. I just wanted it all to end.

Every time I've looked at the car this weekend, it's made me ill. While I am blessed that I am able to make the payments, I'm disgusted at what it represents about our culture and the way we spend our money. I know I need to make peace with it, because I'm going to be driving it for the rest of my life...lest I have to go through this again. Siebe gave me some comforting words last night though, saying that she too experienced the same stress when she had to make a quick decision about her own car awhile back. That made me feel better. Maybe I will learn to love my car. It could be like an arranged marriage.

I named the car "Rick James." If you get it, then you'll think it's funny. If not, clearly you haven't wasted any time watching Dave Chappelle reruns.


Blogger Natrudy said...

Ah MAB, I'm so sad for you. I'm having to consider getting rid of my car as well, and it makes me sad. There are so many memories associated with a car that you've owned for years. I'm giving you a hug right now.

6:43 PM


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