Monday, December 15, 2008

out with the old, in with the new

June, 1996.

I’d been living in Minnesota for three years, and I still didn’t have a car. I hadn’t been in any huge rush to get one, because I was almost always able to borrow my brother’s or get a ride when I needed to, but suddenly I was craving independence. Plus I had just gotten over a prolonged illness, and I knew that I’d need to get a job in a couple of months.

So my parents and I went to a local dealership that had a sweetheart deal with MegaCorp, Daddy-O’s employer. No haggle, no fuss, just walk in, pick out a car, and get a preapproved discount. I fell in love with a teal-colored Chevrolet Cavalier, and after a test drive, I signed the paperwork, forked over the money, and drove her home. I named her Ariel, and if I wanted to be totally pretentious, I’d tell you it was after the Sylvia Plath poem of the same name. But no, it’s because with its color and sleek lines, it looked like something a mermaid would drive.

Ariel was special to me. I’d never really had a car of my own before; the closest thing was the 1979 Ford Futura that my mom, brother, and I shared back when we lived in California. I barely drove her during the first five years of her life, because every job I had during that time period was within two miles of my home. But every once in a while, I’d take her out on the back roads and let ‘er rip. One of my favorite things to do during the fall was take her through a small town called Lake Elmo. The trees would be changing colors, and I’d admire them as they whizzed by my window. Then I’d go home, park in the garage, and give her a loving pat on the hood before going inside.

Then came June 2001, and it was time to put her to the test: a 2000+ mile drive from Minnesota to my new home in California. Aside from blowing out a couple of tires in Utah, which wasn’t her fault, she performed admirably. And, despite a drastically increased commute that included driving up a very steep hill, she stayed reliable. The air conditioner died long before its time, and a cassette got stuck in the tape deck and could never be removed, but for the most part, I didn’t have any problems with her. As long as I got her oil changed and filled her up and washed her once a month, she was happy.

But these last few months have been hard on us. The last time I took her in for an oil change, the mechanic told me that the oil pan was rusting through and would probably need to be changed before the end of the year…to the tune of $500. (I said I’d take care of it the next time I came in, which wound up being a good decision, as you’ll see.) The muffler started rattling. The trunk would no longer open from the outside. The grill over the passenger side air vent fell out. Half the time, I felt like serenading her with “Your Little Body’s Slowly Breaking Down” from Evita.

Now, all of those things were annoying and/or inconvenient, but I could live with them. Recently, though, things started getting a bit scary. There were a couple of times when I couldn’t put her in reverse. Once, I was stopped at a light when she began making a chugging sound and the lights on the dashboard started flickering on and off rapidly. And, worst of all, the brakes started feeling really strange, and I had to adjust my braking distance because it took about two seconds longer for her to come to a complete stop.

That was the final straw. I knew I would miss Ariel, but there was no way I could, or would, put thousands of dollars into fixing a car that was almost thirteen years old.

As much as I hated to deal with the expense and hassle, it was time to get a new car.

So I did my research, picked out a car, and found a dealership that had a similar sweetheart deal with the Cube Farm. G and I went there on Saturday, I drove the car around the block, and that was it. I was in love. The salesman sent Ariel back for inspection by their mechanic, and we chatted while waiting for the verdict.

They were willing to give me $100 for her.


Still, it was better than nothing, and I just wanted to get everything over with. I said I needed to go get some things out of the car, and when I unlocked Ariel, I slid into the driver’s seat and caressed the steering wheel.

It was hard to say goodbye. My mom had ridden in that car, for god’s sake, and Sprite. Ariel had carried me to jobs and the mall, bookstores and libraries, fast food drive-throughs and the ocean. She spirited me safely from Minnesota to California. Not once did she ever leave me stranded.

“Thank you for that one last ride,” I whispered.

Tearfully, I filled up a Target bag with the contents of the glove box, gave her one last fond pat on the trunk, and went back inside. I had to stop by the bathroom to wash my face before returning to the salesman’s office. I smiled brightly, handed over the keys and title, and then I signed a ream of paperwork. He handed me the keys to my new car, and G and I followed him outside, where he showed me how to adjust the seats and the steering wheel, and where to plug in my iPod, and the emergency roadside assistance card. Then I thanked him and shook his hand, and G and I were off.

Yes, Ariel, you will be missed. But oh my god, your successor Ginji is freakin’ SWEET!