The Clarkmobile

Yesterday I made the final payment on my auto loan and for the first time in my life I owned a car free and clear. Today when I was driving back from a short trip to Wal-Mart in Tewksbury, MA I ran over something on the road that I hadn’t seen and I was faced with a three mile ride home with a rapidly deflating tire. By the time I reached my street the tire was as good as gone and I might as well have been skidding around on the rims. This marks the third time in this past year that I’ve gotten a flat on the mean streets of the Merrimack Valley, except this time, the tire belongs to me and me alone.

What is it with me and cars? I just don’t get it. I seem to have the unearthly ability to pick out vehicles that are one pinch sweeter than a lemon, an uncanny aptitude for running over sharp things that I never see in time, and an undeniable tendency to miss the warning signs of an oncoming breakdown but be extra-paranoid about the noise of a soda can rolling around in the back seat.

Anyone who ever rode in The Tempo knows all about my storied driving history. My parents gave me my Mom’s old 87 Ford Tempo to use when she bought a Dodge Intrepid in the Spring of 1994. They gave it to me in the sense that I was responsible for putting gas in it and that I got to drive it and if anything fucked up I was responsible for it (responsible in terms of blame, but fortunately for my poor high school ass, not in terms of financial liability… at least not all the time.) They knew that Mom had driven the car hard and that it was only a matter of time before things started going wrong with it, and I have often maintained that they gave me the car only because they knew it would keep me eternally in their debt because I’d never be able to pay for all of the repairs. Hell, I even wrote that little subplot into my senior project.

The Tempo fucked up a lot but it always came back until the day that it didn’t. That thing was like a cat… no, a pride of cats. It had forty something lives and it didn’t finally die until that one cruel day when we were taking Stef’s car to the shop instead of it. What cruel irony, that the one time we were using my car to take someone to the shop instead of vice-versa, that on the way home my car would die too.

The car I drive now, a 92 Pontiac Grand-Am, has been generally kinder but its habit of picking up sharp objects with its tires is starting to wear on me. Luckily Stef and I had been budgeting to replace all of the tires this month, along with a host of other small repairs, in preparation for its annual inspection. The last time one of the tires went I rotated the ones with the plugs in them to the back and the thing has been out of alignment ever since. It had gotten so bad in recent weeks that I couldn’t even drive on the highway anymore because of the shimmying.

But I would have loved to have, just this once, brought the car in for preventitive maintenance.

And you know what the real kicker is… my Grandpa, who was an auto mechanic, used to have this saying about how you should always expect to spend about $1,000 a year on your car, whether that’s towards paying it off, or towards repairs after you’ve paid it off. With the amount of money I’ve spent on repairs on this thing while I’ve still been paying off, I can only imagine how much I can look forward to spending in the years to come, now that I own it.

Ah… for Christ’s sake! I need to stop my bitching. I own a fucking car now. That’s quite an accomplishment.