We Guys Have a Thing About Cars
By giving my wife's car to our college boy this week, we bid goodbye for the summer to two beloved family members.
Son Jack is off to Maine to work as an intern at his hometown newspaper, and "Miss Green" the car gets to return briefly to where she spent much of her early life before moving to North Carolina.
The car, an astonishingly reliable 6-year-old Subaru wagon, was Jack's reward for completing freshman year at college without winding up on academic probation or doing something ghastly on You Tube. When young Jack thanked his stepmom for the gift of her car, she replied with a bright smile, "Oh, please, sweetie, it was my pleasure. I hope it's as great a car for you as it's been for me! It still runs beautifully!"
When I thanked her for making such a magnanimous gesture, she shrugged indifferently and replied, "Oh, please. It's just a car. A car is a car."
Turns out my pragmatic wife can't fathom displays of affection for a car. Her striking unsentimentality about automobiles, as near as I can tell, may be her only human flaw. To compound matters, when I asked what sort of car she would like to replace our reliable "Miss Green" with, she slid me an incredulous look.
"Who?" she said. "Oh, honestly. As long as it starts when I turn the key, goes more or less where I aim it, gets decent gas mileage, and has a nice cup holder, I really couldn't care less what kind of car we get."
A little cold, n'est pas? You'd have thought I just admitted speaking inappropriately to the house plants or tried to make time with the family tree fern.
Even as I began to fancy the possibilities of expanding our automotive horizons to hybrid technology or global positioning systems for navigation, she was only thinking about nice cup holders.
"It's a female thing," she explained. "Ask any woman. Only you guys sentimentalize cars. Give a woman a car with nice cup holders, and she's good to go. You guys make your cars into long-lost loves."
A One-Car Family
Given this unexpected marital impasse and these decidedly frugal times, we've decided to try to function as an old-fashioned one-car family for the time being, sharing my incredibly sporty and responsive V-6 dual-exhaust, LL Bean Edition Subaru Outback with a splendid Bose audio, 6-CD sound system -- "New Blue Lady," as I affectionately call her. Or as my wife rather generically thinks of her, "the other car with the nice cup holders."
To review briefly, I bought "New Blue Lady" straight from the showroom after saying goodbye, admittedly with damp eyes, to "Big Mama," our beloved and durable Ford Excursion XLT of many happy years, a V-8 gas-guzzling behemoth that nobly carried the entire family on a dozen memorable vacation adventures, never once letting us down in beach traffic, or stranded in the darkest state park forest.
To a certain heartless lady of the household, however, courageous "Big Mama" was evidently little more than a "truck that used way too much gas but at least had cup holders for the kids."
Before that, I drove "Old Blue II," a grande-dame Volvo wagon that both my teenage children inherited and, sadly, drove to the edge of automotive exhaustion. They were apparently under the impression that a car was merely a car rather than a living, breathing, extension of the owner's personality and very life force.
After my son crashed "Old Blue II" into a snowy apple orchard -- doing more damage to a tree than the car, I am happy to report -- the Volvo went on to find new life as an ice racer on frozen lakes way up near the Canadian border. At odd moments, I like to pause and think of her way up yonder, chasing glory across a frozen lake.
Missing 'Old Blue I'
Looking back further and fondly into the automotive scrapbook, "Old Blue I" preceded the Volvo -- she being an outstanding Chevy K-5 Blazer that carried us entirely around America one unforgettable summer before we blew her engine somewhere out in Oklahoma. Over four solid days, we watched a local grease monkey named Clint perform a gripping engine transplant from a late-model donor Chevy truck he found in a junkyard somewhere in the Texas panhandle.
My only enduring regret is that I failed to videotape the exciting engine transplant, which would have made riveting viewing on Real TV. Clint's entire extended family brought coolers and lawn chairs to sit and watch the transplant. His grandmother even offered to share her Redman chewing tobacco with me. There's a reason they call it the Heartland of America.
I sure miss "Old Blue I." Admittedly, I could go on about other cars that were anything but cars to me. Each had her own name and endearing personality traits that perhaps only an automotive-loving American guy could appreciate. There was "The Golden Babe," my beloved 1970 Camaro, and "Copper Queen," the hot Datsun 280-Z that gave me such a thrill ride in my 20s. That was followed by -- oh, well, you get the point.
Which brings me back to my current domestic concerns. As I write this, though, I am sitting in a busy Panera Bread restaurant near the beautiful mountain city of Asheville, where I'm supposed to be on a book tour but am instead gazing pensively out the window at "New Blue Lady," wondering if I shall be able to share such a wondrous automotive achievement with a woman who looks at life and transportation simply in terms of cup holders.
Unknown to her, I have my eye on a certain 12-year-old Ford Ranger pickup truck for sale out on U.S. 15-501 that positively whispers my name every time I drop by to kick the tires and admire her lack of body rust. I can just see Mulligan the dog and me tooling around town in this aged but graceful pickup princess. She even has decent cup holders.
Vacuum Cleaner Fixation
Ironically, moments ago my wife phoned me to let me know that in my absence she went out and purchased something called a Dyson DC-25 Super Vacuum Cleaner. I haven't heard such excitement in her voice since she learned Martha Stewart had been let go from federal prison.
"I absolutely love it," she trilled. "It has incredible suction, a state-of-the-art HEPA filter you never have to change, weighs just 16 pounds, and comes with a dozen amazing attachments and special features including a removable handle with the wand built right inside it! You wouldn't believe the mobility of this machine! I got up before dawn to vacuum the entire downstairs. The living room rug has never been so clean! I love, love, love this machine!"
"It's just a vacuum cleaner," I pointed out. "A vacuum cleaner is a vacuum cleaner."
"Don't kid yourself," she fired back. "This is the Arnold Schwartzenagger of vacuum cleaners."
With that, she said she had to go, something about needing to rush upstairs to the master bedroom with Arnold and vacuum the cobwebs she could never reach with her old vacuuming machine.
As summer yawns, someone, I fear, is going to be walking a lot. With or without nice cup holders.
Jim Dodson, The Pilot's Sunday essayist, can be reached by e-mail at jasdodson@thepilot. com.
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