Monday, July 18, 2005

At the Car Wash Baby. Chapter three of Dial "D" for...

This is for Monica who laughed so hard when I told this in person she had to excuse herself twice. Fun is easy for good friends like you.

I've owned my share of cars over the years and probably went through models and types the way most young men do: There's the first beater that you can barely afford gas for and needs two rolls of duct tape to keep the bumper on. Then there's the step up to a used car that you DON'T buy from a neighbor, then there's the beauty, the first new car you ever owned, or rented from the bank as the case is usually.

My beater was a '71 Pontiac LeMans with a big ass V-8, a cracked frame and bald tires. It was the car equivalent of strapping a GE jet engine to a balsa wood model airplane. But it went like spit when it had to.

My first respectable car was an '82 Buick Skylark. This was one of the X-Cars that GM trotted out to save their market share asses in the early '80's. It worked until people realized, as I did, that the cars were nasty little bits of metal that had weird fuel injection systems, clunky transmissions but most of all kept most of their weight in the front of the car, leaving the back end to flap in the breeze at the hint of a serious turn. I spun that little go kart around a lot; the most innocuous being on an off ramp of route 17 in New Jersey, the most memorable being four 360's down the side of Mohonk Mountain in New Paltz, New York.

My beauty was my first new car. An '86 Volkswagen Jetta, five speed, four cylinder buzz bomb that I absolutely adored. I tried to keep the new car smell in the thing for as long as possible as well as that immaculate new car clean that usually wears off when the first nephew shows up with ice cream.

As such, I washed, waxed, buffed, polished, Armor-alled and generally pampered the hell out the car. The tires were always inflated to proper pressure, the windows were either rolled all the way up or all the way down and spotless to boot. This car was cared for. I even went so far as to not put undue stress on the thing; no A/C in stop and go traffic, no harsh accelerations and no starting the car just to go down to the corner dammit! That puts wear and tear on the engine. It never heats up properly, there's all that unburned fuel, the oil doesn't get a chance to circulate. It's just all bad.

I had issues.

More to the point, I had hang ups.

It had taken me so long to finally be able to buy a new car, I was having trouble dealing with the fact that the car, and I, were ageing.

So I kept the regimen up. No short starts of the engine blah blah blah.

I was visiting my parents and having a relatively tolerable time of it one evening when they started off on some inane subject thread that I was not interested in and was bored with. I got it into my head that the car needed washing, it having sat in a dusty garage all day. Never mind that at this point, my car washing regimen was thinning the top layer of paint.

It was off to the garage to give the girl a washing. Oh, but I'd have to pull her out onto the driveway to do it. And that meant backing her up some ten feet. And that meant -HORRORS- starting the engine.

Can't have that.

I know, I'll put her in neutral, release the hand break and let her gently roll out onto the driveway.

Problem solved.

If you ever have the time, take my advice: Take some time to look at and appreciate your surroundings. There's a lot to see. Note the full green leaves of the trees. Look at the subtle grays of rocks. Check out the gentle slopes of the earth. Look again. That gentle slope is really a slight incline which is really just a launching ramp into nature's abundance to an automobile unrestrained by braking devices.

It was the chapter on momentum that I now realized I had skipped in physics class. Having loosed all restraints on my little Volks, having given her a gentle pull on the back bumper to get her rolling, I now ever more quickly backed up away from an accelerating one ton steel behemoth.

The rate of acceleration was so great in fact that I don't recall that I even had time to give myself an honorary "Nice going shit for brains."

There are times during looming, unavoidable disasters that doing nothing is actually the best thing to do. This was one of them. Unfortunately I sprang into corrective action.

Having done nothing, the car would have rolled down the drive, brushed against the small tree and come to rest atop the low stone wall at the edge of the property. Fortunately my quick intervention -I tried to pull the emergency brake but only managed to get the door open- allowed the car to roll down the drive, catch the small tree in the now open door, open the now open door to a degree unintended by the designing engineers and finally come to rest against the earlier described low stone wall, door dangling like oversize boxers in the breeze.

I did not, however, lose that new car smell. Just that new car door.

We fixed it though, the old man and I. And surprisingly he didn't get upset. We put the thing back in the garage (drove it there), got out the tools and went to work bending hinges, doorframes and whatever else back into place.

Then Dick showed up.

Dick was the neighborhood watchdog. He was the retired guy that every block should have for crime prevention and not much more. He knew everybody's business and made sure he let the rest of the block in on all the action.

"Hey boys, whatcha' doing with the car?"

Holy shit. Might as well take out a full page newspaper ad with photos: Local moron wrecks car without even being behind the wheel

That was my headline. My old man's must have been even worse because he did something I had never seen him do before or since.

Usually when one of his buddies caught me in something stupid, Dad would chime in and elaborate on my lack of thought and foresight and sense in perfect harmony with the guy.

Not so that night. Not so with Dick. Dad looked up and said: "Dick, good to see you again. How's golf? Listen, the kid is putting some racing stripes or some other funny customize on his car. Boring. Unnecessary. Let me show you what I just bought for the back yard. You got to see this."

And with that Dad veered Dick around and out of the garage to whatever made up yard implement he could lie about. The point was, he let me deal with my mistakes and not make them, for once, a point of public ridicule.

Dick was never the wiser. The car door never again closed properly. The car now had a rattle it never lost and I got over the obsession of keeping the car in pristine condition. After all, I had a life and constantly washing the car took too much time away from refresher physics.

Specially that chapter about bodies in motion.


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