Monday, June 14, 2010

104,000 and then some

That's how many miles my car has on it right now. My trusty Saturn, Sally Saturn, has just over 104,000 miles on her, and she's just now starting to show her age.

Sally is my fifth car, but the first which I've ever owned. And I bought her new. Right out of the showroom. My first car wasn't a Saturn, though. My first car was a 1982 Buick Century. I inherited her in 1992 or so, while I was in school. While her purchase and how I ended up with her are of questionable origins (that's for another therapy session), she was mine. I was pretty proud to have my own car, to be honest. I never expected a car, let alone one which I didn't have to sign away my first born to get. Still, I was excited to have my own set of wheels. Being away at school, and in a college town that didn't exactly accommodate the student without a car, it was a sweet deal. Unfortunately, she was in about as much disrepair as the roach infested house I was living in at the time.

See, Betty Buick turned out to be a bitch. Seriously. She was definitely not my father's Oldsmobile. If she had been, she might have run a little better. Let's start with the radio. No, I did not say sound system. There was no system to be found. It was a radio. AM/FM, no cassette, just a radio. That's cool, I wasn't looking for anything Singles style, just something to crank some tunes. Problem was that you couldn't hear the radio over the engine. So, with the car on, you had to turn the volume button up all the way, and even then, you could barely hear the radio. Hm. Off to Radio Shack I went to get an amp for the car, along with a cassette player. Got those puppies installed, and I was rockin'. Sort of. It was on my first trip with her to school in Bowling Green, KY, that I realized she had a rather tough time with hills. Uphill, to be exact, was her biggest challenge. Hm. Poor Betty. This was a bit of an issue, since the area of Kentucky I was in was rather hilly (mountainous, to me, coming from the flatlands). What got us through was the fact that most of the time, I was able to take her downhill and get some speed before heading uphill, and I learned quickly how to draft on the interstate (thank you, long haulers!). I wasn't breaking speed records, but she got me back and forth a few times.

Slowly, throughout that school year, she began to deteriorate. Before I knew it, her electrical was all but hosed, I was best friends with my check engine light, an auto shop bent the hinges on the hood so it popped when I went over curbs, and I had lower deck air conditioning (holes in the floor boards and bottom of the doors). The latter was cool until it rained or got cold outside. But, I could still hear the radio. And the radio doubled as a great disguise for all the fun noises that Betty could make when she was angry. Which was pretty often.

Eventually, the turn signal stalk would honk the horn, the headlights dimmed when the radio was turned on, and the air conditioning dragged the thing down so much it wasn't worth using at all. Finally, one morning, I'd gotten so tired of the problems with Betty that I left her in the road and walked home. I called my father and let him know where Betty was, and also called the police to let them know, and started to save my money to get my own set of wheels. Before you judge me for being spoiled by having been provided with transportation, I remind of my earlier statement, "her purchase and how I ended up with her are of questionable origins". But I took her. And I loved her. For a while. Until I left her in the road.

We got her running enough that I could manage to get to work and back for a few weeks, and then one day the light shone brightly upon me. Before I knew it, Betty had gone to that wholesale heaven of parts, and my next set of wheels was bequeathed to me.

A titanium coloured 1983 Mercury Grand Marquis LS was now mine. V8 power, cruise control, air conditioning, velour seats and "wood grain" interior, AM/FM *with cassette* and factory booster/amp, power windows and seats, baby I was ridin' in style. For an AARP member. But, dude, she ran. My parents had traded Betty in exchange for a newer vehicle for my mom, and I inherited her old ride. Wow.

Now, Grandma Marquis was pretty cool. Despite rear wheel drive, she rode like a dream. She had a squeaky window, bad EGR valves (thank you, Ford), and was the size of an M1 Abrams, but she'd already given us miles and miles of good service. She was the best choice for my senior year in college.

Grandma Marquis and I made multiple trips to and from school. At and above the speed limit, nonetheless. Who'd have thunk I could shave two hours off my commute time? And the radio. Oh, the radio. I would even have called it a sound system. With front and rear (and on the doors!) speakers, the factory booster, and a power antenna, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! I could listen to my tapes in the car, and even listen to music at night and still use my headlights. Awesomeness. You have no idea.

I did the best I could with Grandma. Her bad valves made for some interesting times on the interstate, at stop signs, while stopped, and lots of other times, but, it just made me a more interesting driver. Poor girl gave it her all. I even saw her 100K milestone. She served me well.

That spring I was looking forward to graduating and heading home. We all know that spring brings rain, and the spring of 1994 was pretty rainy. That's when I started having dizzy spells, headaches, and other anomalies. I got her home, and eventually realized that something in the car was giving me these symptoms. My uncle's keen snout identified freon as the offender. We then found the puddle on the passenger side floor. It made sense, because I'd just started driving with the windows down or cracked, and it eased the symptoms. Still, it wasn't wise to drive this thing much longer. So, the search began.

My mom and I scoured the ads in the paper, watched for local dealership ads on TV, and finally went out to shop. I really wasn't looking forward to used car dealers and the dollar signs they thought they'd see when my mom and I walked in the door. Armed with attitudes, decent knowledge of cars, and solid knowledge of what I could afford, my mom and I entered the first dealership. Let's just say that I wanted to go home after the first test drive. A red, used, two-door used Taurus, with an overweight, very sales-minded sales guy who wanted to "throw in" the trunk-mounted CD player, {insert shudder here}....need I say more?

No way.

We left. We headed down the road. Despite my initial resistance, we decided to go to the local Saturn dealer. They were being marketed as a different kind of dealer, and had the (then) new concept of no-haggle pricing. What a difference. It was like a breath of fresh air, for sure. We walked in and weren't swarmed by over-scented losers. We weren't picked at by vultures. We were greeted by the girl behind the front desk, and allowed to actually look at the cars. That's when we met Tony. Oh Tony.

Tony used to sell Oldsmobiles, you see, and had come to Saturn to wear casual attire and sell cars that basically sold themselves. I learned a lot more than that about Tony that day, but, I won't bore you with stories about his cats. Suffice it to say that Tony made me feel at ease, and he honestly helped me find the car that was right for me. After combing the lot, running numbers, and reviewing the status of Grandma, Tony helped me find my car. My first, very own, all mine, car.

Susie Saturn became mine in July of 2004. I made the promise to keep her for three years, less than 45,000 miles, and to take really good care of her. She was a beautiful medium red, 5-speed, fully loaded four-door. She had zip. She had pep. She had a sun roof. She had less than ten miles on her. Wow. It doesn't happen only in fairy tales or TV ads, I really got my picture taken with her in the delivery bay after the sales staff all sang to me. Yes, they did that. For me. And I got flowers. Wow!!

We had some really good times together. Really good times. About two and a half years into our time together, after a night out with friends, I dragged myself out of bed for my scheduled oil change. I was pretty foggy, at best, but, it was a beautiful, sunny day and I knew the fresh air would do me some good.

The new car showroom is a cruel, unjust place, though. That smell. The new paint. The options. The donuts and coffee. Wait, I digress.

While Susie was in getting her work up, I was in the showroom cheating on her. I sat in several cars, dreamed, and wiped the drool from my chin. Tony was busy with a customer, so he asked his fellow Saturn-seller, Steve (the name has been changed because I just drew a blank), to assist me. Steve let me test drive a few models, including their updated two-door coupe. I returned to the showroom and Steve knew that I was in. He knew I wasn't going home with Susie. Poor Susie.

At the end of the day, I drove off the lot in my new, red, two-door, five-speed coupe, Sarah. Thanks, Steve.

I had wanted a red car for years, and I finally had one. And she had a sun roof. She was awesome. She, too, had zip and pep, she had a cassette player, and I promised to keep her for three years, less than 45,000 miles, and keep her in good shape. And I did.

She survived a blizzard, a few Derbys, a trip to Florida, and red lined like a champ. Oh, she was cool. Sure, I'd been spoiled by Grandma's V8, but, honestly, the pep in these little cars was rather impressive, and I think I'd have ended up wrapped around a tree, the way I drive, in anything with much more power. She was awesome.

Another two and a half years later, in February of 2000, Sarah was scheduled for another oil change. Again, I dragged myself out of bed after a night out with friends, and the cold February air tried to snap me back into shape. It mildly succeeded. After a cup of hot coffee in the showroom, that new car smell got me up off my seat and into the front seat of one of the floor models. Tony asked how much longer I had with Sarah, and said it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what I might want when our three years was up. Tony handed me the keys to a brand new, medium red, four door sedan, and told me to take her out for a drive. Holy cow. Cruise, V6, air, power windows, sunroof, air bags, cassette, and a CD player. CD player? Holy crap, you mean I could have a CD player in my car?!?

I hemmed and hawed. For about three minutes. I took the bait. I told Tony I was ready for a longer commitment this time. I told him I was going to drive my next vehicle into the ground, so I needed something that I, and eventually a family, could grown into. I had just driven her.

Sally Saturn became mine in February of 2000. She was all mine (and the bank's). My very first ever all-mine car. I was a homeowner by this point, so it seemed a natural step to commit like this. Heck, I was in for 30 years on my condo, why not a few years for a car, right?

Sally and I have been through a lot. Multiple Derbys, a husband, several cats, two kids, trips to Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin. She's been wonderful.

I just rolled her over 104,000 miles. Tonight she gave me flashbacks to Betty. I dropped a few dollars on her in the fall, and she was worth it. She turned 100K on Christmas night. She is no Betty, but, there are beginning to be similiarities.

I remember riding in the car with my grandfather, practically swallowed by the bench seat in his Lincoln, listening to that clicky turn signal sound. You know what I'm talking about, don't pretend. There's something about the sound of the turn signal in your grandparent's car that is unlike the sound of the signal in cars the younger set drives. Sally decided to mimic that sound tonight. And she decided to exemplify the sound when the turn signal wasn't actually on. That's right, after coming back to zero with the wheel, Sally continued to click, click, click, click, click, click........

Turning up the radio only did so much to mask the fact that something is starting to go awry. From deep beneath the dash, there's something amiss, and it will most certainly drive me more insane than I already am in no.time.flat.

Still, despite the loud brakes, constantly-on coolant light, blown speakers, and just-started-flickering seat belt light, she's got plenty of life in her. At least I hope she does. No, I know she does. She's all mine, and I don't know what I'd do without her.

Just another reason to turn the music up and enjoy the ride.