The things you drive will own you

In the first column I wrote for this paper, I warned that owning a car at PSU is financial suicide. I mentioned the sky-high costs of parking, gas and insurance – all totally valid reasons. But a potentially bigger downside is having several thousand dollars tied up in a two-ton chunk of steel when so many unpredictable things could happen to it – breakdowns, wrecks, theft, the list goes on … At the time in your life when your top priority is being able to pay for school, or so you tell your parents, you can’t afford such expensive twists of fate.

Up until a few months ago, I owned a car. I am still recovering financially and (sob) emotionally from what happened with it this summer. Personal mobility can be more addictive for some people than coke and midget porn combined.

The vehicle in question was a ’63 Impala hardtop. It had been aqua-green originally, but by the time I found it, it looked like it had been underwater since the Kennedy administration – water infested with hungry piranha, judging by the condition of the interior. I had never driven an automatic before, and when I pulled out of the owner’s driveway I accidentally peeled out and sprayed gravel everywhere. I decided this was my kind of car. I bought it on March 15, 1999. Yes, the Ides of March. Everybody told me I should turn it into the lowrider, but I didn’t see the point of spending the money since it was already possible to make the car jump a foot in the air by bouncing up and down on the trunk. Who needs hydraulics when you’ve got really crappy shocks?

The Pimpala, as my friends called it in high school, was about as reliable as Russian roulette. I never knew when it was going to refuse to start or overheat or have the transmission go belly-up and set me back 800 bucks. Then about a month before high school graduation, I was driving to a party up a muddy logging road and a bunch of cheap little front-wheel drive cars got stuck in the muck in front of me. I had to go about half-mile in reverse with the radiator boiling over. Things got warped inside. When your pistons aren’t round anymore, you’re pretty much screwed.

After a six-month rebuild I got my car back. For the following year and a half it was fairly dependable. Then this last April, as a 21st birthday present to myself, I decided to go to a concert in California. I drove down with one of my friends from Corvallis and two others we picked up in the Bay Area. We were being fairly careful when we started out, watching for cops and going about 80 miles per hour, but it became obvious further along I-5 from law enforcement was nowhere to be seen. We raced a ’65 Impala just north of the Cali border and left them in the dust once we hit 120, only to have to slam on the brakes for the produce checkpoint at the border. After that, 80 just seemed slow. So the rest of the way down to the Bay we were cruising at 90-110. The car handled these speeds effortlessly, so we kept up the same speeds the next day after we picked up my other friends from Cupertino. The difference was, it was a hell of a lot hotter during the day than it had been at night, which is apparently a typical phenomenon in the middle of the desert. My car must not have liked the heat, because just north of Bakersfield there was a deafening bang from under the hood and the interior filled up with smoke. That was curtains for my second engine in two years.

The tow truck driver who took us to the nearest garage offered to fix my car for two grand. Then he offered to buy it from me for 300 bucks. If my friends hadn’t been with me, he probably would have tried to pull a little “Deliverance” number on me too. We took the bus the rest of the way to L.A. and eventually made it to the concert, which gave me a taste of what it’s like to be manic-depressive. One second I was thinking, “Wow, Weezer is f***ing tight” and the next I was thinking “I can’t believe this happened to me – my poor caaaaaar.”

It took two full days and nights to get back to Portland on the Greyhound, which gave me plenty of time for Commie-like thoughts about the evil of material possessions and since I took a University Studies 299 class last year where we read works by Karl Marx and others who wrote about how the things you own end up owning you: Right now, I’m looking forward to being owned by a Porsche Boxster.