Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Current Reading: Grail, by Elizabeth Bear
Inspirational Quote: "Get a horse!" - Anonymous
I have a new chariot.
Well, new is relative, actually. It's new to me. It even smells new. Of course, it smells like it's been new for a long time.
But I digress.
My previous chariot was a '98 Saturn SL2. I loved it. It ran. It complained very little. Once in a while I had to replace things, or repair bits that broke or fell off, but on the whole it ran reliably and handled my daily 30km commute with as close to grace as you can get in a 4-door economy car.
In the last year, though, it began to develop some... quirks. The catalytic converter disintegrated one fine morning, announcing its death with a deafening growl that encouraged the entire neighborhood to wake up at 7am and enjoy the early spring sunrise. The wheel bearings had suffered the ravages of one too many salt-stained winters and had begun to hum. Riding in it was like riding inside a beehive stuffed with bees the size of elephants. The horn stopped working. If I used the "mist" function on the windshield wipers, I could never be sure when they would finally turn off. The record run was 2.5 days. It reduced my wipers to rubber strips.
But the unforgivable failure was the hole that appeared in my steering column expressly for the purpose of emptying the system of every drop of steering fluid.
It took some time to find a used car to my liking. I have standards. They're low, I admit, but they exist. During the search period, I kept myself on the road by purchasing buckets of steering fluid and administering them to the car whenever I started to need a torque wrench to make a corner. In retrospect, it would have made more sense to hook an I.V. under the hood. As a result, my preferred parking spaces at work, the grocery store, my home, and everywhere else I went became decorated by a Rorshach oil blot the size of a large beaver. I could follow my progress around town by the lines of shiny drops I left everywhere. I was environmentally hostile, and I was ashamed, but I had things to do and places to go.
Finally, I found something I could afford. By "afford," I mean, of course, "manage by entering into a level of debt that was just under the maximum I could manage without courting bankruptcy."
I was due to pick it up on a Monday at 6pm.
Sunday afternoon, at 4pm, I was on my way home from picking up my sons. On the downhill run to an intersection with a highway, the radio suddenly went morse-code with static. The gages on the dash twitched like an epileptic wearing a joy buzzer. I did not regard this as a good thing, and expressed that view to my children in a series of metaphors I shall not repeat here. We came to a halt at the stop sign, and when the way was clear to the horizon, we started across. Snails have demonstrated greater pickup.
I floored it. We were going a staggering 20k/h by the time I reached the far side of the highway. I kept it floored, the speedometer and tachometer ignoring my efforts as the engine accelerated in its own time, until I'd achieved something like the proper speed.
At which point the radio tuned itself to static and every single gage went to zero. The AC and fans continued to work, but everything else, including the automatic transmission, died. I commented upon this occurrence vigorously, furthering my children's education in the profane arts.
We made it home, stuck in what I believe was third gear. Once I had the chariot safely parked, I turned off the ignition. Because I am the type of person to poke bruises and pick scabs, I tried to start the car again. It laughed at me. I could hear it. "Hur hur hur hur," it said.
So I pulled the key out of the ignition for the last time, climbed out, and took a moment to study the hunk of metal and polymer that, for thirteen years and 320000km had gotten my sorry tail where it wanted to go. I'd bought it new. It was my first car. It still sits in my driveway, empty and dead. I haven't been able to bring myself to call the wreckers and have it towed away. A friend of mine wants to take it off my hands. He thinks it can be resurrected, with a little work. I'd like to see that.
The new car is nice. Cruise control. Heated seats. The horn works and the wipers turn off right away.
We'll how it handles the years.
*Image from here.